The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) states that since the year 2000 the number of hate groups in the United States has increased by 69 percent. A new report released by the center in March 2013 shows that the number of patriot and militia groups has skyrocketed from 149 in 2009 to an astonishing 1,360 in 2012. The SPLC is an excellent resource for identifying trends in far-right fringe groups (ironically, there is a video on the American Family Association’s website that suggests the SPLC is itself a fringe political group). SPLC is the go-to resource for those looking to get a basic understanding of fringe political movements in the United States.
Four types of extremist groups
Currently, the extreme/radical movements enumerated by the SPLC occupy four main categories: Neo-Nazis, Anti-Immigration Movements, Christian Extremists, and Militia Groups. These four categories will serve as a framework for grouping the resources examined in this article. Fringe political and social movements are often the result of a shared sense of alienation and disenfranchisement from mainstream politics and society. Their emergence and disappearance respond to the vicissitudes of the social, political, and economic climate. As such, agreeing on which groups should be bestowed “fringe” status is no easy feat and is often subjective. For example, is the Tea Party a fringe group? A few years ago, it might merely have been considered a small faction of misanthropic wackos who mailed to legislators tea bags as a symbolic gesture. Last November, however, Tea Party members won several state and national elections.
What about the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) during the 1920s? Despite being systematically dismantled during the Red Scare of the 1950s, at its height, CPUSA’s membership reached nearly 50,000. Is the Nation of Islam a fringe movement? If you ask the 800,000-plus who turned out on the Washington Mall in 1995 for the Million Man March, the answer is most likely a resounding “no!” Thus, it seems that in addition to disavowing mainstream institutions and the mainstream political process, the groups that are truly fringe have a paltry following. Of course, the very word paltry is nebulous and open to interpretation.
While fringe movements fall on both ends of the political spectrum, those movements with the most exposure in recent years have tended to occupy the far right of the spectrum. As Laird Wilcox, an expert on fringe political movements, argues, right-wing political groups tend to flourish during liberal presidencies. While this article will not ignore completely historical manifestations of fringe politics, the primary focus is on today’s movements. Sound collection development practice in the social sciences should strongly (though not entirely) emphasize materials that reflect current issues and concerns. With that in mind, this piece will primarily focus on the influx of fringe right-wing movements that have appeared in the years following (and as a response to) the election of Barak Obama. Some of the books considered here will provide the historical context for understanding recent movements.
Keeping up with the landscape
As previously mentioned, fringe political movements are often a symptom of constantly evolving political, economic, and social realities. Consequently, the relative longevity of some of these groups is inconsequential. Doubtless, given the vagaries of fringe political movements, many groups are likely to disappear as quickly as they emerge. In their place will be a new movement hoping to challenge mainstream statecraft. Thus, Wikipedia has shown itself to be an outstanding, up-to-the-minute resource for staying apprised of fringe politics in the United States. Indeed, it does have its faults. However, a quick search of it will yield plenty of background information on a specific movement, lead the user to relevant sources, and provide an understanding of the relationship among movement histories, ideologies, and activities. It helped to provide some context for this column.
Still, Wikipedia is by no means a substitute for the expertly researched and written resources discussed below. Rather, as argued throughout the professional literature, Wikipedia serves as a useful primer for users looking for a source to help conceptualize their research; it is also indispensable to the collection development librarian forced to sift through seemingly insurmountable quantities of information to decipher current sociopolitical trends that should be represented in the library’s collection. Wikipedia is also useful for connecting library users with primary source documents (e.g., manifestos, press releases, photos, videos) relating to fringe political groups. The relatively small amount that has been published by the leaders of these groups is not readily available and will be difficult to include in a collection.
While fringe movements come and go with regularity, some now-defunct groups are historically significant. The White Citizens’ Council, Black Panther Party, and Weather Underground immediately come to mind. Although these groups are no longer active, it is important that library collections continue to represent them. Similarly, some groups and events were so historically inconsequential, it’s a wonder they attracted the attention of scholars.
Starred () items are essential titles for all collections.
Atkins, Stephen E. Encyclopedia of Right-Wing Extremism in Modern American History. ABC-CLIO. 2011. 345p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781598843507. $89.
An excellent starting point for those interested in exploring American fringe political movements since 1930, especially considering that the 2008 election of a liberal African American president has spurred increased activities from some of the movements documented here. Divided into three sections (white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups, far-right religious movements, antigovernment extremists), each entry provides rich insight into nearly 1,000 fringe and not-so-fringe (e.g., the Ku Klux Klan) movements. With extensive notes and a meticulous bibliography.
Berlet, Chip & Matthew N. Lyons. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. Guilford. (Critical Perspectives). 2000. 499p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781572305687. $70; pap. ISBN 9781572305625. $40.
Through a sociopolitical lens, Berlet and Lyons present a historical look at right-wing populist movements. They begin with Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 and conclude with the Clinton presidency, highlighting the far right’s long history of flirtation with anti-immigrant sentiment, racism, scapegoating, Christian nationalism, and patriotism as these themes relate to far-right movements. An adroit distillation of a complex sociopolitical history for the nonspecialist.
George, John & Laird Wilcox. American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists & Others.Prometheus. 1996. 443p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781573920582. $30.98.
In the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, George and Wilcox seek to examine fringe movements in the United States since the 1960s. The result is a thoroughly researched examination of movements on both right and left, including each group’s history, membership figures, and leadership. Of particular interest are vignettes from within the groups profiled.
Michael, George. Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance. Vanderbilt Univ. 2012. 264p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780826518552. $34.95.
Michael offers a fastidious examination of leaderless warfare by individuals or small cells. Throughout, as he explores the motivations of fringe radicalism, he considers the consequences of the violent articulation of populist frustration by nonstate entities. An outstanding resource for those looking to understand why disaffected individuals resort to extreme political tactics.
Schlatter, Evelyn A. Aryan Cowboys: White Supremacists and the Search for a New Frontier, 1970–2000. Univ. of Texas. 2006. 268p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780292714212. $50; pap. ISBN 9780292714717. $25.
Numerous white supremacist movements that have emerged in the past four decades, e.g., Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus, Montana’s Freemen, and Republic of Texas, don’t just occupy a fringe space ideologically. As Schlatter argues, these groups also have staked a claim to fringe geography, co-opting the notion of Manifest Destiny and looking to the American West as a symbol of freedom and conquest. A brilliant account of how white supremacy has permeated even the most barren regions of the nation.
Simi, Pete & Robert Futrell. American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate.Rowman & Littlefield. 2010. 176p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781442202085. $34.95; pap. ISBN 9781442202092. $19.95.
This is perhaps the most essential resource for understanding the white power movement in the United States. Using harrowing interviews and observations, Simi and Futrell confirm that white supremacy is thriving and give the reader unprecedented access to the “free spaces” of the movement, where ideology is articulated: birthday parties, punk rock concerts, and rallies.
Travis, Tiffini A. & Perry Hardy. Skinheads: A Guide to an American Subculture. Greenwood. (Guides to Subcultures & Countercultures). 2012. 161p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780313359538. $37.
Travis and Hardy’s well-researched overview of American skinhead subculture begins with its emergence in the punk rock scene of the early 1980s and traces its evolution through a period of politicization through the nuanced history of the movement. Skinhead subculture began without a racist element; Hardy himself is an avowed nonracist skinhead and a member of a skinhead punk band, the Templars. An invaluable insider perspective.
Zeskind, Leonard. Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream. Farrar. 2009. 672p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780374109035. $37.50.
Zeskind has written one of the most comprehensive examinations of white supremacy, focusing on the past four decades. The title alone suggests the increased influence the white supremacy movement has exerted in recent years, as various groups seek to remake the United States as a pure white Christian nation. The author’s exploration of the roots of the movement’s resurgence since the late 1970s introduces some of its preeminent names: David Duke, the Populist Party, Ruby Ridge, and the Council of Conservative Citizens. (LJ 3/1/09)
Arnold, Kathleen. Anti-Immigration in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Greenwood. 2011. 876p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780313375217. $180.
With nearly 200 entries, from “African Americans and Immigration” to “Zoot Suit Riots,” this two-volume set is the perfect overview to several hundred years of anti-immigration sentiment. Not only does this encyclopedia provide historical insight, it pays a great deal of attention to current issues, policies, and events.
Marrero, Pilar. Killing the American Dream: How Anti-Immigration Extremists Are Destroying the Nation.Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. 256p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780230341753. $27.
Marrero, a reporter for the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, traces the history of virulent anti-immigration rhetoric and policy from Ronald Reagan’s presidency through the Obama era. In doing so, she demonstrates the devastating impact anti-immigrant sentiment has on Latino immigrants in particular and underscores how dysfunctional policy erodes the very core of the American dream.
Barkun, Michael. Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. rev. ed. Univ. of North Carolina. 1997. 290p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780807846384. $21.95.
The Christian Identity movement encompasses churches and individuals who espouse a white supremacist theology. Barkun’s well-researched book offers historical perspective into the movement, beginning in Victorian England with the British Israelism movement, and then focuses on the ideologies of groups such as Aryan Nations and Posse Comitatus, both of which use Christianity to justify race war.
Brower, Sam. Prophet’s Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. 2011. 336p. index. ISBN 9781608192755. $27; pap. ISBN 9781608193240. $16.
Mormon Brower recounts his seven-year investigation of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) leader Warren Jeffs. This investigation ultimately led to the conviction of Jeffs on felony counts of child sexual assault while the book presents a rare and detailed look into the FLDS. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 9/30/11)
Drain, Lauren & Lisa Pulitzer. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church. Grand Central.2013. 304p. ISBN 9781455512423. $25.99.
Drain brings a unique perspective to the study of the Westboro Baptist Church, providing an insider’s look into this virulent quasi-religious group. Having spent seven years in the cult, Drain chronicles her assimilation into the church, her maturation and subsequent challenge to the church’s tenets, and her ultimate banishment. (LJ 3/1/13)
Kaplan, Jeffrey. Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah. Syracuse Univ. (Religion & Politics). 1997. 245p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780815603962. pap. $19.95.
There is a dearth of research about the histories, inner workings, and belief systems of radical religion movements. Kaplan’s book closes this gap by focusing on their radical doctrine and rejection of mainstream culture. The result is an exceptional study of radical religion in the United States.
Johnson, Daryl. Right-Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat Is Being Ignored. Rowman & Littlefield. 2012. 422p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781442218963. $45.
In the year after Obama’s 2008 victory, the number of militia groups tripled to 512—some suggest the number is higher. Many of these groups embrace a more radical and militant vision than in the past. Johnson, an expert on right-wing extremism, examines the dynamics of these groups and details how the threat they pose is being ignored.
Levitas, Daniel. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. 2d ed. Griffin: St. Martin’s. 2004. 544p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780312320416. $23.99.
Levitas proffers a comprehensive look at far-right movements in the United States, tracking their ideological roots back to the Middle Ages. In addition to detailing the histories of hate groups such as the KKK and White Citizens’ Council, Levitas pays significant attention to the surging numbers of paramilitary antigovernment militias since the 1960s.
Mulloy, D.J. American Extremism: History, Politics and the Militia Movement. reprint. Routledge. (Studies in Extremism & Democracy). 2008. 248p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780415483803. pap. $49.95.
Mulloy does the best job of concretely defining the militia movement’s historical, political, and ideological underpinnings. He underscores the centrality of themes such as the resistance from tyranny and the mythic American West and how they are articulated in vigilantism and the fight for Second Amendment rights. Invaluable.
Declassified: Radical America, Left and Right. color. 50 min. History Channel, shophistory.com. 2006. DVD $24.95.
A broad historical examination of radical movements in the United States, this documentary covers such diverse groups as the Black Panther Party, Weather Underground, and Aryan Brotherhood. Through the presentation of declassified documents, viewers are granted a rare look at both ends of the radical spectrum.
Nazi America: A Secret History. color. 100 min. History Channel, shophistory.com. 2008. DVD ISBN9781422924235. $19.99.
An in-depth look at the emergence, evolution, and growth of the Nazi movement in the United States and the tension between upholding the First Amendment right to free speech and the violent radical action this speech can engender.
Anti-Defamation League: Extremism in America; archive.adl.org/learn/ext_us
According to the Anti-Defamation League, this archive provides “the context needed to understand the history of such extremists, what their beliefs are, how those beliefs motivate them to action, and what forms their actions take.” Users can browse by individual, movement, or group to connect to comprehensive profiles that include information on origin, ideology, estimated size, and activity.
Southern Poverty Law Center; www.splcenter.org
The SPLC offers a multitude of resources for those studying various fringe political movements in this country. Its “Active Patriot Groups America” page indexes more than 500 militias, organized by state. The “Hate and Extremism” page documents the more than 1,000 hate groups in the United States and provides vast resources for understanding and tracking hate groups in this country. The SPLC’s Intelligence Files database provides profiles of various prominent extremists and extremist organizations.
Rob Walsh is the Social Sciences Librarian at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. Follow him on Twitter @xlibrarygeekx