A Critique of the FBI and ADL reports on potential apocalyptic violence and the year 2000


by Chip Berlet
Senior Analyst
Political Research Associates
 

Both the FBI and ADL reports about the potential for apocalyptic violence, being somewhat simplistic and coming out so close to the year 2000, have had the unintended outcome of adding to the near-hysteria of the far right, patriot and armed militia groups, and militant Christian Right movements. These reports needed more detail and should have been issued much earlier so there could have been a public discussion of the issues and time for those who are fired up by apocalyptic millennialism to cool down from their initial reading of the reports.

While these reports focus on racism and antisemitism, gender gets short shrift.

Among the "signs of the End Times" prophesied in the Bible's book of Revelation is widespread sinful sexuality. Thus in some narratives, if the year 2000 is the dawn of the new millennium, it is time to clean up society, especially the sinful sexuality represented by the Whore of Babylon, the women dressed in Red (scarlet, actually). In modern terms, this means the targets include feminists, abortion providers, and gay men and lesbians (and bisexual and transgender if they can even imagine it). Certainly a time for heightened security. Remember, John Salvi thought it was the End Times, and that he was on a mission from God to wake up the Catholic Church. He came out of a small apocalyptic Marianist subculture within Catholicism.

This is in addition to government targets being openly discussed online by members of the patriot and armed militia movement; and people of color and Jews who are targets of apocalyptic far right ideologies such as Christian Identity and the Church of the Creator. Suspected terrorist Eric Rudolph appears to have targeted a broader range of groups than mentioned in these reports. He seems to have been motivated by Christian Identity, a theology in which the End Times battle is a race war for White control--but it is also an ideology where anything that challenges heterosexual patriarchy is a target. This is true for a number of other far right ideologies.

The ADL report lumps together under the rubric of "extremists" a wide range of political and religious groups. While it tries to make some distinction about Christian apocalyptic thought, it is easy to read the report as implying that evangelical Christians who believe in a conspiracy of world leaders during the End Times are potential terrorists. This belief is widespread among conservative Christian evangelicals, and it is unlikely that 20-40 million of our fellow citizens are potential terrorists. The discussion of cults represents a narrow controversial view challenged by scholars of new religious movements.

The ADL report lacks any footnotes or references, and in an academic setting would be considered plagiarism of work by Norman Cohn, Robert Fuller, Paul Boyer, Phillip Lamy, Damian Thompson, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and others, including me. The ADL needs to begin footnoting its major reports. Its continued uncritical reliance on the centrist/extremist theories of analysts such as Lipset and Bell ignores the past 30 years of social science.

As Christian Smith observes:

"The 1970s saw a major break in the social-movement literature with earlier theories--e.g., mass society, collective behavior, status discontent, and relative-deprivation theories--that emphasized the irrational and emotional nature of social movements....There was at the time a decisive pendulum-swing away from these “classical” theories toward the view of  social movements as rational, strategically calculating, politically instrumental phenomena."
The FBI report has a poorly written discussion of Christian apocalyptic thought, basing the discussion on Catholic interpretations, which is absurd since the Catholic Church officially discourages apocalyptic thought. It is Protestant evangelical interpretations of prophecy and their secular offspring that influence the dynamic in the US. There are a few references in the FBI report, but they are limited and inadequate for a full discussion of the complex issues.

For the FBI to name a report on their plans for countering apocalyptic violence "Project Megiddo" is a serious error. Megiddo is the plain in the Middle East where the battle of Armageddon is fought between the forces of Christ and the Satanic forces of the Antichrist, according to the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible. Since the FBI is characterized as one of the forces of the Antichrist in some hard right rhetoric, the outcome was entirely predictable: the right sees it as a threat to impose martial law.

Some conservative groups have already complained about these reports and the impressions they leave. Some of these complaints are justified. There has even been discussion of Congressional hearings.

There is some good news revealed in the text of both reports. The ADL report is actually quite good when it is discussing far right groups such as Christian Identity and Church of the Creator. The FBI report shows that there is a new understanding of the complexity of some movements and the role of apocalyptic thinking.

These gains were overshadowed by the press coverage of both reports, which tended to be simplistic. The way the FBI report leaked to the press before its official release resulted in hurriedly put together articles that conflated groups and issues. Because of superficial reporting, the public could easily lump together "hate groups," militias, terrorists, and devout Christians.

The story here is "why so late?"  Why was there no public discussion of
these issues last year when it would have been much more useful? How are
law enforcement officials supposed to get up to speed in one month, when
apocalyptic violence tied to millennial expectation has been happening
for years? There is a steep learning curve about apocalyptic millennialism.
All of this helps create a hysterical atmosphere where law enforcement is
likely to overreact.

-Chip Berlet
Political Research Associates

For a more detailed discussion, see:
http://www.publiceye.org/tooclose/apoc.html

ADL Report:
" Y2K Paranoia: Extremists Confront the Millennium"
http://www.adl.org/frames/front_y2k.html

FBI Report:
" Project Megiddo" in Acrobat PDF format
http://www.fbi.gov/library/megiddo/publicmegiddo.pdf

Online Articles:

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