In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest
This is my second time reading this book. I first read it back in the early 2000s, when Orcinus was on my blogroll along with Slacktivist and Wonkette and Balloon Juice: all those anti-Iraq War bloggers who were formative in developing my anti-authoritarian stubbornness. And the subject matter reaches back even farther, to my childhood in a household that received mailers from “America is a Christian nation” pro-life preachers who skirted the edges of the blatant anti-government white nationalism spouted by the Patriots in this books. So reading this was a bit nostalgic for me, while at the same time a useful refresher on the roots of the Neo-Nazis who live in my neighborhood today.
Neiwert is an Idaho native and a reporter, and both of those things show clearly in his prose. He gathers information and tells stories like the best investigative reporters, and the nuance and depth Neiwert brings to the people of the inland Northwest is something only a local could do. As a local myself, I can verify it.
This book covers the Freemen, the Militia of Montana, the Washington State Militia, the Ruby Ridge standoff, and the assorted sovereign citizens and Christian Patriots who formed the network of weird right wing conspiracy theorists in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington in the 1980s and 1990s, tracing them back to the Klan days in the 1920s. Published in 1999, it feels a bit like it cuts off right before it gets interesting—before the Bush years, before the Obama-era conspiracies blew up, before the Bundy family’s multiple standoffs with the FBI and the recent resurgence in urban Christian Patriot fascism in Portland and Seattle. But it’s a good reminder that Joey Gibson isn’t doing anything original, and Haley Adams isn’t the first grifter to latch onto rightwing conspiracy theories to support herself. And I find comfort in the reminder that we have faced this fascism before, and won with the strength of community solidity and the power of truth, clearly told.
I plan to read Neiwert’s more recent books soon, probably moving on to DEATH ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, which picks up in the year 2000 with a hate crime in Ocean Shores, Washington, after I take a break to read some fiction. In the meantime, I'll be pairing this history with the current day reporters on fascist movements: Emily Gorcenski, WA Nazi Watch, and Rose City Antifa. I also recommend Dr. Sarah Taber, who illuminates the rural/agricultural U.S. and the racism that runs through its bones.