Reactionaries left and right
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on March 24, 2005.
Ward Churchill is the Rick Stanley of the left. Stanley is the Denver businessman who ran for U.S. Senate in 2002 as a Libertarian. He has since been convicted of threatening two judges and sentenced to six years in prison, but his case remains on appeal.
There are, of course, important differences between Churchill and Stanley. Churchill is better educated, though his credentials, I believe, never warranted tenure or even a professorship. Churchill has never been criminally charged for threatening violence. Stanley, on the other hand, has never been accused of plagiarism. While Churchill seems to spend much of his time criticizing "white men" (though he appears to be one), Stanley distributed an anonymous poem that mocked Mexicans.
Churchill is alleged to have lied about his ancestry, concocted "facts," plagiarized and sold another artist's work under his own name. Stanley claimed that government officials may have conspired to reduce men's sperm count and that they may have planted pipe bombs. Churchill seems to lie on purpose, whereas Stanley seems to make false claims because he's not a careful thinker.
Yet there are also astounding similarities between the two figures, even though Churchill made his home among the fringe left while Stanley hooked up with the loony right.
Perhaps the most striking similarity is that both figures revel in violent imagery.
Stanley forwarded to his e-mail list a message written by somebody else: "Wake Up America, we need Summary Street Trials everywhere everyday in America, no need for formalities, no pomp and fanfare, my friends, you are the judicial power units in America and if you Judge them a traitor... you must execute them immediately..." Stanley added, "When the day comes, and it will, America will be prepared for the traitors' day in the people's court."
Stanley also argued that Senator Wayne Allard should be tried for treason and hanged and that people should join a "Million Gun March" on Washington, D.C. He forwarded another message that anticipated possible violence against Jews.
Like Churchill, Stanley later tried to excuse some of his postings by claiming he was merely offering information.
Churchill argued that Islamic terrorists "must" and "should" push back against the United States. According to the Rocky Mountain News, Churchill has excused violent Black Panthers, members of the Weather Underground and animal "liberation" terrorists. The News offers additional quotes by Churchill. "Why, by the way, did it take Arabs to do what people here should have done a long time ago?" And, "You want to do something constructive for indigenous Hawaiians? Stay home. And if you have to break their kneecaps in order to get them to, do it."
The violence described by Churchill and Stanley reaches apocalyptical levels. In his controversial essay, Churchill predicts that terrorists will attack America many more times with "incrementally higher" casualty rates. He writes, "They've given Americans a tiny dose of their own medicine. This might be seen as merely a matter of 'vengeance' or 'retribution,' and, unquestionably, America has earned it... It would require another 49,996 detonations killing 495,000 more Americans, for the 'terrorists' to 'break even' for the bombing of Baghdad/extermination of Iraqi children alone... To attain an actual proportional parity of damage... they would, at a minimum, have to blow up about 300,000 more buildings and kill something on the order of 7.5 million people."
Stanley's apocalypse draws from Christian mythology: "The battle erupted. From both sides they came. The evil. The good. From government. From 'We The People.' It spread from shore to shore. From defense it came. Deadly and triumphant, the Lion joined the fray. The New World Order, smashed by God's Order."
The two are similar in other ways. Both invoke kooky conspiracy theories. Both describe the United States as a fascist regime, and they ignore the virtues of the country. Both have domineering personalities, and both have been accused of threatening people. Both appeal to the right of free speech yet ignore the point that free speech does not require an organization to confer positions of influence. Both pretend to be victims of conspiratorial oppressors. Both heap abuse on scapegoats. Both have attracted cult-like followers who rationalize away the faults of their leader and pretend they are part of an oppressed elite.
In a word, both Churchill and Stanley are reactionaries.
Eric Hoffer discusses reactionaries in The True Believer: "The radical and the reactionary loathe the present. They see it as an aberration and a deformity. Both are ready to proceed ruthlessly and recklessly with the present... Wherein do they differ? Primarily in their view of the malleability of man's nature. The radical has a passionate faith in the infinite perfectibility of human nature... The reactionary... sees the future as a glorious restoration..." Hoffer notes that radicals and reactionaries often morph into their apparent opposite.
Hoffer prefers the "sober liberal" who "sees the present as the legitimate offspring of the past and as constantly growing and developing toward an improved future..."
Chris Matthew Sciabarra, the dialectical libertarian, uses the term "radical" the way Hoffer uses "liberal." For Sciabarra, what Hoffer describes as "radical" is better understood as utopian. Visionary utopia is detached from reality, and thus it always contains within it the seeds of reactionism.
And so the similarities between far-right Stanley and far-left Churchill make perfect sense. The final difference between them is that, while eventually Stanley lost most of his followers, Churchill continues to attract significant support from the academic and activist left.