As the number of organizations aligning themselves with white supremacy, the militia movement and other extremist views appears to be in decline, a national expert on political extremism takes little comfort, saying that the trend simply reflects a new era of consolidation in the extreme right movement.
Or so says Mark Potok, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, a quarterly magazine devoted to analyzing political extremism and bias crimes throughout the United States. Potok, an investigative journalist who for more than 20 years has written on the radical right and anti-government activity, including the siege in Waco, Texas and the Oklahoma City bombing, will be speaking Thursday, March 30 in Kalispell and Friday, March 31 at the Salish-Kootenai College in Pablo on current trends in the hate movement.
“I think that what’s happening is that the patriot groups are declining and we’re seeing much harder-edged, more white supremacist groups coming to dominate the scene,” says Potok from his office in Montgomery, Ala. “These things are worrying, not because the organizations are large per se, but because these are very hard-line organizations on the scene. They make Militia Montana look like a joke.”
Potok’s tour of Montana could not be more timely, amid growing reports that the anti-government rally scheduled for next month in Libby is drawing the attention of neo-Nazis, militia groups and other extremist groups in the region. Nevertheless, the timing of Potok’s speeches is purely coincidental, says Ken Toole of the Montana Human Rights Network, which is sponsoring the visit, along with the Flathead Reservation Human Rights Coalition.
“Potok deals with some of the weirdest of the weird as far as the white supremacist movement goes,” says Toole. “As we watch the [Libby] event develop, it’s getting weirder and weirder.”
Although Potok does not necessarily equate anti-government sentiment or the militia movement with violent, racist or anti-Semitic activities, he does point out that “the patriot movement emerged from Day One from white supremacist groups,” drawing ideas from the radical and violent “Posse Comitatus” group of the late 1970s and 1980s. Potok says that in the late 1990s, these groups capitalized on extreme property, gun, and local sovereignty rights rhetoric to attract members to their cause, while publicly de-emphasizing or downplaying their racist and anti-Semitic tendencies.
“We’ve always seen a lot of overlap between the extreme property rights rhetoric and the far right and the Freemen and militia,” agrees Toole. “But the overlap tends to be [one of] personality rather than organizational.”
Potok’s speech is scheduled for Friday March 31 at 7 p.m. in the Michel Building on the campus of the Salish-Kootenai College.