A report just released by IREHR revealed that an Oregon Three Percent Militia leader is coordinating disaster relief efforts and providing aid to firefighters battling the massive Bootleg fire in Southern Oregon. This story highlights the role far-right militias have been playing in providing crisis services in rural communities in Oregon and elsewhere in the west in the last few years. To paraphrase Naomi Klein we might call this ‘disaster fascism.’
But fascism isn’t exactly the right term here because of key dimension: the small “r” republican imaginary of the contemporary US far right. Here deeply-held beliefs in individual voluntarism and community-mindedness animate and shape what is also a violent, exclusionary, and powerfully antidemocratic social force, one which grows in effectiveness, coordination and firepower all the time.
This phenomenon is the mirror image of Occupy Sandy or other examples on the left of connecting social service to political vision, examples that travel back through ACT UP, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, radical unions, and the nineteenth century Populist movement, among others. But in the era of growing climate disaster, a well-armed movement espousing civic obligation is a powerfully mutated strain of the associational forms Alexis de Tocqueville described in Democracy in America, one that has built-in ideological advantages.
Indeed, it was only two weeks ago that the local VFW teamed up with the McKenzie River Proud Boys for an un-permitted Independence Day parade in Creswell, OR, that featured classic cars and horseback riders.
The increasingly public face of the far right, both locally and nationally, is meant to reenact the the putative aims of the American Revolution – resistance to authority, the defense of the national community, and—importantly—the voluntary activity of everyday people in the course of larger political events.
The theatrical staging of spirited popular moments on the right, be they parades or assaults on capitols both state and national, are meant to burnish the image of the right as popular, majoritarian, and grassroots. And yet their chief aim is to smash democracy – whether it is negating popular state vote counts on January 6, or attack Black Lives Matter protests, as far-right protestors did across the country last summer.
Having Three Percenters assist exhausted firefighters (in the place of local, state, and federally-funded agencies long-since starved to death by neoliberal austerity) bolsters their claims to be saviors of the republic in alarming new ways.