No Right Answers

How the U.S. Political Right Reacted to 9/11 and the Crises in the Middle East

By Chip Berlet

May 5, 2002
[Revisions in brackets]
(Last revised July 10, 2002)

The horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, and the collapse into violence of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis has had a dramatic effect across the political spectrum, including right-wing social and political movements in the Unites States. The range of responses on the Right varied greatly, even within specific sectors. Support for Bush’s war on terror and the attack on Afghanistan exist as independent variables to Bush’s moves to erode civil liberties. Libertarians tended to oppose them all. Neoconservatives (and liberals) tended to support them all. Every combination could be found.

One way to make sense of this is to recognize that the Christian Right, the Patriot movement and the militias, and the Extreme Right are three different movements that exist to the right of traditional conservatism and the center of the Republican Party. Kathleen Blee stresses that all these groups can be dangerous, but that their differences are substantial. Betty Dobratz observes, "these movements remain fairly distinct, and although there are attempts to bridge these movements, they are mostly not successful." John C. Green, argues “the Christian Right had some militants that leaned toward the militias, and some militias were composed mainly of Christian evangelicals. But for the most part, the Christian Right took a dim view of the militias." Mark Pitcavage says “For the militias and the Patriot Movement the primary focus is antigovernment. For the right-wing hate groups the primary focus is intolerance. These are not mutually exclusive ideas and people can shift, but still they are basically different perspectives." The importance of analyzing these differences is the central theme of Martin Durham’s book The Christian Right, the Far Right and the Boundaries of American Conservatism, (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2000).

[See related article on boundaries: The Public Eye: Hard Times on the Hard Right: Why Progressives Must Remain Vigilant. by Chip Berlet  (PDF File)]

The Extreme Right

The Extreme Right response to the cascading crises starting in late 2001were predictable—the typical neofascist scapegoating of Jews, although in this situation, the bigotry was embedded in criticism of Zionism. A.V. Schaerffenberg, writing in a national socialist publication, blamed the attacks on the “government’s blind support of Israel…When New York’s World Trade Center crumbled before the eyes of all mankind, not only did the Jew money-power’s chief headquarters collapse. So did its most visible symbol of world domination.” White supremacist David Duke wrote several articles that made similar arguments, but used such careful language that in a few cases his words were posted on left and pro-Arab lists before being denounced by other participants. In an open attempt to reach out to the left, Duke wrote: “For many years I, along with Patrick Buchanan, Ramsey Clark, and a few other political untouchables, have tried to prevent this kind of tragedy. We have warned against recklessly involving America in the many wars and blood feuds around the world.”
See Also:  This "open letter" was circulated by Duke but in some cases was posted on progressive or anti-Zionist lists.

On a website of the Extreme Right Posse Comitatus, the writer went further: “If, as a Christian Republic, we want to put an end to so-called terrorism on the soil of this nation we must expel ALL jews and non-whites from OUR Promised Land, this New JerUSAlem, call all of our armed forces from around the world back home, END our support of the TERRORIST State of Israeli, CLOSE our borders, all Praise to our Father and mind no one else's business other than that of our own nation." {broken link}

In the article "Holocaust II: The Beginning of the End" by A.V. Schaerffenberg the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism was dramatic:

"When New York’s World Trade Center crumbled before the eyes of all mankind, not only did the Jew money-power’s chief headquarters collapse. So did its most visible symbol of world domination. That, in fact, was why the twin towers were destroyed. However, their demise was made inevitable by the U.S. government’s lop-sided involvement in the Near East. Over the past few months especially, the Palestinians have been tortured beyond the brink of endurance. Their frustration is naturally directed against the culprits who continue to fund their tormentors after more than half a century. Americans have become the most despised people on the face of the earth, because their politicians are in bed with the Israelis. Even delegates at South Africa’s International Conference on Racism, just weeks before the New York attacks, unanimously equated Zionism with racism."

"The thousands who perished in New York and Washington, DC were the victims of their own government’s blind support of Israel."

Other Neofascist Views
International Extreme Right Views (compiled by Searchlight)

Hard Right, Patriots, Militias

In the Hard Right, Patriot and Militia groups were divided between support for the government in a time of crisis, and blaming the government for engineering the attacks as part of a conspiracy to impose tyranny. [The Anti-Defamation League has observed a shift in the Patriot/Militia movement over time toward the more hard-line anti-government position replete with the attendant conspiracy theories.]

Carl Worden of Southern Oregon Militia wrote: "I am no fan of our current government” [but now is] not the time to promulgate propaganda intended to divide our people. If we are to win against this vicious aggressor, we must all pull together….Anyone who attempts to use this crisis as an opportunity to destroy us from within… is a traitor, and is no patriot.”

The John Birch Society took a similar approach but stressed civil liberties. William Norman Grigg wrote, “The gravest long-term danger presented by the horrific events of September 11th is that the effort to find and punish perpetrators will become a war on the liberties of the American people. The destruction of political freedom, in fact, is precisely the aim of terrorist revolutionaries and those who support them.”

Gary Benoit wove in anticommunist version of antiglobalism: “The anti-terrorism coalition is being organized under the aegis of the United Nations. In addition to China and Russia, other state sponsors of terrorism we are now aligning ourselves with in the fight against terrorism include Pakistan, Iran, and Syria…. Russian Communism not only spawned the international terrorist network but continues to provide it with vital support today.”

Other Hard Right groups took a harder line or focused on Israel. Jared Taylor of the White racial nationalist American Renaissance asked, “Why have we so obviously chosen sides in a bitter, decades-long fight in the Middle East? Is Israel so clearly in the right that we should risk the hatred of half the world in order to support it?" The article was carried on a Russian website:

Dr Michael Hill, president of the neoconfederate League of the South sought punishment for the attackers, but added a right-wing populist version of anti-imperialism: “since the War Between the States, America has become an empire with its tentacles-both military and financial-squeezing the entire globe? The U.S. Establishment elite has committed itself to a thoroughgoing reconstruction of the world in its own image.”

Other Hard Right, Patriot, Militia Views

Right-Wing Libertarians

This theme echoed ideas from libertarian writers such as Harry Browne who asked, “When will we learn that we can't allow our politicians to bully the world without someone bullying back eventually?"

Justin Raimondo of who wrote, “We have pledged to go after the perpetrators or those who gave them safe harbor, and the usual parade of laptop bombardiers has declared ‘war’ on ‘the enemy.’ But who or what is the enemy? And, most of all, where are they?” He concluded, “the only way we can 'win' such a battle is to lose the very values that we want to defend in the first place."

In terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Leon Hadar, an adjunct scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, suggested “ Instead of trying to micromanage the Arab-Israeli peace process, the United States should minimize its financial commitment to Israel and the emerging Palestinian entity and encourage economic cooperation between Israel and the Arab states, which could be the foundation for an interdependent Middle Eastern economy.

Most mainstream conservatives supported the attack on Afghanistan and applauded the Administration’s increased use of surveillance and detention. As early as 1995, James Phillips, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Heritage Foundation had urged Clinton to “Maximize pressure on Arafat to crack down on terrorism.”

No surprise that Phillips in April 2002 suggested to the Bush Administration, “It's time for the United States to abandon the wishful thinking that has allowed Arafat to continue his double game. It should encourage Israel to expel Arafat and shun him in exile.”

Meanwhile Heritage analyst Ariel Cohen claimed that “Arafat invented the Jenin ‘massacre,’ and that:

“Arafat needs the world to ignore the mountains of documented evidence connecting him beyond reasonable doubt with the terror campaigns of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Tanzim and Al Aqsa. He needs the U.S. government and the Western media to shut their eyes to his close links with Iran and Iraq. He needs them to overlook where the real massacres are taking place: in Netanya, Haifa and Jerusalem.”

Other Libertarian & Conservative Nationalist Views

Hard Right Business Nationalists

In the ultraconservative Business Nationalist sector, Pat Buchanan staked out a different position marked by xenophobia and right-wing anti-imperialism. According to Buchanan, “the mass murder of our citizens has filled this country with a terrible resolve that could lead it to plunge headlong into an all-out war against despised Arab and Islamic regimes that turns into a war of civilizations, with the United States almost alone….There is no vital American interest at risk in all these religious, territorial and tribal wars from Algeria to Afghanistan. Let us pay back those who did this, then let us extricate ourselves. Either America finds an exit strategy from empire, or we lose our republic.” Source: Los Angeles Times, Op-Ed page Sep 18, 2001

Buchanan warned that bombing Afghanistan would only create more terrorists and that “if the president cannot change the perception that he cannot stand up to Sharon and bring him around to negotiate with the Palestinians, we may be headed for an oil boycott, expulsion of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia and a strategic disaster in the war on terror.”

Buchanan’s xenophobia was naked:

Progressives may deplore the immigration quotas from the Coolidge to the Kennedy eras, but not one act of terrorism occurred on U.S. soil in those years….America has now completed a third of a century with massive immigration, and Sept. 11 should be a final warning that open borders represent an intolerable threat to the national security. We are only just beginning to see the dark side of diversity. Western peoples must begin to ask themselves questions our ruling class has kept off the table too long: Are there not some peoples, from radically different countries and cultures, who are far more difficult to assimilate in Western societies than others?…Ridge should…begin the systematic deportation of illegal aliens…from nations that harbor terrorists, any who consort with or fund terrorist organizations and any who applauded the horrors of Sept. 11. When rounded up, these folks should hear just five words, "Get out of our country!"

Other Libertarian & Conservative Nationalist Views


There were a number of other ultra conservatives that used the crises to promote anti-immigrant xenophobia. An example was Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the anti-ERA Eagle Forum, who charged:
“The terrorists are foreigners, most or all of whom should never have been in our country, and they have sophisticated techniques with which to manifest their hatred. The policy of opening our borders to anyone who wants to sneak into our country illegally must be exposed and terminated….Let's bring back the House Committee on Un-American Activities. We need congressional watchdogs to close the cracks in our internal security.”
Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, and his ally Steven Emerson were accused of bigoted stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in their assessment of terrorist threats. Columnists John Podhoretz and Martin Peretz described a “fifth column” composed primarily of Middle Easterners. Bigotry was also evident in anti-immigrant groups such as VDARE, named after “Virginia Dare, the first English child to be born in the New World.”

More vividly White supremacist xenophobic rhetoric could be found in White racial nationalist groups and the Extreme Right.

Sara Diamond described this type of tactical parallel organizing as “projects,” since the various groups maintained distinct organizational boundaries and did not form strategic coalitions, yet were working toward common goals.

Shared Concerns over Government Repression

Another example of this type of project was that concern over political repression could be found in various sectors of the right. Libertarians followed their core principles, but other defenders of civil liberties included the Patriot movement, the Extreme Right, and even some conservatives.

Libertarian Raimondo listed the offenses of the Bush administration after 9/11: “the establishment of military tribunals to usurp the function of our civilian courts; the passage of the Orwellian ‘USA PATRIOT Act,’ which legalizes widespread surveillance of legal political and religious organizations (as well as individuals) and lays the groundwork for a national identity card; the detention of hundreds, who are jailed in secrecy, on secret charges, at the whim of the Attorney General. This man is the harbinger of the American Counterrevolution: the liberties the patriots of 1776 fought and died to establish are being systematically disestablished by John Ashcroft, a Torquemada for our times."

Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation pleaded with Congress to think carefully before enacting repressive laws:

“We reaffirm the importance of a vigorous anti-terrorist posture by the federal government and the most severe penalties possible for those guilty of such unspeakable atrocities. This is not the time for knee-jerk appeals to civil liberties -- but neither is it the time to rush headlong into an expansion of the surveillance state and abridge the Constitutionally-protected rights of US citizens….”

“Necessary adjustments to the law in the fight against terrorism are applauded by all. But an expanding of the police state and curtailing the Constitutional rights of Americans just eats away at who and what we are. Tearing down America and her Constitution would only give the anti-Americans another victory in addition to the carnage they have already wreaked. Please don't give the terrorists that victory.”

Christian Right Apocalypticism

Most leaders in the Christian Right, however, were less concerned with domestic civil liberties than with the prophetic role of Israel in the End Times. Many conservative Protestant evangelicals support Israel because according to Biblical prophecy, Christ will not return for his second act unless Jews are in control of the Holy Land and have rebuilt the Temple of Solomon on the site of what is currently a significant Mosque. From this perspective, the terror attacks were God’s punishment for sinfulness in the U.S. The Operation Save America website coldly opined, “The fact that airplanes are smashing into buildings by terrorists is not our problem. It is a sign and judgment from God….Let's face it. We have mercilessly killed over 45 million little baby boys and girls [through abortion]. We have thrown God out of school, banished Him from the schoolyard, and ripped His Ten Commandments from the walls. We have called what is evil good and what is good evil.”

The Midnight Call ministries website explained the Mideast conflicts thusly: “The Old Testament book of Zechariah contains a prophecy that Jerusalem will become ‘a burdensome stone for all people.’ Bible prophecy comes alive when we witness all that is going on around the world and how much of it revolves around the city of Jerusalem. But the Bible also says that God will vindicate the Jews and that all who ‘burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces.’”

Elsewhere on the site, Norbert Lieth predicted, “The Lord will achieve His goal with Israel and with His Church. The gates of hell will not prevail against them, for the rulers of this world will pass away, but Jesus Christ is coming!”

The World Net Daily website is a fusion of Christian Right and Patriot ideology and it carried articles on the Mideast from evangelical leaders Rev. Jerry Falwell and Alan Keyes along with its own Joseph Farah.

Falwell claimed “Every Evangelical Christian who loves Israel is celebrating the victory of Ariel Sharon as that nation’s new prime minister. By a landslide margin, Mr. Sharon defeated Ehud Barak and immediately set in motion a plan to prevent the fulfillment of Mr. Barak’s earlier misguided concessions to the Palestinians.”

Alan Keyes urged “Today more than ever, America must stand with Israel particularly on the ground of our common opposition to the terrorist menace which threatens the independence, the morality, and the decent conscience not just of Israelis, but of every human being on the globe.”

Joseph Farah wrote a column titled “Free Palestine,” but then revealed the catch: “I, too, would love to free Palestine. Specifically I would like to free it from its association with the terrorist dictator Yasser Arafat. I would like to free all Arabs from the tyranny under which they live everywhere except Israel, [some people]…obviously think Arabs would be freer under the leadership of Arafat than they have been under Israeli rule.” Farah is an evangelical Christian with a Syrian and Lebanese heritage who frequently presents himself as a pro-Israel Arab-American.

Other Christian Right Views


Widespread conspiracism has afflicted some debates over 9/11 and the crises in the Middle East. Some of these theories are from the political right; others claim to be from the left, others represent a fusion of left and right viewpoints. A common generic conspiracy theory suggested that the failure of the U.S. government to scramble jet interceptor aircraft in time to shoot down the hijacked planes was somehow evidence that the government was aware of the attack and did nothing to stop it; or that the government itself staged the attack to justify aggressive militarism and domestic repression. One theory claimed that remote control devices flew the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Another claimed that all the buildings were actually destroyed by bombs hidden inside the structures, and one variation asserted that no plane hit the Pentagon at all. Progressive analysts David Corn, Norman Solomon, and Bill Weinberg have led a progressive challenge to this type of conspiracism. See our web collection on conspiracism.

Other Antisemitic Conspiracist Views

Other Generic Conspiracist Views

Tasks for the Left

Given that there are clearly several issues where right-wing and left-wing rhetoric appears to coincide, it is imperative that progressive sociologists help left activists make clear the different solutions for these problems articulated by the left. Three tasks stand out:
  1. Encouraging some type of dialectical materialism or power structure research versus rampant conspiracism;
  2. Delineating the difference between calls for Palestinian rights versus historic antisemitic stereotyping; and,
  3. Differentiating between progressive internationalism versus xenophobic right-wing nationalism as solutions for imperial marauding and transnational corporate greed.   

= = =

Adapted from an article written for the Spring/Summer 2002 issue of From the Left, the newsletter of the Marxist section of the American Sociological Association, Warren S. Goldstein, editor. All links on this page were functioning as of May 1, 2002.

Views we Oppose:

Libertarian & Conservative Nationalist Views

Christian Right Views

Hard Right, Patriot, Militia Views

Neofascist Views

Antisemitic Conspiracist Views

Conspiracist Views

International Extreme Right Views (compiled by Searchlight)

Antiwar--but not our allies

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