The American Redoubt and Homeland Security
Although terrorism in the 21st century has become nearly synonymous with Islamist extremism, the United States has suffered from many non-Islamist domestic terrorist attacks over recent decades. In fact, over two-thirds of terrorist attacks in the US since 1980 have been carried out by non-Islamic extremists. These attacks have been the ferment of extremist ideologies on both the far left and far right of the political spectrum and have been carried out by religiously affiliated and non-affiliated individuals alike. Until September 11th, the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil was the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, an attack that still claims the highest death toll among “home-grown” terror attacks. According to the FBI, there were a total of 482 terrorist incidents, suspected terrorist incidents, and prevented terrorist incidents in the US between 1980 and 2001. Of these, 164 were “International,” 130 were “Left-Wing,” 85 “Right-Wing,” and 81 “Special Interest.” Noteworthy individuals and groups include the Unabomber (Ted Kaczynski), the Jewish Defense League, and the Earth Liberation Front. For a more comprehensive look at key terms and a history of militant extremists in the US, see this Council of Foreign Relations publication.
Although differing ideologically, these domestic attacks, from Ted Kaczynski to Timothy McVeih, originated from the same source; they grew out of intense political frustrations and despair. The frustrations developed from perceived lack of progress in their movements; the despair from the realization that their goals would or could never be reached by following standard tactics for political change. In response, they jettisoned accepted political tactics and took up the extreme tactics of terrorist violence. With this recipe for domestic terrorism, it is of the utmost importance to identify, study, and analyze movements within the US that pose the risk of radicalization through the combination of political ideology, political frustration, and despair. The aim of this study is to analyze the American Redoubt Movement in these terms and ask this question: to what extent is the movement capable of producing one or more disaffected followers with sufficient political frustration and activist’s despair to induce radicalization and militant extremism?
The American Redoubt
The word redoubt has largely passed out of the American lexicon but refers to an “enclosed military work,” often the defensive earthworks surrounding a central defensive fortress. Etymologically, it grew out of words for “place of refuge,” and “point of retreat.” National redoubts, the area to where a nation’s military, government, or people nation could retreat following a military defeat or capture of the capital, were once common in defensive military strategies even as late as World War II. It is this concept of a “national redoubt,” and specifically the Swiss National Redoubt, that lays the conceptual foundation for the American Redoubt.
The American Redoubt is both a physical location and a political movement founded in 2011 by survivalist author James Wesley Rawles. It encourages conservative Christians, Orthodox Jews, and others with similar moral beliefs to relocate to a specified region within the northwestern United States to create a safe zone in the aftermath of a predicted economic and political collapse. With the collapse of banks, the power grid, and the declaration of martial law, Rowles argues that “there will be a veritable vacuum of law enforcement. In such times, with few exceptions, it will only be the God-fearing that will continue to be law-abiding. Choose your neighborhood wisely.” The movement is outspokenly Libertarian, anti-racist, pro-second amendment, pro-Israel, and encouraging of self-sufficient living.
Rawles and Patriots
The Redoubt founder James Rawles has been the most outspoken and widest published writer on Redoubt ideology and literature (although the movement shares many, if not most, of its beliefs with a majority of the well-known personalities associated with the far-right). As such, his background is relevant and helpful in understanding the young movement. Born in 1960 near San Fransisco, Rawles served as an Army intelligence officer for nine years before retiring in 1993 at the rank of Captain. Shortly after his military career, he published his first novel titled Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse. The novel went on to become a New York Times Best Seller, as did its three sequels. For one week in 2009, the novel ranked #6 in total sails for books on Amazon. These novels, a combination of survivalist guide and post-collapse thriller, launched his personal blog and the movement into stardom among collapse-theory survivalists. And, since 2009, Rawles has worked full time writing his novels, maintaining his blog, and promoting the Redoubt. He lives in an “undisclosed location” within the Redoubt on a ranch with his family.
Summary of Redoubt Philosophy
The following excerpts are taken from The Precepts of Rawlesian Survivalist Philosophy on Rawles’ Survivor Blog.
“Modern society is increasingly complex, interdependent, and fragile…Civilization is just a thin veneer.” Key to the Redoubt philosophy is the belief that the structural collapse of American society is both possible and likely. It is for that likelihood they prepare.
“There are moral absolutes.” Self-policing morality is another cornerstone of the Redoubt movement. The entire movement is predicated on the idea that, with the collapse of the government monopoly on force, a moral population can maintain an ordered civilization. This moral code “is best summarized in the Ten Commandments.” The American Redoubt explicitly rejects moral relativism as both wrong and incapable of maintaining an ordered and just society after the fallout of an economic and structural collapse. Also embedded in the Redoubt moral code is the precept that “racism ignores reason.” This is an important precept in that it is a clear distinguishing factor between Redoubters and similar white supremacy survivalists. Rawles makes it clear that the inclusionary factors are purely ideological, stating, for example, “If I had a Bahai as a next-door neighbor, I’d feel much safer than someone who was a Marilyn Manson fan.”
According to this philosophy, Redoubters are also “obligated to assist others that are less fortunate…Charity is a moral imperative.” This precept distinguishes it from Ayn Rand’s literary “Galt’s Gulch” community and her larger system of objectivism, although Rawles himself and the movement as a whole still draw heavily upon Randian literature for their foundational philosophy.
“Survivalism is most compatible with the Libertarian mindset” and they are condemn anything “that uses force as a means to limit individual liberty.” The political ideal of the American Redoubt is maximum individual freedom and liberty, capitalizing on and modernizing the popular notion of the older rugged American individualism of the pioneers who trekked into the western frontier with “Bible in pocket, gun in hand.” Redoubters are highly suspicious of government overreach, believing that “governments tend to expand their power to the point that they do harm.” Rawles recommends that, in the case that a government move too far towards “the insidious tyranny of the nanny state,” that Americans “vote with their feet” and move to the Redoubt where they can preserve their rights. Redoubters are often highly dissatisfied with Republican candidates for being too centrist and often cast their support on third party candidates from the Libertarian, Constitution, or similar parties. The best example of this trend is conservative politician, radio-host, and pastor Chuck Baldwin, a vocal supporter of Rawles and the Redoubt movement, who moved his own family to Montana (within the redoubt) in 2010 and has run for numerous political offices under the aegis of various third parties.
Also inseparable to the Redoubt mindset are frugality and hard work. Because the movement is a preparation for a collapse, it encourages preparedness for the post-collapse lifestyle. Rawles encourages even the richest Redoubters to “invest” their “sweat equity,” into farming, carpentry, and general survivalist skills to ensure post-collapse self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
Impact in the Media and the General Population
Although most major news sources have covered the movement, it has not received enough attention for it to become a familiar concept to the general American populace. The type of coverage itself varies widely from source to source. Liberal sources tend to use the movement as an example of the near-militant extremism of the American far-right. Politicus USA, writing about the Citadel Community in Idaho, declares that “the worst elements of the Second and Tenth Amendments have come together in the creation of a monstrous American afterbirth…the freaks [sic] in the American redoubt in their natural habitat.” Conservative sources like The Blaze or the websites of popular talk show hosts, on the other hand, tend to affirm the movement to varying extents. Conservative icon Glenn Beck has echoed Rawles’ economic forecasts and even hosts his own lists for economic collapse preparedness. It is noteworthy that Beck’s and other similar lists from other sources predate the formation of the redoubt, serving as a reminder that the Redoubt is not an original idea but rather an outlet for a mood that has been slowly building, especially during and since the economic recession in 2009.
Popular awareness of and participation in the movement should continue to grow slowly even as the US economy continues to recover. The 2009 Recession convinced many of the pending US economic collapse and did much to strengthen the Redoubt. As the economy recovers, however, there is no indication that interest or faith in the movement is faltering. For many, the recession was simply a moderate example of what could happen when the next economic bubble bursts, a minor downturn that revealed the “rottenness” of the system that will ultimately collapse on itself. Additionally, as the economies of the states in the Redoubt area continue to improve at a faster rate than many other regions of the US, it is possible that more people already sympathetic to the Redoubt cause will be more likely to move there, the job market providing sufficient incentive where the ideology was not enough.
The 2016 Presidential election may also have a sizable impact on the movement, especially if the Democratic party nominee wins. Since 2008, perceived infringements upon American liberty and governmental growth under the Obama administration have been the greatest source of political frustration to Redoubters. Following his reelection in 2012, there was a “huge increase in demand” for real estate within the Redoubt. A third consecutive victory for Democratic Presidents would likely mark the beginning of a new wave of migration to the Redoubt.
The American Redoubt and Homeland Security Threats
With this background in mind, it is now time to return to the introductory question. To what extent, if any, is this movement capable of producing one or more disaffected followers with sufficient political frustration and activist’s despair to push them towards radicalization and militant extremism? Because of the movement’s emphasis on individual moral standards as the ideological foundation, the simple answer is that the American Redoubt is not a threat to US Homeland Security. Belief in the primacy of and respect for individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not ingredients of lethal terror. Such a simple answer, however, overlooks potentially dangerous mutations of the movement. The foremost among these aspects are militarization and a near obsession with personal defense. Although heavy emphasis on defense and militarization are not necessary dangerous in and of themselves (they are, after all, in preparation to protect individual rights in the event that society collapses), they do increase the risk posed by the ideological mutations of a rogue individual or group in the event of radicalization towards militant extremism.
By tracking historical domestic terror patterns and the possible ways that Redoubt philosophy could be twisted to support militant extremism, one can outline the dangers that possible Redoubt spin-offs pose to US national security. Many domestic terror organizations grew from the off-shoots of more legitimate organizations. For example, mutations of defense-oriented pro-Israel political organizations created the Jewish Defense League. The Earth Liberation Front was an extremist faction of a larger, more moderate environmentalist movement. Even more recently, the Council on Foreign Relations stated that lone wolf terrorists may pose the “most immediate threat in the United States.” The FBI defines these individuals as those “who commit acts of violence outside of the auspices of structured terrorist organizations or without the prior approval or knowledge of these groups’ leaders.” Therefore, while one can be confident that the Redoubt itself is not a threat, political frustrations could produce a lone-wolf terrorist with a corrupted Redoubt philosophy, capable of taking the principle of defense to an extreme. Such an individual, while acting in “defense” of primary liberties under perceived threat from the government, could launch an attack against property or persons associated with the perceived threat. Given the emphasis on defense of private property and stockpiling of both resources and weapons, a stand-off situation over a property dispute would have the potential to turn into a full-scale siege.
A version of this “self-defense siege” scenario is currently being played out in Nevada where militias have gathered in support of 68 year old cattle rancher who is embroiled in a land dispute with the Bureau of Land Management and environmentalists. The two US Senators from Nevada recently faced off in an argument during which the Republican Senator Dean Heller declared the group “patriots” while his Democratic counterpart Harry Reid denounced them as “domestic terrorists.”
Another siege incident with chilling similarities to a potential Redoubter siege scenario occurred 21 years ago within land now designated as part of the Redoubt. During the 1980s, the Weaver family moved from Iowa to a remote part of Idaho to distance themselves from a “corrupted world” and create a safe-haven to weather a predicted apocalypse. They soon attracted the attention of US Marshals and the FBI and, in 1992, the family dog exposed a federal reconnaissance team searching for a place near the cabin to ambush and arrest Randy Weaver on weapons-related charges. In the ensuing gunfight, Weaver’s 14 year old son was shot and killed by a US Marshal who was then shot and killed by Weaver. The gunfight was followed by a ten day siege. On the second day, an FBI sniper shot and killed Vicki Weaver, Randy Weaver’s wife, while she was running inside while holding her ten month old baby. Public outcry against federal law enforcement following the “Ruby Ridge” siege led to internal investigations, lawsuits, and intra-agency reforms but public confidence was drastically shaken. The incident served both to encourage the growing militia movement and build resentment among anti-government radicals. Memory of the incident would likely encourage anti-government individuals in a similar siege scenario.
Hastening the Collapse
Another potential outlet for militant extremism is the hastening of the predicted economic collapse. For many who have arranged their lives and resources around the expectation of a collapse, its failure to occur may be sufficiently frustrating for them to attempt to encourage it. With the motivation to hurry the collapse, extremist Redoubters would probably follow patterns similar to militancy movements with similar motivations. Two militancy movements in particular stand out as potential attack patterns. Anarchist extremists, hoping to prompt the overthrow of all organized government, typically carry out attacks designed to cause riots and damage government property or other symbols of powerful institutions. This tactic is still a minor risk today. A plausible nexus between these tactics and those seeking to hasten a collapse is the recent coordinated attacks on California power grid infrastructure where coordinated sniper fire nearly cut power to the entire silicon valley. “Grid down” situations remain a strong element in collapse fantasies and hypotheticals within survivalist literature and blogs.
The second militant movement inspired by a desire to hasten a collapse comes from a polar opposite ideology. For some Shi’a extremists, the foremost motivation for terrorist activity is the desire to hasten the chaotic end times when a prophet will return to judge and dominate the earth. This motivation is best seen in the rhetoric of Iranian religious leaders since 1981. In their effort to induce this apocalyptic chaos and violence, Shi’a extremists have carried out assassinations against important political targets and bombings against strategically important targets. This combination of motivation and terrorist tactics is perhaps the most threatening on a national scale. A radicalized lone-wolf militant could target high-profile political figures within the US in hopes of inciting political and economic chaos. Given collapse-survivalists’ emphasis on firearms fluency, however, a sniper attack is more likely than in Anarchist or Shiite extremists parallels. This emphasis on firearms fluency also reduces the likelihood of a situation analogous to the first attempted assassination of a US President.
Hastening a societal collapse was also the center theme behind The Turner Diaries, an influential white supremacist novel written in 1978. The novel describes an “Aryan takeover” of the world, mostly through nuclear holocaust, and a complete extermination of all blacks, jews, and “race traiters,” which included even most Caucasians. Pages of the novel were found in Timothy McVeigh’s getaway car following the Oklahoma City bombing and over a dozen other white-supremacist murders have been linked to the book. The Redoubt movement is explicitly against racism in any form and also encourages practicing Jews to relocate to the Redoubt because of their religion’s moral code; there is no connection between the Redoubt movement and the Turner diaries. However, this is the sort of literature that a highly radicalized collapse theorist would and has turned to for ideological motivation.
The American Redoubt is a harmless plan to encourage like-minded people to move to a vast region within the US and live freely and peaceably both before and after a predicted economic collapse. Its founder and supporters teach respect for the rights of others, classical moral living, and charity. The movement is only a homeland security threat insofar as certain elements of its philosophy are mutated by individuals or small groups to justify militant extremism. Among the risks posed by such individuals, the greatest is that of a radicalized lone-wolf terrorist attacking out of “defense” or to hasten the economic collapse predicted by Rawles and other members of the Redoubt. Such an attack is unlikely but still an unpredictable possibility. Local, state, and federal law enforcement already have programs and investigations in place to identify, prevent, and limit these risks and potential attacks. The nature of these potential attacks, however, make them difficult to police. And so the threat, unlikely yet imminent, lingers.