The Other Side of Bringing the War Home: A Review of “Bring the War Home”
“Bring the War Home” is famous as being the slogan of the Students for a Democratic Society faction that eventually ended up becoming the Weather Underground Organization and engaging in various acts of property damage with the intention of opening a sort of second front within the United States during the Vietnam War era. Of course, opening a real second front that actually poses a threat to the United States, as pointed out by the Vietnamese revolutionaries themselves in various critiques delivered face to face to individuals who would eventually become Weather, requires more than a few clandestine nuisance bombings that really do nothing besides generate court cases and hold headlines for a few days— it requires a mass base of support that can be rapidly mobilized and the active revolutionization of all possible strata of American society. Without a mass base and roots sunk deep into all elements of society that have a material interest in revolution, there can be no successful armed struggle — this is Maoism 101.
What many don’t know is that right wing reactionaries and proto-fascists also engaged in various clandestine and not-so-clandestine attempts to build armed struggle in the United States during the period ranging from the mid-1970s all the way up until the mid-1990s. This was the last peak of organized classical white supremacist violence in this country — and much of the rhetoric, literature, and players from this period are still making their presence felt today. Kathleen Belew masterfully and painstakingly covers this period in her piece Bring the War Home. We get a look at the various armed factions that made up the proto-fascist/white supremacist movement during this era and we find out how well-known enemy figures such as Harold Covington, David Duke, Don Black, etc. got their start. We learn about Operation Red Dog, when fascists and Klansmen attempted to overthrow the government of Dominica and funnel money from this Black Caribbean country back to their groups in the United States.
We learn how the Order, a band of heavily armed fascist paramilitaries operating all over the country, enforced a strict disciplinary code (that got one of their own members murked in a national park with a sledgehammer and a pistol), counterfeited US currency, robbed armored cars and banks to the tune of millions of dollars (most of which was never recovered), murdered Alan Berg (a well known Jewish Denver area talk-show host who had a reputation for debating fascists) with a MAC-10 in his own driveway, and funded up and coming fascist groups all across the country. We learn how the Covenant, Sword and the Arm of the Lord, a group based in Missouri and Arkansas and who had an Ozarks compound, possessed enough chemicals to kill hundreds of thousands of people. Essentially, we find out how deeply and thoroughly the fascists in this country have been preparing to wage war on all those they deem inferior and unfit for life. We also find out how thoroughly the soil of this country, particularly its armed forces, engenders fascism. The United States Armed Forces and to a lesser extent, the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, are the greatest source of mercenaries for the entire world. Belew describes in one chapter how white Vietnam veterans were in high demand in Latin America during the several dirty wars of the 1970s and 1980s, along with the Rhodesian settler war against the ZANU-PF liberation forces. The experience in jungle warfare, the racialization of the enemy and Black troops who in most cases did not want to be in Vietnam and were undergoing their own revolutionary radicalization process in contrast to the white counterrevolutionary radicalization process, the anti-Communism, and the fact that these men were trained by and on the best weapons that money could buy and were backed by their racist government meant that upon returning to the US they were in a position to wreak utter and total havoc. Another side of this coin is that the Right, unlike the Left, had no qualms or security/ideological misgivings about recruiting active duty soldiers into their ranks. These soldiers would steal explosives, equipment, uniforms, weapons, ammunition, and rations from the bases and sell or gift them to the fascist organizations in which many of them were also members. During the 1980s, a billion dollars in equipment simply vanished from military bases, most of which ended up in the hands of fascists.
The fascists also had no qualms about learning from Communists in other countries in terms of organization. Fascism is an eclectic ideology, it picks up and runs with whatever it sees as most effective. It is also an ideology of class collaboration. The class character of American fascism has historically been petit-bourgeois (many of the paramilitaries were farmers, fishermen or small businessmen) with substantial chunks of the ruined (by neoliberalism) labor aristocracy/settler proletariat coming in from the Rust Belt. All were united in the belief that they were betrayed by an America that was set up for them yet was allowing Blacks, Vietnamese compradors who fled to the United States, Latinos, and others to take what they saw was their birthright. Belew explains how the presence of Vietnamese fishermen on the Gulf Coast of Texas sparked armed struggle, with Vietnamese and native white fishermen shooting at each other on Galveston Bay, white fishermen shooting Vietnamese fishermen in the leg, white fishermen hanging Vietnamese in effigy from the masts of their boats, and the Klan burning crosses and Vietnamese owned boats. In a cruel twist of irony, the white fishermen who had initially ripped off the Vietnamese by selling them shitty boats worth half of what they charged were unable to buy them back because the Vietnamese had improved them. They believed that the Vietnamese were making millions of dollars through overfishing the Bay while also, simultaneously, collecting welfare. Of course, none of these things were true in the slightest, but fascism and white settler reaction is not notorious for dealing in and being concerned with the truth. The whites did not want to fish alongside Vietnamese, so they would do anything and believe anything to get them gone.
In essence, white working class America was in a crisis after the gains of the 1960s and saw itself being gutted and ruined. Instead of rightfully blaming and struggling to overthrow their own capitalists who were throwing them away like dirty rags in the coal mines of West Virginia and the steel plants of Allentown, they blamed those who were even lower on the totem pole than themselves, had even less than they did, and proceeded to carry out hideous acts of violence against them with the intention of “purifying” what they saw as being “their country”. Many of these individuals were veterans who bought myths about POWs in Vietnam being left to rot in bamboo cages, despite it being common knowledge that all who hadn’t died in Vietnam were repatriated. They believed that they were returning to a country that loathed and despised them — on the contrary, most of middle class settler America continued to stupidly support the war while Black America burned the country down in solidarity with the Vietnamese.
In essence, the takeaway from the book is that a sizable chunk of cross-class settler America, when pressed as it was in the 1970s through 1990s, economically and politically, turned to fascism. We saw them shooting at Communists in Greensboro, North Carolina, and then an all white jury which was rabidly anti-Communist (and hostile to demonstrations by the widows of the male Communists killed — the WVO had them parade through the streets with unloaded guns) acquit them. We saw jurors having sexual relations with white supremacists who they were supposed to be judging. We saw white soldiers and black soldiers beating up, shooting and stabbing each other in North Carolina and Black troops breaking up Klan meetings with fists, guns, and clubs. We saw Nazis enlisted in the US military knowingly channeling dangerous ordnance and weapons to their friends on the outside, and nobody ever being caught. Belew also talks about how the supposed existential threat to the white race posed by immigration and high nonwhite birth rates forced a unity on the Right that the Left simply did not have, impeding its effectiveness. In NC, for example, the RCP and WVO were engaging in fistfights at textile mills they were both trying to organize. Meanwhile, the enemy that didn’t care whether you upheld Shengwulian or Zhang Chunqiao were preparing to murder both. The Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective’s summation of the massacre and the leadup/aftermath is an essential supplement to this reading and I highly recommend it.
As Gil Scott-Heron says: Unity will be forced upon us. Whether we want it to or not, the Left will simply have to achieve some semblance of tactical unity on basic questions and basic line of march (not ideological/politcal unity, of course) if we are to face down and defeat not only the United States Government but also the dozens of bands of well armed and violent counterrevolutionary paramilitary groups that are nurtured by the very soil of this country.