Fundamental Values: The Futility of “Extreme Vetting”

Malheur armed occupation

When Donald Trump presented his national security policy last week, the focus was very much on terrorism, and with great specificity, that which he must name: “Radical Islam”. His proposed solutions included the “extreme vetting” of immigrants to ensure they are all possessed of “American values”. If we were in any doubt who the nominee expects to fail such a test, Trump gave specific examples:
any hostile attitude towards our country or its principles, or who believed sharia law should supplant American law. . . . Those who did not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country.
Trump also vowed to protect the equal rights of women and the LGBT community from what he views as the US’ biggest threat:
We cannot let this evil continue. Nor can we let the hateful ideology of Radical Islam – its oppression of women, gays, children, and nonbelievers – be allowed to reside or spread within our own countries,… my Administration will speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith.

The current focus of the nominee, and the media and political field in general, is clearly on the acts of those controlled or inspired by fundamentalist Islamic groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL, and undoubtedly this is a grave problem which requires careful attention. However, such a singular view of the threat to US national security, not to mention the demonisation of a whole religion, distracts attention away from other forms of ideological extremism much closer to home.

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

Let’s first look at Trump’s claim to, “speak out against the oppression of women, gays and people of different faith”, with the specific example of his own running mate Mike Pence.  As Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, who regularly introduces himself as, “a Christian, a Conservative and a Republican, in that order”, has signed off on bills to legalise anti LGBT discrimination and to force women to have ultrasounds 18 hours prior to abortions and to bury or cremate foetal remains, even in cases of miscarriage. He has made attempts to criminalise abortion, with the women potentially bring prosecuted, supports ‘conversion therapy’ over AIDS services and was extremely resistant to implementing a needle exchange programme in the midst of an HIV crisis in his State. Not exactly the paragon of support for women and gays his boss is extolling.

Merchandise seen at RNC convention, Cleveland

Trump against the oppression of women – Merchandise seen at RNC convention, Cleveland

Trump himself has a record of making insulting comments about women and on several occasions retweeted or displayed at rallies graphics and theories found on far-right and white supremacist discussion threads. This week, in a campaign team reshuffle, he employed Stephen Bannon, chairman of news and comment site Breitbart. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, during Bannon’s tenure, “the outlet has undergone a noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas –– all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right’.”
Even Trump’s enthusiastic supporters bring into question their own ability to reach their candidate’s proposed new threshold of tolerance:

Secondly, Trump takes pains to stress that the ideological threat to American values comes from Radical Islam. However, it should not be forgotten that fundamentalism is not limited to those of one particular faith but can be found within all religions and other belief systems. In his 2003 book ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’, Jon Krakauer undertakes an examination of the bloody foundations of the Mormon Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) and more recent murderous acts committed by members of some of its fundamentalist groups. Krakauer is at pains to point out he chose to examine the Mormon faith merely because he grew up surrounded by friends who were members, and that similar examples of extreme beliefs leading to extreme actions could be found in countless other ideological systems. What makes LDS so interesting is that it is a religious movement born in the US in the fairly recent past (1830) and is quintessentially American, believing the nation to be the home of the Garden of Eden and location of Christ’s second coming. The religion had a bloody past with persecutions against it and its perpetration of the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857, in which 120 gentiles were murdered in a treacherous ambush on a wagon train, before the group’s exodus to their current home in Utah. Schisms quickly occurred between those who agreed to forgo polygamy in order to maintain peace with the Federal Government and those who believed plural marriage was a fundamental tenet of the religion, above man’s law. As a result, the religion fragmented with fundamentalist groups (FLDS) separating from those in power in Salt Lake City.

In 1880, an early LDS President, Prophet, Seer & Revelator (to give him his full title) John Taylor said,”God is greater than the United States and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven and against the government” and such a sentiment is still to be found amongst fundamentalist LDS and other anti-government groups in the country today. The practice of polygamy has resulted in cases of abductions, rape, child marriage, domestic abuse, incest and child sexual abuse and adherents to the religion also believe that homosexuality and interracial marriage are crimes against God, punishable by death. However FLDS members defend their beliefs and actions, claiming they are Constitutionally protected under “religious freedom”.

In 1984, Dan Lafferty, a member of a FLDS group, together with his brother Ron, murdered his sister-in-law and niece in blood atonement as instructed through a revelation Ron received from God. They have both remained unrepentant for the act. Years later, still on death row, Krakauer asked Dan Lafferty how his justification for murder differed from the perpetrators of 9/11. He replied:
I have to admit, the terrorists were following their prophet… They were willing to do essentially what I did. I see the parallel. But the difference between those guys and me is they were following a false prophet, and I’m not.
When such acts occur, no-one suggests that all adherents to LDS are potential murderers and terrorists. And heinous acts have been carried out in the name of all religions, political movements and even nations. The one thing in common is not the belief system itself but the nature of adherence to that belief by individuals. A psychologist who interviewed Ron Lafferty explained:
A zealot is simply someone who has an extreme fervently held belief and is willing to go to great length to impose those beliefs, act on those beliefs.

While Trump is one of many right now who are happy to equate terrorism with only those violent acts carried out by Muslims, there are plenty of examples of violence being used to intimidate people in the US perpetrated by people holding different radical beliefs. Attacks on abortion clinics and the murder of doctors are regularly committed by Christian fundamentalist groups such as the Army of God and individuals like Eric Robert Rudolph, who was responsible for the bombing of 2 abortion clinics, a lesbian nightclub and the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 in reaction to the government sanctioning of abortion. Rudolph was a member of fundamentalist LDS offshoot the Church of Israel. Other figures with ties to FLDS and movements such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement, which recognise no higher authority than local sherifs and are literalist Constitutionalists who challenge Federal regulations and land ownership, are the Bundy family. Patriarch Cliven is famous for his 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, while his son Ammon was behind an armed militia’s occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year. Trump has praised the “spirit” of Cliven Bundy while Ted Cruz called the Malheur standoff, “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on”. Meanwhile, Tim Blount, who lives and works at Malheur, says he and the staff suffered, “threats and harassment from militia members”.
Throughout the occupation I became keenly aware of my surroundings and never felt safe… I now find myself looking over my shoulder, not feeling comfortable and realizing that I am a victim of domestic terrorism.
It should also be remembered that one of the deadliest acts of terrorism on US soil remains the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, claiming 168 lives; an act of domestic terrorism carried out by a man driven by white supremacist ideology and a hatred of government.

Oklahoma City bomb

Oklahoma City bomb

Trump’s efforts to tighten the borders and protect the nation from extreme fundamentalist ideas is destined to fail. Not only because the very idea of ideological vetting goes against the very foundations of freedom the nation claims to value and protect, but also because those who would use violence and intimidation to undermine the rights of women, the LGBT community, religious & ethnic minorities and the government itself are already inside the country and have been for generations.

22nd August 2016

Malheur photo :