Once you start down the path of learning about so-called “fringe” groups in the United States, you will find that you have fallen down a rabbit hole. It’s an interwoven maze of related groups who actually (and often) have seemingly unrelated ideas. It’s like picking at that loose thread and unraveling the entire sweater.
For many people, that journey can begin with one of three very recognizable events in the U.S.:
- The Oklahoma City Bombing
- The Waco Siege
- Ruby Ridge
These all have a related thread that runs through them; but individually, they lead you to very different groups of people. Let’s start with the related thread.
The Oklahoma City Bombing was an act of domestic terrorism carried out by Timothy McVeigh as pay-back for the Waco Siege and Ruby Ridge. Those two events carry a related thread as they were both public relations disasters for the ATF and FBI, and involved some of the same players from those agencies.
Many people today are drawn into this web because of the popularity of the limited series “Waco” that aired on Paramount Network and is now on Netflix. Interestingly, there are many people for whom this is the first they’ve ever heard about the events at Mount Carmel.
Because both events were followed and supported by other fringe groups, such as Christian Identity and Neo-Nazis, study of these events can lead one into the rabbit hole of studying this fringe groups.
As with much of today’s under-educated, over-coddled society, we find that nuance of language is meaningless. By this I mean that to the average arm-chair expert on fringe groups, Christian Identity and Neo-Nazi mean the same thing. One is interchangeable with the other. Two sides of the same coin.
But nuance is important. They have distinct differences, as do KKK, Buggaloo Boys, Odinists, and other such groups. While there are some overlapping beliefs and some common ground, lumping them all together as equivalents causes you to miss the details. Missing important details causes you to misunderstand motivations behind their actions.
Racism, bigotry, hate – they are not necessarily what they seem. Remember that journalists are not experts in this field, and sadly, they often fall into the same trap of lumping them all in as equivalents. If the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and Christian Identity are all anti-Semitic racists, then they all must be the same, right?
Even though it’s rhetorical, you can tell a lot about what a person’s level of knowledge is based solely on their answer to that question.
But back to the rabbit hole…
The overlap between these ideologies is exactly what can lead you into an endless rabbit tunnel with twists and turns in every direction. Many key characters overlap and have (or had) alliances with members of other groups, even though they had differences of opinion on other key areas of their beliefs.
One prime example of this is studying the formation of Christian Identity in the United States. CI grew out of British Israelism. Both believe European whites are the 10 lost tribes of Israel. But there are many distinct differences. BI was philo-Semitic. In other words, “pro Jew” as they viewed the tribe of Judah as “separated brethren.” CI believes modern day Jews are descended from a sexual relationship between Eve and the Serpent, and are thus children of Satan. That’s an important difference.
Continuing on, early developers of CI ideologies overlapped their anti-Semitism with related groups such as the KKK. Certain other leaders, such as Richard Girnt Butler had an affinity for Nazis. Nazism itself is essentially incompatible with CI beliefs. Nazism has its roots in the occult and esoteric philosophies such as Ariosophy. The common ground is that both groups believe the modern day Jews to be frauds. So having an affinity for Nazis (such as their approach to Jews) is not the same as following Nazism.
Although prominent in CI circles, Butler was unique in this regard. But he used the common ground of various fringe groups to push the agenda of that common ground, which was white supremacy. That’s different that other “pure” CI adherents such as Emry Sheldon, who were anti-Semitic, but staunchly “Christian.”
The lesson is, yes, you can end up going down a rabbit hole. But that can be a good thing, because if you’re open to understanding the material you are researching, you can gain significant knowledge of what makes these groups different rather than lumping them together as simply anti-Semitic racists. And if you can accomplish that, you’ll have a better understanding of what motivates them, what makes them tick.