The following text, which is the first of three installments, traces back to a conversation I had with Mike Kelley in 1994, “Too Young to be a Hippy, Too Old to be a Punk.” Christophe Tannert at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin had invited us to discuss underground political and aesthetic culture in the US for the first issue of Bethanien’s Be Magazin. One year later, I followed this up with a narrative account and analysis of the subject, “Burying the Underground.” Meanwhile, a series of sieges, armed standoffs, and bombings made Americans increasingly aware of a growing polarization between the US federal government and what was hardening into a grassroots militia movement: Ruby Ridge (1992), Waco (1993), Oklahoma City (1995), and Fort Davis, Texas (1997). I began to see this as a right-wing counterpart to militant leftism. In fact, the Right seemed to be mirroring tactics that the leftist underground had initiated. This led me to write a complementary essay, “Heil Hitler! Have a Nice Day! The Politics of Hate in the USA.” By 2001, the militia movement had run out of steam. When al-Qaeda terrorists staged the 9/11 attacks, however, these so closely resembled events described in The Turner Diaries that I had initially suspected the radical Right. Although unemployment and economic dislocation drove the militia movement of the 1990s, the Great Recession has not provoked a similar response. Instead of overturning—or seceding from—the federal government, the Far Right, now exemplified by the Tea Party, wants to work from within the political system by downsizing government and converting it to a states’ rights model. This shift is evident in the current Republican debates leading up to the next presidential election, where candidates have tried to turn “moderate” into a pejorative term.
There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility.
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