The American left never, under any circumstances, engages in anything that can be called McCarthyite tactics. They leave that to the far right, unbalanced, vicious, and desperate. The left, on the side of reason, decency, and fair play, has never had any need for that kind of thing.
So I guess we'll have to call it something else.
Last Sunday, The New York Times featured a review of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, in which author Chris Hedges makes the argument that millions of Americans are about to fall on their fellow citizens and punish them in the name of a righteous Lord. This is the latest of a series of such volumes - also mentioned is Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. We could add as well the recent "militant atheist" volumes by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, which are intended to serve the same readership for the same purpose.
While reviewer Rick Perlstein doesn't particularly approve of the book in question, he does buy into the thesis. "Of course there are Christian fascists in America", he insists, followed by several anecdotes that demonstrate no such thing.
"...they want dominion - for the Lord to make an America where other values are impossible to hold", he concludes.
And that, in a nutshell, is the latest left-wing horror story. The fascists are coming. They're waving crucifixes this time.
Though you'd never guess to look at the accepted histories, this is all of a piece with previous left-liberal behavior. It seems that no sooner does a Democratic administration step into office (these frenzies usually, though not always, occur just after a new administration takes over) than its supporters start looking around for an easy victory. It's as if they have no confidence in their power unless they can show it off in the most blatant manner conceivable. This is a pattern that holds true for the past fifty years and beyond. While the GOP may have Tailgunner Joe to live down, the Dems appear to be suffering from an ingrained, unshakable pathology.
In his excellent (though oddly overlooked) study of American anticommunism, Not Without Honor, Richard Gid Powers recounts a 1944 incident in which the Roosevelt administration, apropos of nothing, prosecuted a number of individuals who had been involved in antiwar activities before Pearl Harbor. The case mingled - probably deliberately - Christian pacifists, America Firsters, Nazi sympathizers, and members of the German Bund (though, curiously enough, no communists, undoubtedly the most effective antiwar force during the prewar period). The charges varied, but in total amounted to something very close to treason. The press breathlessly promoted the whole affair as the uncovering of an American "fifth column", prepared to turn the country over to the tender mercies of the SS as soon as word arrived from the Führerbunker. The case was so badly handled that the defendants themselves began to jeer the government lawyers before the first day was out. No actual evidence was presented, and at last the judge halted proceedings, blistered prosecution hides with a lecture on due process and constitutional rights, and dismissed the case. While it's unknown who the actual instigator was, the case has the fingerprints of Harry Hopkins, with his almost naked admiration for Stalin's methods including show trials, all over it. The story is aching for a complete historical investigation.
Fast-forwarding through the decade of the McCarthyite ordeal, we reach the early 1960s. You'd think that, having gotten back into office at last with JFK, America's liberals would have been eager, after years of quivering in terror before one unshaven Irishman, to show how clean their own hands were. Instead, beginning in 1961, we got a media-driven frenzy involving "right- wing extremists" who, goaded by such sinister figures as William F. Buckley, were forming "paramilitary cells" to bring the iron boot down on the New Frontier. Along with such old reliables as the John Birch Society, the country was presented with the California Rangers and the Minutemen (our current volunteer border patrol is neither as original nor publicity-savvy as they need to be).
The leader of this last ourfit, Robert DePugh, gave interviews boasting about the "tens of thousands" of members he was training out in the hills, while flourishing a glass vial which he claimed contained enough nerve gas to "wipe out the state of California".
Nothing came of it, of course. It turned out that DePugh's private army consisted of himself, his family, and a few neighbors. He was arrested late in the 60s for bank robbery. A wave of politically-motivated killings began right around the same time, but they were carried out by left wing groups like the Black Panthers and the Weathermen, so they don't count.
(A number of publications also accompanied the paramilitary terror, in this case a series of bestselling potboilers and high-budget films featuring crazed right-wing figures including Seven Days in May and Dr. Strangelove.)
If the "paramilitary" hysteria rings a bell, it's because the same routine was repeated with more fanfare and less success in the early 1990s. This, of course, involved the militia movement, which despite the best efforts of the legacy media -- at that point just beginning its slide into long- term collapse -- never amounted to much more than a few out-of-shape middle-aged men playing war games in the woods. The Buckley of this movement, according to no less an authority than Bill Clinton, was the savage demagogue Rush Limbaugh, along with his picked horde of radio talk-show hosts. There was some effort to tie in the movement with the Oklahoma City bombing carried out by Timothy McVeigh. But, McVeigh, a rabid atheist with numerous unexplained connections to overseas terrorists, was a poor fit with domestic hyperpatriots. The story was effectively dropped after Newt Gingrich unveiled his revolution in 1994. With a real uprising occurring, the media had its hands full.
Which brings us to the new millennium, and the old story. Whether or not there is anything to these rogue Christian allegations I have no idea - though I think, with my connections, I'd have heard something. It's easily possible for the Times to be printing rumors or worse. They've done it before (as a recent overdue correction column makes evident -- chalk up another one to the Blogosphere). Whatever the case, we can be sure that "Christian fascists" are about as much a threat as DePugh's Minutemen or the militias.
Which does not mean that these campaigns can do no harm. The paramilitaries scare segued directly into the brutal and uncalled-for humiliation of Barry Goldwater, one of the most upstanding men ever to set foot in the U.S. Senate, during the 1964 presidential election. The militias uproar helped undercut the Gingrich revolution, leaving the Congress in the hands of the hustlers and time-servers who threw away GOP control last November. Whatever the truth of these stories, we can be certain that somebody, somewhere, is working on a way to take advantage of them. J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.