Thursday, November 22, 2007

Continuity of Symbolism

While researching a potentially dangerous armed cult that one of my patients belongs to, I was struck by how many of its positions were not especially conservative as I understand it, despite their True American rhetoric and embrace of conservative symbolism. I had noted this before in religious extremists, many of whom are vocal in support of causes tangential to their faiths.

I wondered if this inconsistency applied to leftist extremists as well. Do they also embrace some of the appearances of radicalism while holding views which, taken from a purely intellectual POV, are not especially liberal or might even be conservative? I immediately found examples of this among the environmentalists and antiglobalists, and propose the following understanding of extremist groups: they do not exhibit an intellectual consistency, but display a remarkable consistency in their symbolism. We should hardly be surprised. That sort of extremism is often an attempt to find (or invent) an identity, not follow an ideal. Contrast this with Ron Bailey's libertarian comment on life extension:
A long healthy life is a moral good. More life is better.
One might disagree with the argument or find it oversimple, but it is clearly an example of coming to a conclusion on the basis of a principle, not the feeling it gives you or the hipness of other people who support it. Paranoid groups do the opposite - everything is in the seeming and intuiting.

The waters are muddied around all the extremist groups on the issues of natural foods and alternative medicine. Left, right, religious, or social, there seems this gravitation to symbolic ideas of purity and rejection of modern technology. While we most rapidly associate organic food and new-agey approaches with leftists, there are in fact plenty of religious or right-wing groups which are vitaminoid, law-of-attraction, or Luddite types. One can certainly invent an immediate reason why those areas would particularly favored by those with a paranoid air. Human beings are quite reasonably concerned with the safety of their food, feel helpless in the face of disease, and are suspicious of technologies they do not fully understand.

Almost two years ago I suggested that the worry about toxins is a replacement for the concept of sin, and shortly after frowned when Christian and nutritional myths coincide.

Example: The tax protester movement tends strongly toward conservative symbolism. But Reno Gonzalez made it a point to join Cindy Sheehan's protests, Elaine Brown is a holistic dentist and master herbalist in a wind/solar home, and the group in general spills over into the 9/11 Truther and Bush/Fascist wings of the left. Sure they love guns and camo, and talking about the Constitution, but how different are their protests and rhetoric from the WTO protesters in Seattle? Just different costumes.

An additional disquieting piece: once a group gets good and paranoid, they work the Jews into it somehow. No matter where it starts off, paranoia seems to circle that drain eventually.


Julius Martov said...

Ron Paul and Anti-Tax, States Rights Extremism
Ron Paul and Anti-Tax, States Rights Extremism

There have been many novel arguments against the legality of federal income taxes. (In this case, "novel" is a polite way of saying they have little or no merit.) There's a school of thought on the right wing fringe in this country that believes our system of federal income tax is unconstitutional, although the rationales for this assertion vary. Courts invariably rule against these anti-tax arguments, and legal scholarship on the subject is similarly oriented, but a number of extremists of varying degrees of persuasiveness continue to put a veneer of legitimacy on these meritless contentions, sometimes convincing people to break the law.

Every so often, the newspaper will feature on one of its interior pages a story about someone who's refused to pay their income tax for a decade or so on the advice of these extremist anti-tax activists. This story concerned an elderly couple named Ed and Elaine Brown, who hail from rural Plainfield, New Hampshire. They believed the anti-tax fanatics and became fanatics themselves. Elaine Brown, a successful dentist, stopped paying taxes in 1996, and as of 2003 owed $1.9 million in taxes. In January, 2007, they were convicted of multiple counts of tax evasion. When police came to arrest them in April, Ed and Elaine held the police at bay with guns and explosives for over six months before US marshals were able to sneak in by posing as supporters and arrest them before their farce turned into a tragedy. Their home was found to be filled with weapons including strategically placed improvised explosive devices. (Ed and Elaine's website MakeThe is here. It includes a video of Ron Paul saying that the Browns "are standing up for the law". By the way, a googling of their site for the term "Ron Paul" yields 461 mentions. Their message board has become a place where Ron Paul supporters get together to make their "novel" arguments against taxation.)

I tell you about Ed and Elaine by way of introducing you to Wayne Paul, brother of presidential candidate Ron Paul and fanatical anti-tax advocate. Wayne is a CPA, and one his clients is Richard M. Simkanin, a self-professed "citizen of the Republic of Texas and not of the United States". A few years ago, Simkanin stopped withholding federal taxes from the paychecks of employees at his plastics company in Bedford, Texas. Wayne Paul supported the secessionist plastics manufacturer's position, advised him as to his right not to obey this law, and submitted a written opinion and testified in federal court stating that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, the one prohibiting slavery, also prohibits the federal government from requiring businesses to withhold taxes and keep tax records. (Read here and here) that argument's "novel".

It seems that Richard M. Simkanin is associated with a group called the "We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education" (Click here for their website. Take note of the Court Order posted there enjoining them from continuing to promote illegal tax shelters, tax fraud, etc. The court required them to post it to protect readers from being injured by their misinformation regarding tax law.) According to their website (here), Simkanin was targeted by the IRS because he paid in part for a full page color ad in USA Today featuring his name and photo. (Although they provide no evidence for this assertion, it provides them with a "novel" free speech angle in addition to the anti-slavery bit.)

At his trial, Simkanin's attorneys introduced into evidence a number of documents relating to Rep. Paul's advocacy for legislation to end the requirement to withhold federal taxes and maintain tax records. (Read transcript here in pdf, page 168) In 2000, Ron Paul introduced HR 4855 , which he called the "Cost of Government Awareness Act", which should have been named, in plain language, the "No Need to Withhold Federal Taxes Act". Paul's stated ratinonale for the oddly named bill is that people are unaware of how much tax is being withheld (they are?) so, as an educational device, they should be forced to write a check to IRS instead of having tax withheld. (Read Paul's press release on that bill here.) Rep. Paul's bill, although it did not recieve wide support, was supported by such groups such as "NO Social Security Number" (an anti-Social Security group, read here) and "A Well Regulated Militia" (a coalition of unofficial militia groups, read here). The bill also had the support of radical secessionists like Simkanin.

So when Ron Paul advocates for tax reform, he does so from a very extreme position. Similarly, when he advocates for states rights (which he frequently conflates with individual rights for public consumption), he adopts positions that the most extreme secessionists find agreeable. It seems to run in the family.

read more here:
Mistrial Is Declared in Tax Withholding Case - New York Times

UPDATE: Four of the Ed and Elaine Brown's supporters was arrested in September for possession of pipe bombs and high powered rifles. Read here.

According the the New York Times article on these arrests:

Mr. Brown, who was known as a militia spokesman in the 1990s, has threatened deadly resistance to being captured, said Stephen Monier, a marshal in Concord, who is overseeing the case. “Ed Brown has threatened to kill law enforcement officers and other governmental officials,” and the couple has “encouraged others to assist them,” he said.

UPDATE #2: Ed Brown's militia ties and advocacy of anti-government violence are significant. According to the New Hampshire Sunday News (Read here; cited in the esteemed Wikipedia), Ed Brown was the spokesman for something called the Constitution Defense Militia, which was described (in 1994) as:

one of numerous ''unorganized'' citizen militia groups forming around the country in response to what they say is a well-orchestrated and far-reaching conspiracy to deprive Americans of their liberty and even lives.

Brown said he sees no way the conflict will end except in violence. ''Because these people will not quit. The window of opportunity for them as it approaches is closing because people like me are rising. And the hope is we can open our window more than theirs, so we can swallow them before they swallow us.''

In the interview, Ed Brown described an international conspiracy striking similar to the one Ron Paul warns about. The piece should be read in light of these affinities to Ron Paul's campaign literature, and also for the differences. He points to the UN, the Council on Foreign Relations, and other Ron Paul targets, but also the Tri-Lateral Commission, and Mikhail Gorbachev, dating the interview to an earlier era of conspiracy paranoia. Similarly, the article states that "(h)e contend(ed) the deaths of religious cult members in Switzerland and Canada last week were 'another WACO,' orchestrated by the CIA. And he believe(d) even the baseball strike was part of a plot to squash anything American." Ed Brown believed in and prepared for a "second revolutionary war" only this time "this time the citizen patriots have AK-47s".

In a February, 2007 interview with the Concord, New Hampshire Monitor, Brown pointed to a specific foe:

"This is the beginning of one very huge movement. I'm not quite sure you understand the ramifications of what's going on right now. This is massive. This is international. We are fed up with the Zionist Illuminati. That's what this is all about. Loud and clear. Zionist Illuminati. Lawyers, whatever they are, okay, it's going to stop."

In an August, 2007 interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, Brown further identified the source of the conspiracy, even as he denied being a conspiracy theorist. :

"We're not conspiracy theorists," Brown said, settling into a chair on his unfinished concrete porch. "We deal with conspiracy facts. Freemasonry and Judaism -- that is the truth. That is the fact. That is where all the world's problems come from . . . I know for a fact that they're working together."

I would like to know how much Ron Paul knew of these people when he expressed his support. I find it difficult to believe that he, as the foremost advocate of this radical anti-tax view in Congress, knew nothing of the most reported case of anti-tax activism in the country. If he did know who these people are and what they espouse, he has a lot of explaining to do.

I intend to further research Ron Paul's connections to anti-tax extremists like Richard M. Simkanin and the Browns and either integrate this material into a single long article or post a series. Feel free to send any pertinent information you may have to my attention at


Posted by Adam Holland at 12:52 PM

Labels: 2008 Presidential Election, Anti-Semitism, Conspiracy Theories, Law, Ron Paul


Assistant Village Idiot said...

As I knew most of this, I would have preferred that you comment on what I actually wrote. As a large minority of my readers are from NH, the Browns are unlikely news to them either.

Dubbahdee said...

It occurs to me how this continuity of symbolism is certainly not limited to politics. It is also easy to see in the religious fringe groups. David Koresh comes to mind. One wonders how this has played out with muslim fringe groups like the wahabbists and Taliban.
Symbols are indeed malleable. I suspect that much of how we perceive and understand symbols is drawn from the culture/subculture in which we swim - or in which we choose to splash around in. In a culture as individualistic as ours, we tend to lose sight of how we are subtly but powerfully affected by our social milieu. We tend to think we figured this all out on our own, yet in reality, our interpretation of so many symbols is absorbed through our skin without us realizing it.

Dubbahdee said...

Oh yeah..and the connection between the fading concept of sin and the growth of food contamination fears...brilliant.
It's not only the fear of food tainted by evil unnatural man-made chemicals, it is the food itself that has been made the enemy. This is why the concept of dieting is so flawed. When food itself, a good gift of the creator, becomes an enemy, something very basic and fundamental has been perverted. In "An Offering of Uncles" Robert Farrar Capon has an excellent two page run where he expounds fasting as an antidote to dieting. Rather than stating the food is evil and we must avoid it, it is better to say that "This food is good, and for now I choose to abstain, so that later I may truly feat without reservation." This makes both our eating and our not eating and offering to God, rather than a struggle with Satan.
I kind of like that.