The Coast Guard Nazi: A symptom of the system

Lt Christopher Hasson of the US Coast Guard with weapons.
Lt. Christopher Hasson of the United States Coast Guard was arrested on February 15 for intending to commit mass murder. Fifteen guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from his home. | Photo: Facebook / U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland

By Cassandra Devereaux

A man in Kentucky shoots two Black customers in a grocery store parking lot after he is unable to enter a historically Black church to carry out a planned massacre. Another in Pittsburgh murders 11 Jewish people in a synagogue. Five journalists in Maryland are murdered in their own newsroom. 2018 was a bloody year in the United States, as the threat of mass shootings became more and more a constant companion.

And in February 2019, 15 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from the home of Lieutenant Christopher Hasson of the United States Coast Guard.

According to the filing in federal court, Lt. Hasson intended to commit mass murder. His special targets include well-known media figures and members of Congress such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez, a reform-oriented social Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, is a common bugbear of the right wing for simply invoking the word “socialism.” Lt. Hasson had an online relationship with old guard hate leader Harold Covington, co-founder of UK terror cell Combat 18, which is responsible for mailing bombs. After his discharge from the army in 1971, Covington went on to Rhodesia (the country of Zimbabwe today) to fight against the struggle to abolish apartheid there, going on to inspire and cultivate racist mass murderers Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof and more.

In his letter to the prominent white supremacist, Lt. Hasson dreamed of “a way to kill almost every last person on the earth” using plagues such as Spanish flu, botulism and anthrax, echoing one way entire indigenous populations were wiped out in the settling of the North American continent. He wrote, “How long can we hold out… and prevent ni**erization of the Northwest until whites wake up on their own or are forcibly made to make a decision whether to roll over and die or to stand up remains to be seen.”

It is comforting to believe that those like Lt. Hasson are an aberration, someone isolated and ineffectual and not indicative of any greater movements. This is not the case. A recent study by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has confirmed a fact that is as shocking as it is sadly obvious; every one of the politically-motivated murders in 2018 was done in the service of far-right ideology, claiming at least 50 lives. Far-right murders that year saw a 35 percent increase from 2017’s known death toll, which was at least 34 deaths. Twenty of the 2017 murders, or 57 percent, were the result of far-right violence. 2017 in turn had seen a doubling of the previous year’s far-right extremist death toll. A murderous snowball is rolling, growing and gaining momentum.

In understanding far-right extremism in the United States today, it is useful to look to Louis R. Beam Jr., a charismatic Ku Klux Klan leader and author of the appalling “Essays of A Klansman.” As a helicopter gunner, Beam was part of the U.S. war machine in Vietnam where he gained an appetite for murder, which he described as a “joy.” He expressed rage at the sense of betrayal he felt that the U.S. didn’t “finish the job” and soon turned that ire against those who protested the war. He believed that the war would continue at home and turned against those who resisted the slaughter he relished in. To do this, he saw the need to adopt small terrorist cells and lone wolf “violence against soft targets.” Soft targets, in the common parlance, are those who are unlikely to be armed or protected by security measures, people who would be unlikely to pose a threat to an attacker determined to kill as many people as fast as they can.

KKK leader Louis R. Beam, Jr.
KKK leader Louis R. Beam, Jr. has inspired many white supremacist terrorists in the U.S. | Photo: Southern Poverty Law Center

Beam described these tactics as “leaderless resistance” and would inspire generations of white supremacist terrorists. He would form alliances between the Klan and the neo-Nazi formation Aryan Nations, whose compound he would eventually move into. These tactics would be illustrated by the indictments he faced in the early 1970s for bombing a radio station and attacking a communist organization with an assault rifle. In a speech given at the 1983 Aryan World Congress, Beam was quoted as saying, “I’m here to tell you that if we can’t have this country, as far as I’m concerned, no one gets it. The guns are cocked, the bullets are in the chamber.” He became an inspiration to many across the far-right ideological spectrum.

One disciple of Beam’s teachings would be Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring at least 680. Another killer inspired by Beam was Dylann Roof, who killed nine Black attendees of a Bible study at the historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Church in 2015. Roof has been lionized by the current white nationalist movement to such a degree that adherents have taken to photoshopping themselves with his signature bowl cut. Notably, Christopher “Crying Nazi” Cantwell of Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally posted just such a picture of himself on the far-right social network Gab, accompanied only by the word “soon.” Cantwell was a prime focus of the Vice documentary “Race and Terror” about Unite the Right, in which he said, “I’m carrying a pistol. I go to the gym all the time. I’m trying to make myself more capable of violence.” His photo and the ominous word “soon” are to be read as a threat.

white supremacist Christopher Cantwell
Christopher Cantwell is a white supremacist featured on the Vice News documentary about the Unite the Right rally entitled “Race and Terror.” | Photo: Youtube/Vice News

Another charismatic far-right figure, one who blends in as an establishment figure, has advanced a call for Beam’s “leaderless resistance” tactics. Richard Spencer is a scion of a millionaire family, that owns 1,600 acres of a cotton farm in Louisiana, who largely exploits African-American labor. Spencer is a man famously known for his use of the Nazi term Lügenpresse, or “lying press,” in a speech he concluded with “hail Trump, hail victory” to a Nazi-saluting crowd. This choice of phrase is a clear Nazi callback, as “hail victory” is the English translation of seig heil. It’s worth noting that this takes place under the rule of a president who consistently describes media as “lying” and “fake news” and invokes the motto “America first,” an ideological cousin to “Germany above all others,” or Deutschland über alles.

Whether or not Trump’s echo is deliberate in the same way as Spencer’s phrases, it is nevertheless an expression of a worldview that divides people into highly fallacious categories of the righteous (those who benefit from the status quo) and the “degenerate” (the different, the weak, the foreign). This is what nationalism has in common with all hate. The white supremacist, the transphobe, the anti-Semite and all of their ideological kin see opportunity in nationalism. Once they draw lines between “us” and “them,” it’s easy to move that line. One can draw the circle tighter, leaving those they hate on the other side. When one seeks to give full actualization to hate, nationalism opens the door, and for a white supremacist, nationalism is a vital first step.

Spencer opportunistically seizes on Trump’s push to build nationalist sentiment. In the wake of Charlottesville, when the far-right knew chaos instead of triumph and found themselves facing an ascendant militant left opposition, Spencer’s website, from which the alt-right takes their name, published an article titled “Leaderless Resistance.” In it, Vincent Law wrote, “…we cannot rely on pyramid structures of authority. You the individual have to pick up the slack. Every single one of you has to become an officer capable of independent activism. Our movement needs to start resembling a Leaderless Resistance.”

Not only are new leaders emerging, but new organizations are being birthed in the ideological current of yesterday’s hate, built on foundations of those who had come before. One of these is the explicitly-Nazi Atomwaffen Division. Named for the German word for nuclear armament, its members are responsible for at least five killings in the space of a year, including that of Blaze Bernstein, a gay Jewish student. Of Bernstein’s killer, members gleefully described him as a “one-man gay Jew wrecking crew.” Admiring Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson, they espouse the use of murder and terror as an “accelerationist” strategy to cause the collapse of society so that it can be remade in their twisted image.  Atomwaffen consists of individuals connected on the internet, although there are meetups for members to discuss tactics and to train in paramilitary techniques. Further, they are affiliated with other white supremacist organizations such as Canada’s Northern Order, Great Britain’s Sonnenkrieg Division, and the international Soldiers of Odin.

A societal collapse is something they’re actively attempting to engineer. Arrested for the murder of two roommates, National Guardsman Brandon Russell was found with the materials needed to create a radioactive “dirty bomb,” including radioactive materials and detonators. He was sentenced to a mere five years in prison for possession of these materials and was not charged with the murders. In sentencing him, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew described his as a “difficult case” and told him, “You seem like a very smart young man.”

The far-right is successfully networking. In fact, they’re social networking. Gab was created as an alternative when Twitter started banning some of its most notorious far-right accounts. More ominously, neo-Nazi Norman Spear has created a social network called The Base, which exists, at least in part, to organize paramilitary training, discuss terrorist strategy and unite disparate groups of extremists to work in concord. Just as Beam was in the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam, Norman Spear is a veteran of the United States’ imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Certainly, veterans are found in all areas of public life, including many anti-war veterans, and not just on the violent, extremist fringe, and many right-wingers like Dylann Roof never joined up. However, the link between military service and far-right violence has been noted and discussed. A 2013 article in The Atlantic titled “The Greater Danger: Military-Trained Right Wing Extremists” details many examples, such as Wade Michael Page, a veteran who murdered six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. In a 1996 paper titled “Rise of Domestic Terrorism and Its Relation to United States Armed Forces,” Lieutenant Commander Steven Mack Presley of the U.S. Navy’s Medical Corps presented to his superiors a history of extremist violence linked to the military from the Civil War to the time of his writing.

A paragraph beginning with discussions of 1970s Klan activity in the armed forces leads to this description of the notorious Frazier Glenn Miller: “In 1979 the Army discharged a sergeant named Glenn Miller for distributing racist literature, after which he founded the White Patriots Party which espoused the violent takeover of the United States government, including the mass slayings of high officials and minorities (coincidentally or not, very similar to tactics and strategies portrayed in The Turner Diaries).”

“The Turner Diaries” is a 1978 novel which is considered a classic by white hate even to this day, depicting a gratuitously violent fantasy of insurrectionary race war with explicit depictions of murder and torture.

Presley continued with, “Miller was arrested and stood trial on other charges in 1986, during which Robert Norman Jones, a prosecution witness and former Marine, testified that the White Patriots Party had obtained more than $50,000 of anti-personnel mines, grenades and other ordinance stolen from sources at Fort Bragg and that active-duty soldiers had helped him train party members in tactics and the use of those weapons. Klanwatch Project in Montgomery, Alabama implicated ten active-duty Marines as being members of the White Patriots Party in a related case in 1986. Three of the Marines were eventually discharged as a result.”

Miller currently sits on death row for the 2014 murder of three individuals he perceived to be Jewish. At his sentencing, he screamed, “Heil Hitler! One day my spirit will rise from my grave and you all will know that I was right. Heil Hitler!”

The American war machine is a finely-honed lethal instrument, existing to serve the dictatorship of capital by ravaging formerly colonized peoples and crushing movements that would liberate them from imperialist powers. It installs regimes that allow corporate pillaging of their resources. Xenophobia is an important element to indoctrinate its troops, so it is unsurprising to find troops, currently serving or veterans, who embrace extremist hate and even train domestic white nationalist terrorists. However, one thing that can be said of empires from Rome to Great Britain to the United States is that they are abetted by tight bureaucratic structure, keeping meticulous records. The loss of $50,000 worth of armament, about $115,000 adjusted for inflation, implies a high amount of complicity at many levels.

Also complicit is another body of armed agents of the state: law enforcement. In the age of Black Lives Matter, we can easily see the lethal enmity police have for the communities of color who they are supposed to “serve and protect.” Many of the names of Black men and boys murdered by officers are well-known, such as Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown, who have become household names. Another is Sandra Bland, the activist who was “discovered hanged” in police custody in the same jail cell in which, on January 25 this year, a Black man named Evan Lyndell Parker was also “found dead.”

Bland is not the only illustration of the lethal consequences of standing against police terror if you are Black. Like her, Evan Lyndell Parker was hanged. Found in his own backyard, Danye Jones was likewise hanged; another Black person murdered in the signature style of white terror in the United States. Danye was the son of prominent Ferguson activist Melissa McKinnies. Others were murdered in other ways, as the example of Edward Crawford shows. In an iconic photo, Crawford was shown throwing a can of tear gas back at the highly militarized police who had fired it. In 2017, he was found shot dead in his car.

The same is true of activists Darren Seals in 2016 and DeAndre Joshua in 2014. Joshua was killed on the night Michael Brown’s murderer, Officer Darren Wilson, was acquitted. Seals and Joshua were both shot in the head, their cars set on fire, two years apart. Their killers are yet at large. The police claim that Seals and Joshua, like Bland, committed suicide. One thing is certain: we live in a world where Black Lives Matter activists are frequently called terrorists even in the center right and among white liberals.

Tellingly, Confederate battle flags are being taken down as “thin blue line” flags are hoisted. As Black men and other oppressed people face police terror, the disgusting and ironic “Blue Lives Matter” movement is uplifted. Victims of police murder, including children like Andy Lopez and Tamir Rice, the latter of which shot dead by police at 12 years old while playing with friends in a park, are dismissed as “thugs.” In the context of this society, those brave Black activists who spoke against police brutality and for liberation all were martyred as they met violent ends. Formations like Atomwaffen are preparing themselves to slaughter, but their efforts can’t yet compare to the deaths caused by police. Those who bend the knee to official authority ignore or celebrate these killings.

The FBI has been shown to have awareness of the problem of white supremacy in law enforcement. In an article for The Intercept, journalist Alice Speri wrote:

In Los Angeles, for example, a U.S. District Court judge found in 1991 that members of a local sheriff’s department had formed a neo-Nazi gang and habitually terrorized black and Latino residents. In Chicago, Jon Burge, a police detective and rumored KKK member, was fired, and eventually prosecuted in 2008, over charges relating to the torture of at least 120 black men during his decades long career. Burge notoriously referred to an electric shock device he used during interrogations as the “ni**er box.” In Cleveland, officials found that a number of police officers had scrawled “racist or Nazi graffiti” throughout their department’s locker rooms. In Texas, two police officers were fired when it was discovered they were Klansmen. One of them said he had tried to boost the organization’s membership by giving an application to a fellow officer he thought shared his “white, Christian, heterosexual values.”

Speri’s article is centered around an FBI internal intelligence assessment from 2006 titled, “White Supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement.” While it is heavily censored, it invokes concerns about white supremacists in law enforcement having access to areas susceptible to sabotage and that information taken would be shared across white supremacist networks.

Of note, they discuss the unique the threat of the Ku Klux Klan by saying, “The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is notable among white supremacist groups for historically having found support in many communities, which often translated into ties to local law enforcement.”

Portland KKK march
Portland, Oregon, is the United States’ whitest city with a dark history of white supremacy. | Photo: Oregon Historical Society

The left-wing slogan “cops and Klan go hand in hand” is an attempt to drive home this reality. Hardly a surprise, as police have its origins in antebellum slave catching patrols, a strain of historic DNA it shares with the Klan.

Even when police officers aren’t members of any reactionary and violent organizations (other than that which issues them a badge), they can still play support to reactionary elements and even use them as means to their ends. Text messages have recently been revealed between the Portland, Oregon, police department and far-right organizations, offering them advice, support, and revealing the position of anti-racist protestors for the right-wing groups to confront. They have also assured them they they would refuse to carry out an arrest warrant against said groups if possible. Portland, the United States’ whitest city and one with a history of white supremacy, saw police assault peaceful anti-racist protestors last August, inflicting traumatic brain injury by shooting one protester directly in the head with a flashbang canister, lodging it deep in his metal helmet. Late last year, the far-right gang calling themselves “Proud Boys” showed up as guests of the aristocratic Metropolitan Republican Club to reenact the 1960 murder of a Japanese socialist leader; they beat a protester  who had shown up at the event, and the New York Police Department ignored it. Only after video evidence of the attack and officer’s indifference went viral on social media did the NYPD deign to do anything about it.

What has previously caused and is now spurring the rapid rise of far-right formations? Capitalism and the “American Dream” tell people that they too can become rich if they are smart and possess sufficient character. With the rapid stratifying of society and the concentration of wealth into ever-fewer hands, people are more often living with less. Because our culture’s animating myth has long been that wealth is determined by merit, when this is put to the lie and people are unable to meaningly improve their material conditions, they come face-to-face with the reality behind the lie. This contradiction laid bare, one may choose from a few interpretations to explain it. They might continue to accept the false premise of wealth reflecting personal worth and conclude that they are unworthy failures as individuals. They might continue to accept the premise but conclude that the “natural” process is being undermined, looking for an enemy subverting the system and robbing them of their “just reward.” Or they might recognize the lie for what it is and gaze squarely into the abyss of their subjugation to the dictatorship of capital.

When people go down the third road and understand the inherent exploitation of the capitalist system, they may follow path to proletarian liberation. This is the path that socialists proceed down. Those who reject socialism’s truth for the easy poison of scapegoating, however, are prone to racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, homo-/bi-/transphobia and all the assorted demons of human hate. They are open to recruitment into terror. As we have seen those who do this have no difficulty finding support among heavily-armed officials of state power, who very often find direction for their violent hate in far-right ideology.

Army 2nd Lt Spenser Rapon
Army 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone was dismissed from the armed forces for posting a photograph of “communism will win” written on the inside lining of his dress uniform’s hat. | Photo: Spenser Rapone/AP

The state and its agents are never neutral. They take sides, and that side is never the economically, nationally, or otherwise oppressed peoples. They are agents of class war, siding with the oppressor against the oppressed and vulnerable masses. The events of a single day in the jurisprudence of U.S. armed forces is a perfect illustration of this truth. On June 19, 2018, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Vasillios Pistolis, who was revealed to be a member of the murderous Atomwaffen Division, was found guilty of assaulting and beating an anti-racist protester at 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. He received a reduction in rank but, at that time, was allowed to continue his career in the Marines after being confined for 28 days and forfeiting two-thirds of his salary for a month. On the same day, Army 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone was dismissed with a less-than-honorable discharge from the armed forces for a photograph of him holding his dress uniform’s hat with “communism will win” written on the inside lining. He had committed no acts of violence, or any crimes, simply clandestinely expressed his views at his graduation from West Point. Here, the nature of armed agents of the state are here laid bare: they stand for domination of the oppressed and destruction of minorities, the vulnerable; they stand against those workers striving to secure the means of survival from the capitalists for whom they toil forever, given ever-shrinking compensation.

When we hear of someone in the military, like Lieutenant Christopher Hasson, talking about committing the mass slaughter of oppressed peoples, the public is rightly disturbed, if they are planning on acting independent of orders from their superior officers. Otherwise, they’re seen as a valiant hero, thanked for their service, their lethal institutions publicly lionized from enormous sports events to humble small-town parades.

Whether working under direct state orders, joining and imparting tactical acumen for an increasingly organized and networked paramilitary formation, or engaging in violence under a lone wolf “leaderless resistance” model, they are part of the same gruesome machine. It is one that’s fueled by innocents’ blood and unconscionable horrors. These people do indeed serve, but not “their nation,” nor even really an abstracted, parochial notion of “their race.” Their poor countrymen will continue to be poor, and material conditions for themselves and those of similar ethnic origins will continue to deteriorate. Only the capitalist elite will profit from their venom and violence. Colonized peoples will continue to be crushed, workers will be divided against themselves and be unable to organize to better their conditions, aided by the culture of hate.

Liberation depends on class solidarity, and the function of hate under capitalism is to break this solidarity by any means necessary, allowing the richest few to sit perched atop a mountain of broken bones, crushed bodies and the destruction of dreams. This shockingly successful strategy leaves the working class with a vital and pressing choice, one as strategic as it is moral. Will we support the murder and repression that serves the capitalist class by actively engaging in its machinery or passively supporting it through inaction? Will we fight to bring into reality Spenser Rapone’s prophecy and by taking a side, to join the fight to make sure that finally, mercifully, communism wins?

The choice is ours. The future can be belong to the working masses if only we see that class war has been upon us for as long as there have been classes and together we take up the fight for liberation.

Join in solidarity. All power to the people!

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