Thursday, August 07, 2014

How Right-Wing Greedster Cranks Raise $ by Trashing Obama

Right-wing cranks and greedsters have been cashing in on the gullibility of their audience since the earliest days of the Internet. Selling gold, survivalist supplies, investment opportunities, and the amazing garage fish farm crap/hydroponics vegetable garden installation.

Now comes an offer so cynical and breathless that it deserves its own post. How can I improve on this carnival huckster pitch? I can't. Here it is.

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News just broke that a Russian crime ring has stolen over a BILLION passwords.

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This is not in the news yet...

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[[ ]]

Good investing,

Justin Fritz
Editor-in-Chief, Wall Street Daily

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PT Barnum wouldn't blush...he would vomit.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why Bomb the Boston Marathon?

Islamic Totalitarians, Apocalypse, and Terrorism
Walk a mile in the shoes of those who claim to honor God and yet cheer the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

They represent only a tiny fraction of the Muslims on our planet, yet they see themselves as carrying out the will of God. Fanatics such as these can be found in many of the World’s religions. They shoot abortion providers in the United States; blast apart buses in Israel; and murder Muslims and Hindus in India.

These religious fanatics often combine a totalitarian political mindset with a belief in sacred prophecy that they are mandated by God to rule the world, and they must act now against their enemies because time is running out. In fact they believe that we are approaching the end of time itself, the literal end of the world as we know it. This worldview is call apocalypticism. Sketchy details are emerging that suggests one of the motives for the alleged suspects in the Boston bombing may have been a belief in an obscure and contested Muslim prophecy about the apocalyptic End Times.

We may never know the full details of what motivated the Tsarnaev brothers, but if we want to understand the genesis of much Islamic terrorism by a small handful of Muslims around the world, a speculative tour of their apocalyptic worldview may help us design a more effective response.

A YouTube page reportedly created by Tamerlan Tsarnaev reveals a fascination with apocalyptic Islamic prophecy. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died in a battle with police early Friday morning; his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested late Friday night. The two brothers were named as bombing suspects by authorities, but family and friends find it hard to believe they were implicated in the act of terrorism. Although at this stage it is just speculation, it is possible that the brothers taught themselves how to be Islamic terrorists for God by using online resources.

Apocalypticism is the belief in an approaching confrontation between absolute good and absolute evil about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations. During this confrontation, hidden truths are revealed, and afterwards the earth is transformed in a significant way. Terrorism fueled by apocalyptic belief within Islam is a core element for the most aggressive and militant forms of Islam such as al Queda and Hamas, and it created one of the most ruthless resistance campaigns in Chechnya where the Tsarnaev elders lived during the equally brutal and murderous Russian invasions in the 1990s.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s YouTube page included a link to a 13 minute video, titled “The Emergence of Prophecy: The Black Flags from Khorasan,” claiming that an Islamic holy war has already started. The apocalyptic video is by renegade cleric Shaykh Feiz Mohammed. The video begins with the statement that "The prophet said when you see the black flags coming from the direction of Khorasan, you will join their army. That army has already started its march."

Khorasan is the name of an ancient region, just to the south and east of Chechnya and incorporating parts of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. A rare old map illustrates its dimensions:

The brothers Tsarnaev were raised in a broader region bordering Khorasan among Muslims where the Black Flag prophecy says God will raise a mighty army. Straddling the territory from Chechnya to Iran and Afghanistan are the Caucasus, a mountain range from which the term Caucasian is derived.

The Black Flags from Khorasan prophecy tells of a massive army of non-Arab Muslims marching on Jerusalem to prepare the way for the return of the Mahdi, the figure in Islamic apocalyptic narrative who signals the end of time and the global triumph of Islam. The video claims that in the forthcoming End Times Allah “will rise up a group of people, which will give their allegiance to Imam Mahdi and Eesa (Jesus)...." Along with the Mahdi, Jesus of Nazareth is a prophet in Islamic religious tradition who precedes the Mahdi and tells of the forthcoming victory of Islam.

According to the video, "We now know that the army of Mahdi will come out of Khorasan with their black banners...." The text then claims that the "last hour would not come unless seventy thousand persons" from the region led an attack. The "last hour" also refers to the End Times in Islamic apocalyptic prophecy as well as Christian versions of the prophecy.

On the video a speaker appears who claims the lineage of these people from Khorasan traces to the early Israelites. A subtext here is that these Muslims from the Khorasan region are one of the lost tribes of Israel and thus have an original unbroken covenant with God. The text resumes, stating: "The appearance of Imam that he has deep wheatish complexion, light stature, medium height, beautiful broad complexion, long straight nose, eyebrows round like a bow, big natural black eyes...." Following this there are video images of men and women with rifles and automatic weapons.

The video claims that “no power will be able to stop them and they will finally reach Jerusalem where they will erect their flags." The narrator then says that the Jihad is already in process “across the Holy Land,” and that “nothing can stop that Jihad, No one can stop it....”

As of Friday night a copy of the video was still on You Tube at

The prophecy outlined in The Black Flags from Khorasan is part of a scary messianic and apocalyptic movement within Islam is called Mahdism. According to Professor Timothy R. Furnish, apocalyptic Mahdist movements are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents, but far more powerful in scope and effect.”-{1} Mahdist movements are tightly wound around apocalyptic frameworks giving form to the future of all humanity at the end of time.


The Chechen Republic, with a predominantly Muslim population, is a reluctant part of the Russian federation. Chechnya lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea along with Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, all surrounded by the much larger territories of Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

The repression and human rights atrocities committed in Chechnya by invading Russian troops were brutal and deadly. In 2002 Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that "Russian forces in Chechnya arbitrarily detain, torture, and kill civilians in a climate of lawlessness." Some Chechen Muslims suggest that Russia and the United States reached an understanding whereby the U.S. would not pay attention to human rights abuses in Chechnya as long as Russian forces were fighting radical Muslims.

Richard H. Schultz, Jr. and Andrea J. Dew in Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias: The Warriors of Contemporary Combat, note "the growing significance of Sufi Islam in the social, political, cultural, and economic life of Chechnya."

The Sufi form of Islam around the world is a pacifist religious movement, and Sufis generally stay out of politics, and sometimes are persecuted by the more orthodox Muslims.

According to Schultz & Dew, in Chechnya an aberrant form of Sufism developed.

Schultz & Dew suggest that after the Russian invasion of the North Caucuses, the "idea of ghazzavat or holy war made it easier for Chechens to take on" the Russian invaders. "By labeling the Russians 'infidels,' the ghazzavat doctrine" infused the Muslim fighter with a "feeling of worthiness and moral supremacy." In addition, it "provided fighters with safe passage to the afterlife" by "eliminating fear of death and the unknown." The guarantee of entering the afterlife as heroes and martyrs to God’s just cause helps generate a constant flow of terrorists.

What began as a resistance by Chechen nationalists seeking independence from Russia eventually morphed into a religious campaign dominated by Muslims. According to Shultz & Dew, "radical Islamists from various Arab and Muslim countries" joined the Chechen resistance, and saw the fight as "part of the international holy war." In 2003, the authors note, "the U.S. State Department designated three Chechen groups as terrorist organizations and charged they had links to al-Qaeda." This has been disputed by some experts. Clearly, not all Chechen resistance fighters were Muslim; some were simply nationalists opposed to the vicious Russian campaign against Chechnya. And not all resistance fighters turned to terrorism.

Why Patriots Day?

Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, although celebrated on a Monday, is dedicated to the colonial Minutemen patriots of Lexington and Concord and surrounding towns who on April 19, 1775 launched the revolution that gave birth to the United States. This is an important date for right-wing movements in the United States, and there are numerous posts on the Internet explaining why. Early speculation as to the perpetrators of the bombing centered on domestic right-wing militants. As someone who for forty years has studied domestic right-wing militias and neonazi groups (not the same thing) I had trouble imagining how such groups would explain targeting Boston on a day that was an iconic part of their anti-regime philosophy.

What if you believe in the Islamic prophecy? Imagine that you are a devout Muslim who has been drawn into a fanatical totalitarian sociopolitical movement that sees the United States as the Great Satan. Attacking civilians on Patriots day is an act that glorifies God. Bombing the Boston Marathon punishes a country bent on crippling global Islam. A colleague who is a filmmaker pointed out that blowing the legs off of marathon bystanders was symbolically cutting off America at the knees. Boston, once heralded by devout Christians as the apocalyptic New Jerusalem is exposed as the wellspring of evil, not the location where Jesus of Nazareth returns in triumph with a Christian millennium.

Bombing a celebration of Patriots Day in Boston not only targets the claim that America stands for democracy, but also reveals the weakness and powerlessness of the imperial juggernaut helping despoil Muslim lands from Chechnya to Mecca and beyond. This doesn’t have to make sense to the average American, it just has to make sense to two young Muslim men on a mission for God and glory who perhaps are on their way to a hero’s welcome in the afterlife.

The Devil is in the Details

The prophecy about a mighty army of non-Arab Muslims under a sea of black flags storming Jerusalem from the region of Khorasan is very marginal within contemporary Islam. A hadîth is a saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad in one or more collections handed down over time within Islam. Some hadiths are concerned more reliable than others by experts within the faith. According to Sheikh Salman al-Oadah at Islam Today:

The hadîth about the army with black banners coming out of Khorasan has two chains of transmission [historic references and cites], but both are weak and cannot be authenticated.

If a Muslim believes in this hadîth, he believes in something false. Anyone who cares about his religion and belief should avoid heading towards falsehood.

Being an observant Muslim or even a "fundamentalist" Muslim who resents U.S. foreign policy actions in the Middle East and South Asia does not mean that one automatically supports theocracy, violence, or terrorism. The problem is maximized when Fundamentalism is tied to a totalitarian worldview, especially when mixed with apocalyptic or millennial excitement.

It depends on your version of your religion as to whether or not you see the return of the Messiah in the End Times as requiring some earthly assistance, including the use of force to “hasten the end.” Most of the devout pray to hasten the return of the Messiah…but a few use bombs such as those that exploded in Boston.

In his masterful and terrifying book, The End of Days, my colleague Gershom Gorenberg traces the way in which small groups of Jews, Christians, and Muslims seek to control the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as a landing pad for global Godliness. Alas, for the most fanatic, this means converting or killing all of us who refuse to join in the purification of the planet in anticipation of the end of time and the return of the prophesied Messiah.

  • For Jews, the Messiah has not yet arrived. Jesus was not a true Messiah. When the true Messiah returns, he will return to the rebuilt Temple of Solomon, the site of which is in Jerusalem.
  • For Christians, it is Jesus, the true Messiah, who was executed and rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, who is the true Messiah. Some believe Jesus will return to the Temple Mount
  • For Muslims, the actual Messiah is called the Mahdi. Muslims know this is correct because Jesus—who is a revered prophet in Islam—returns and tells the world that he was indeed a prophet of God, but that the real Messiah (the Mahdi) returns to establish Islam as the ruler of earth.

Each religion expects the true Messiah to return to the same small hill in Jerusalem. For Jews and Christians it is the Temple Mount. For Muslims, who currently control the land, the same hill is called al-Haram al-Sharif. In anticipation of the return of the Messiah—in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—some engage in rituals of purification to cleanse Earth and hasten the return of the Messiah. In rare instances this includes violence as a part of the ritual of purification.

The bombing of the Boston Marathon may be a horrid example of a totalitarian tendency dubbed “political religion” and popularized as a concept by theorist Eric Voegelin in the 1930s.-{2} Examples of political religions include Hitlerism, Stalinism, and the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. All are forms of totalitarianism that demonized and scapegoat a named enemy for all problems in a society. Other scholars use terms such as “the sacralization of politics” (Gentile) and palingenesis (Griffin) to analyze such movements.

The term “political religion” does not mean a religion that has become politicized; it means a political movement that raises the stakes for its program so that obedience and action are raised to the level of a religious or metaphysical obligation. You are either on the bus or you will be thrown under the bus. Obedience to the end goals of the political movement are an absolutist requirement. Having arrived at this totalitarian worldview, it is quite possible to attach it to a religious motive, especially one based in apocalyptic prophecy.

This is the worldview of the militant “Jihadists” who engage in acts of terrorism. Most Muslims see Jihad within Islam as a term that means a struggle to find truth and not justifying acts of terrorism. According to an essay in the Islamic magazine The Fountain, Jihadists:

…cannot fight those who do not oppose them, cannot engage in indiscriminate killing and pillage, and must remain honorable while fighting (no deliberate killing of women, children, or the elderly, mutilation of corpses, and destruction of land and crops). Force is to be used only when there is no other choice (2:190).-{3}

Islamic fundamentalism

In Islam there was a series of reformations in the 1700s, similar to Martin Luther's reformation of Catholicism into Protestantism, but the decentralized nature of Islam was an issue, and there were several separate reform movements. One was led by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92), that became the Wahhabi movement-the theology behind the Saudi government. Think of the Wahhabist Saudi government as similar to the theocratic government created by John Calvin in Geneva. Both are based on the idea of the sovereignty of God administered by righteous men.

Now there is a second reformation going on within Islam that is more global-theocratic Islamic fundamentalism. Jamal Malik, who studies Muslim identity, explains that with Islamic fundamentalism "Islamic tradition is modernized, since the imagined Islamic society is to compete and correspond with Western achievements. This would only be possible in a centralized Islamic state over which they would wield control as the agents of God's sovereignty on earth. . . ." {4}

This explanation of Islamic fundamentalism describes a form of theocracy-a system where the only appropriate political leaders are persons who see themselves as devoted to carrying out the will of God as interpreted by a common religion. Some scholars, however, argue that not all forms of fundamentalism are necessarily theocratic, at least in practice.

Contemporary Islamic fundamentalism has its roots in the theological/political theories of Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79) and Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) and the emergence of a theological outlook called Salafism that is complimentary to Wahhabism. As Khaled Abou El Fadl explains:

Wahhabi thought exercised its greatest influence not under its own label, but under the rubric of Salafism. In their literature, Wahhabi clerics have consistently described themselves as Salafis, and not Wahhabis....

Salafism is a creed founded in the late nineteenth century by Muslim reformers such as Muhammad 'Abduh, al-Afghani and Rashid Rida. Salafism appealed to a very basic concept in Islam: Muslims ought to follow the precedent of the Prophet and his companions (al-salaf al-salih).

Methodologically, Salafism was nearly identical to Wahhabism except that Wahhabism is far less tolerant of diversity and differences of opinion. The founders of Salafism maintained that on all issues Muslims ought to return to the Qur'an and the sunna (precedent) of the Prophet. In doing so, Muslims ought to reinterpret the original sources in light of modern needs and demands, without being slavishly bound to the interpretations of earlier Muslim generations. {5}

The result is a form of Islamic fundamentalism that is very repressive. Mawdudi argued that his ideal Islamic State "would be totalitarian, because it subjected everything to the rule of God. . ." notes Karen Armstrong. {6}

Some observers use the term “fundamentalist” to describe all militant totalitarian apocalyptic religious movements. This is not accurate. The term fundamentalism, originally used to describe a form of Christianity, is properly used to describe similar but not identical religious revitalization movements in various religious traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Fundamentalism is often confused with orthodoxy and traditionalism. Fundamentalists claim to be restoring the "true" religion by returning to "traditional" beliefs and enforcing orthodox beliefs-the set of theological doctrines approved of as sound and correct by a faith's religious leaders. In fact, while fundamentalist movements claim to be restoring tradition and orthodoxy, they actually create a new version of an existing religion based on a mythic and romanticized past. This thesis was a central argument in Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God, a comparative study of fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. {7}

So, while fundamentalism is a reaction against the Enlightenment and modernity, it is ironically a distinctly modern phenomenon. Jamal Malik, who studies Muslim identity, explains that with Islamic fundamentalism "Islamic tradition is modernized, since the imagined Islamic society is to compete and correspond with Western achievements. This would only be possible in a centralized Islamic state over which they would wield control as the agents of God's sovereignty on earth. . . ." {8} This explanation of Islamic fundamentalism describes a form of theocracy-a system where the only appropriate political leaders are persons who see themselves as devoted to carrying out the will of God as interpreted by a common religion. Some scholars, however, argue that not all forms of fundamentalism are necessarily theocratic, at least in practice.

Furthermore, fundamentalist religious movements seldom turn to violence, even when they are wound up tighter than a clock spring with apocalyptic excitement and anticipation. The response to apocalyptic belief systems anticipating the End of Days can be passive, defensive, or aggressive.

Professor Lee Quinby takes a dim view of apocalypticism. In her book Anti–Apocalypse, Quinby argues that “Apocalypticism in each of its modes fuels discord, breeds anxiety or apathy, and sometimes causes panic,” and that “this process can occur at the individual, community, national, or international level.” What makes apocalypse so compelling,” argues Quinby,” is its promise of future perfection, eternal happiness, and godlike understanding of life, but it is that very will to absolute power and knowledge that produces its compulsions of violence, hatred, and oppression.” {9} Quinby also published a study titled “Coercive Purity: The Dangerous Promise of Apocalyptic Masculinity.” Scholar Carol Mason has written in Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics of the religious justifications used by those who murder abortion provider in the United States.

Sociologist of religion Brenda Brasher argues that apocalypticism “is potentially beneficent or potentially destructive. A crucial distinction,” she says is, “in the definition of the status of the 'Other' in the anticipated confrontation. If the 'Other' is constructed as wholly evil, then the ramifications are really horrendous. In this form, apocalypticism leaves no room for ambiguity in the stories told about the 'Other.' There is a real hardening of sides. We are good, they are evil. This is not a disagreement, but a struggle with evil incarnate, so there is no structure for a peaceful reconciliation.” In this scenario, Brasher says that people “are cast in their roles as either enemy or friend and there is no such thing as middle ground. In the battle with evil, can you really say you are neutral?”

On the other hand, Brasher points out that “apocalyptic themes have been drawn upon by people who are in distress”:

…people faced with horrific conditions and who are trying to sustain themselves, provide dignity, and preserve a sense of community. An example would be the role of apocalyptic Christianity among African slaves brought to the United States. This is also true of the anti-slavery abolition movements and the Civil Rights movement. In this beneficent form apocalyptic belief provides a moral framework that resists the effects of chaos and provides a means by which communities can survive and endure.

Where Do We Go From Here?

For those whose lives were tragically altered forever on April 15, 2013 in Boston, none of this really matters. Yet if we are to fight terrorism, it best be on the basis of understanding what motivates terrorism. Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert at Harvard University, has found through extensive research that the single most common aspect of terrorists is a deep sense of having been humiliated. What then is the effectiveness of a “War on Terrorism” using bombs and drones? This need to punish our enemies in acts of revenge only adds fuel to the flames that return home to engulf us in terrorist acts. = = = = = = = = = = = =

Chip Berlet, an investigative reporter and scholar, has studied repression, right-wing movements, and political violence for over forty years. He was an associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Millennialism and Millennial Movements and recently authored the study “The United States: Messianism, Apocalypticism, and Political Religion” collected in The Sacred in Twentieth Century Politics. Berlet also coordinated and co-authored the revisions for the entry on “Neo-Nazism” in the new edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

For a lengthy study on apocalypticism by the author, see Dances with Devils: How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism

Portions of this essay are adapted from previoulsy published material.

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1- Timothy R. Furnish, "What's Worse than Violent Jihadists?," History News Network; _____Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden ( Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005).

2- Thierry Gontier, "From 'political theology' to 'political religion': Voegelin and Carl Schmitt," Eric Voegelin Institite, 2009,

3- What does the Qur'an say about Jihad and how did the Prophet implement it?” Fountain magazine, January-March 2002,

4- Jamal Malik. "Making Sense of Islamic Fundamentalism," ISIM Newsletter, 1, (International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World). October 1998. Originally online at Retrieved 10/19/2001; now archived at A video/audio lecture by Malik on the subject is available here

5- Khaled Abou El Fadl, “Islam and the Theology of Power,” special section, “Islam: Images, Politics, Paradox. Middle East Report, 221, (Winter 2001). Originally online at, Retrieved 12/12/2002. Now available at

For more on Wahhabism and bin Laden, see Jean E. Rosenfeld, “The `Religion' of Usamah bin Ladin: Terror As the Hand of God.” Online at; Catherine Wessinger, “Bin Laden and Revolutionary Millennialism,” op-ed. New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 10, 2001. Online at

6- Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God (New York: Ballantine Books, 2001 p. 238.

7- Armstrong, Battle for God.

8- Jamal Malik. "Making Sense of Islamic Fundamentalism," ISIM Newsletter, 1, (International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World). October 1998. Originally online at Retrieved 10/19/2001; now archived at A video/audio lecture by Malik on the subject is available here

9- Lee Quinby, 1994, Anti-Apocalypse: exercises in genealogical criticism. , Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 162.

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Thanks to several friends and colleagues for helpful comments and observations

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Terrorism, Politics, Mental Illness, and Superhero Complex

Originally written for and posted at Alternet

In Friday’s Colorado movie theatre shooting rampage the suspect is described as a “Lone Wolf” terrorist. What does that mean? How does it fit into the overall picture of terrorism as portrayed in the corporate media? Media coverage of domestic terrorism is not covering the whole story. Since the election of President Barack Obama, there have been a series of deadly terrorist incidents in the United States, some clearly politically-motivated, others more obscure—in which individuals have reached the breaking point and acted out in violence; often cloaking themselves in the armor of a delusional Superhero Complex in which they are a hero or antihero for their terrorist attacks.

The claim of mental illness in a terrorist is often used incorrectly, and sometimes used to dismiss any societal motivating factors in a violent act. Most people who struggle with mental illness do not act out in violence. Some convicted terrorists said to be “obviously” mentally ill do not have a diagnostic condition recognized by the medical community; while juries convict terrorists who display clear signs of mental distress. What if the few terrorists who are mentally ill are like the mine canaries, warning us of something toxic spreading the fumes of anxiety through our society?

Even the definition of the term terrorism is hotly disputed and politically-biased. The US government considers “eco-terrorism” the greatest terrorist threat in our country. The evidence suggests this is not the case. Not all acts of violence—even political violence—are necessarily forms of terrorism. A broad generic definition of terrorism is using force or the threat of force to harm or intimidate civilians to advance a political or social objective. Using this definition, terrorism can be carried out by individuals, groups, or states. It can be a methodology used by the weak against the powerful, or the powerful against the weak. It can be aimed at persons or property. Using this definition, in the Middle East, suicide bombers targeting Jews and Israelis and the Israeli government shelling of Palestinian towns are both acts of terrorism.

The U.S. government rejects this definition in favor of one that assumes nation states cannot be engaged in terrorism. This is self-serving, since it excludes from “terrorism” US drone attacks that kill non-combatant citizens in foreign countries. It also excludes the World War II carpet bombing of the German city of Dresden in February 1945, and the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

A “Lone Wolf” terrorist is a person who has no current or past ties to an organized group advocating political violence. Such people are very hard for government authorities to track, thus their acts of terrorism are almost impossible to stop. The Lone Wolf uses a form of terrorism called “Leaderless Resistance.” Organized groups or cells can use Leaderless Resistance, but it is accurate to use that term only if every member of the cell has never participated in another organized group dedicated to political violence as a current or future goal. The concept of “Leaderless Resistance” is often attributed to right-wing racist Louis Beam, a neonazi icon and ideologue in the United States. Even Beam correctly notes that the concept was developed by a former CIA operative, Colonel Ulius Louis Amoss, a dedicated anticommunist who sought to improve the success of US agents building espionage cells in European countries occupied by the Soviet Union. Beam, on the other hand, implied it would be an effective way to build underground cells by White supremacists in the United States.

Claims that “Leaderless Resistance” cells on the political right have carried out numerous acts of terrorism are not technically accurate. Most incidents involve perpetrators with previous ties to organized ultra-right White supremacist groups. According to terrorism researcher Simson Garfinkel, the clearest examples of Leaderless Resistance in the United States are in the ecological group Earth First! and several Animal Liberation movements—movements that generally avoid harming people with their acts of vandalism against property.

When the Federal Building in Oklahoma City was destroyed in a terrorist bombing, terrorism “expert” Steven Emerson speculated that it was Arabs attempting to “inflict as many casualties as possible…that is a Middle Eastern trait." Being wrong and a bigot have not stopped his crusade of self-promotion. As I write this, bloggers—without any evidence—are speculating on the motives of the accused perpetrator in the Colorado shootings. Some already are saying it can only be the act of a person who is mentally ill. This is not necessarily true.

Let’s start with the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Rep. Gabrielle Giffords by Jared Lee Loughner in January 2011. Writing in Slate following the terror attack, Vaughan Bell suggested we are “too quick to use ‘mental illness’ as an explanation for violence.” As evidence Bell reviewed the work of an Oxford University psychiatrist, Seena Fazel, who “led the most extensive scientific studies to date of the links between violence and two of the most serious psychiatric diagnoses—schizophrenia and bipolar disorder” Either of these forms of mental illness can “lead to delusions, hallucinations, or some other loss of contact with reality.” Bell wrote that:

Rather than looking at individual cases, or even single studies, Fazel's team analyzed all the scientific findings they could find. As a result, they can say with confidence that psychiatric diagnoses tell us next to nothing about someone's propensity or motive for violence.”
According to Dr. Marvin Swartz, while “we don’t know whether there was a specific relationship between the political climate that [Loughner] was exposed to and his thinking, it’s a reasonable line of inquiry to explore.” Swartz explains that “One’s cultural context does [have an effect on] people’s thinking and particularly their delusions. It gives some content and shape to their delusions.” Swartz, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University, says it is legitimate to study “the cultural influences on people’s delusions or persecutory thinking,” and consider “different aspects of culture” and the how they affect people’s behavior—even the actions of terrorists.

The link between mass media vilification of a scapegoated group and incidents of aggression and violence against that group is well-established. Not everyone gripped by the media massage reacts by assaulting or killing the scapegoat, however, and a few people actively resist the campaign. Some terrorists write a script in which they see themselves as a Superhero out to avenge a wrong—real or illusory. Men in the United States seem oddly attracted to this role which intersects with guns and violence.

Older models of psychological interpretation often dismissed the violent actors as dysfunctional or mentally ill and left it at that. Contemporary approaches factor in psychological considerations, but also consider the role of demonization and scapegoating in creating perceptual frames. Within sociology, the study of how the construction of frames and narratives assists ideological goals and attracts and retains recruits is well developed. In several disciplines there are studies of apocalyptic narrative storylines that cast the perpetrator in the role of hero for saving society from a mortal threat.

For some terrorists who are not clinically mentally ill, the act of violence has a clear goal of sending a message they hope will be understood and acted upon. They are seldom correct in their idea that their “propaganda of the deed” will have the desired outcome. For the tiny handful of those who struggle with serious mental illness and turn to violence, outside factors in the society play a role in writing the script they are following to justify their actions. This script is internally generated and generally incomprehensible to other people, however, it can be internally consistent and understandable to the perpetrator. So outside societal factors can be involved, even if they are greatly misinterpreted through the darkened glasses of psychosis.

Zev Sternhell, a scholar of Fascism who was injured in a 2008 terrorist pipe bomb attack, says there are outside factors. Sternhell said the Loughner attack on Giffords and others was related to “radical conservative incitement against the Obama administration’s health care reform law, which Giffords backed.”

What about the terror attacks of John Salvi on reproductive health clinics in Boston in December 1994? Salvi was clearly motivated by his zealous anti-abortion stance and conspiracy theories about manipulation of currency by bankers. A jury convicted him despite persuasive testimony that Salvi was mentally ill. Salvi later committed suicide in jail. This raises further question, including the issue of the difference between a diagnosis of mental illness and the criteria for being found legally insane and unable to stand trial.

Clearly the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing, for which Timothy McVeigh was executed and Terry Nichols remains incarcerated for life—showed no signs of mental illness. They were political soldiers, just like Anders Behring Breivik charged with terror attacks in Norway in July 2011.

“The terrorist attacks in Oslo,” writes Gardell, “were not an outburst of irrational madness, but a calculated act of political violence.” Gardell says that here was a “certain logic” to the “carnage that can and should be explained, if we want to avoid a repetition.” Gardell notes that Breivik himself was aware that his “shock attacks are theatre and theatre is always performed for an audience.”

Psychiatrist Rosenqvist believes Breivik is not legally insane, and his “deviant statements” about Islam and other matters “are an expression of an extreme ideology,” and should not be seen as “a psychotic view of reality.” Rosenqvist suggests Breivik is suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder that is not a form of legal insanity. Rosenqvist told reporters that Breivik was immersed in a cult-like anti-Islamic movement based outside of Norway. That movement, in fact, is based in the United States.

As one of Norway’s leading forensic psychiatrists, Rosenqvist’s opinion carried enough weight to have the matter of Breivik’s sanity reopened to a new pre-trial evaluation by outside experts. Rosenqvist examined Breivik for Norwegian authorities while he was in prison awaiting trial. Breivik admits to the bombing and shooting spree, but denies criminal guilt, according to press accounts. The Telegraph reported Breivik describes himself as “a commander of a resistance movement aiming to overthrow European governments and replace them with ‘patriotic’ regimes that would deport Muslim immigrants.”

A number of authors have written about what Mattia Gardell calls “Breivik's Ideology” of the “Romantic Male Warrior Ideal.” Gardell writes that Breivik saw himself as a “self-appointed knight” who “gave himself the stage name Sigurd – the Crusader.” Gardell observes:
Animated by heroic tales of the crusaders, movie epics such as 300, Lord of the Rings, Passion Of The Christ, Serbian ultranationalist narratives of Radovan Karadzic's bloody actions during the Bosnian civil war, and the exploits he performed in World of Warcraft, Breivik felt equipped for battle.”
Breivik’s Manifesto echoes many of the same tropes. Breivik warns of a “deconstruction of European cultures, identities and the traditional structures” which he identifies as the “nuclear family, traditional morality and patriarchal structures.” He rejects what he sees as the current “pacified/feminized” culture of Europe. He sees himself as a heroic warrior standing erect against the onslaught.

The role of gender panic in shaping an identity of the Superhero warrior is analyzed by James William Gibson in his book Warrior Dreams. In a similar line of analysis, Julie Ingersoll found in Breivik’s Manifesto “evidence of his profoundly sexist view of the world, where women are naive and lacking in rationality, but are useful for sex and reproduction.” She called it “emasculation paranoia.” Ingersoll also highlighted Breivik’s claim that “feminism is to blame for what he asserts is the success of a supposed Muslim plan for world domination.” Breivik “wants to set the culture clock back ‘to the ‘50s—because we know it works.” This mythic nostalgia, according to Ingersoll, “is a central feature …of how Breivik’s analysis could well have been lifted from the talking points of the religious right.

An example of this is in an essay by Christian Right author Gerald L. Atkinson that appeared in a collection on Political Correctness by Christian Right ideologue William Lind, one of Brevik’s intellectual heros cited in his manifesto. Atkinson excoriates feminism and blames what he calls “Cultural Marxism” in a way that matches Breivik’s analysis. According to Atkinson:
Perhaps no aspect of Political Correctness is more prominent in American life today than feminist ideology. Is feminism, like the rest of Political Correctness, based on the cultural Marxism imported from Germany in the 1930s? While feminism’s history in America certainly extends longer than sixty years, its flowering in recent decades has been interwoven with the unfolding social revolution carried forward by cultural Marxists.
The conspiracy theory about Cultural Marxism sweeping America and infecting the body politic all the way up to President Barack Obama is widespread in right-wing Republican circles. Many of the purveyors of this myth warn of impending doom and cast themselves in the role of the latter day Paul Revere’s—an example of Superhero Complex.

A number of terrorists in the US fall into that pattern. Stressor factors that can create a Superhero Complex that leads to violence can include zealous political goals, anxiety over changing racial, gender, or religious dynamics, a sense of being persecuted, fear and depression over collapsing economic viability, a belief in conspiracy theories of impending attack by dark forces, or other factors. For Salvi, Loughner, and Breivik, stress was focused on targeted scapegoats by right-wing fearmongering from marginal sources and demonization of liberal ideas. This litany of demonization and scapegoating is carried on mainstream corporate media in the United States, and not just Fox News. An example is the appearance of right-wing ideologue, Islamophobic bigot, and Sharia Law conspiracy theorist Newt Gingrich appearing on CNN to discuss the Colorado terrorist attack.

We do not as yet know enough about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado to make an assessment of the motivations of the arrested shooter. We do know that societal and political factors can shape the actions of any terrorist, no matter what their mental status. We also know, based on reporting by alternative journalists David Neiwert, Sara Robinson, and others, that the mainstream frame of reporting on terrorism and political violence in the United States is shoddy and politically-biased—downplaying acts by right-wing militants and attacks on reproductive rights providers, while overplaying terror plots involving Muslims and Arabs as well as those involving ecology activists. Better in-depth reporting could help solve the problem, rather than exploiting it for commercial game in an ironic parody of the bad sensationalist media hacks criticized in the HBO television series “The Newsroom.”

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Abstaining from Bad Sects

This essay first appeared as "Abstaining from Bad Sects: Understanding Sects, Cadres, and Mass Movement Organizations," Resist Newsletter, Somerville, MA: Resist, Vol. 8, No. 10, December 1999. It has fallen off the website of Resist, so I re-publish it here due to several recent requests. It may be of interest to the Occupy Wall Street movement, now facing parasitic sectarian organizing, conspiracy theorists, bigots, and right-wing recruiters.

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Any experienced activist can tell tales of trying to unravel the Gordian Knot of the relationships among mass organizing, sectarianism, left cadre organizations, and ultra-leftism. To describe cadre-based sectarian ultra-leftists as tedious and disruptive is a charitable understatement. Wait! Grab hold of that last sentence and examine it.

Sectarianism, cadre groups, and ultra-leftism are three separate issues. Those successful at juggling these tendencies in a real organizing campaign usually start by understanding that there are differences among ideological tendencies and the people who marry them, and there are differences between structures and styles. Rather than lumping everything and everyone together in a prejudiced and stereotypic way, lets unpack the box.


The term sectarianism originated with the Protestant Reformation starting in the 1500s. From the vantage point of the Vatican, Protestantism began as a form of sectarianism., when a small espoused different religious convictions and separated from the "one true church." This group formed its own religious body and established its own principles and leadership, separate and apart from the Vatican. The response, of course, was to condemn this new protesting sect, consign all those who disagreed with the Catholic Church and its tenets to hell, and--since they were heretics--also revoke all earthly rights. Protestantism soon spawned more sects, who denounced each other for heresy. Some leftists have borrowed this theme with unsettling enthusiasm.

Today, the term sect in discussions of religion can have a far different meaning than sectarianism in the political left. A religious sect can simply be a relatively small group organized around a distinctive set of theological principles. Since these principles are seen as ordained by God, they demand obedience. When a sect tries to enforce these views on everyone, member and non-member alike, the sect becomes sectarian. In this discussion the term "sectarian" refers to an inappropriate demand for a mass group to accept uncritically the ideological precepts of a specific group or individual.

The rise of various religious fundamentalist governments and factions (such as in Iran, Algeria, India, Pakistan, Israel, and many other parts of the world) represent another type of religious sectarianism. In our own country, we can see similar themes in the theocratic wing of the Christian Right.

Sectarianism can have roots other than religious. A form of racialized sectarianism plagues the Balkans and parts of Africa, but it can be seen in the violent attacks on Blacks, Jews and Asians by followers of far right ideologies in the US, with echoes in the electoral politics of David Duke and Pat Buchanan.

Both racial nationalism and religious nationalism are sectarian forms of a right wing populist backlash against globalization of the world economy for the benefit of transnational corporations. Right wing, because instead of seeking to broaden democratic participation, it seeks to build a strong coherent homogeneous group to defend against the socially destructive forces of corporate globalization in a way that demonizes, excludes, and oppresses scapegoats seen as outside the core group. This form of right wing populism can be dangerous, but its crude anti-elite critique can seem attractive to some on the left.

Cadres and Ultra-Leftism

Cadre organizations are built along strict lines of obedience to the group's ideology, strategy and tactics. They are sects with particular features involving hierarchical structures and organizational practices rooted in Leninism. Often they are obligated to articulate a specific line or script (or "frame" in sociological jargon) regarding a variety of topics.

One way to enforce a single ideological line or a specific strategy or tactic is to use a process called "democratic centralism." Under democratic centralism, cadre are expected to engage in a frank discussion and debate internally with other cadre and the group's leadership. However once a specific position is arrived at, cadre are expected to support the decision, and refrain from any disagreement with or criticisms of the "line" with persons or groups outside of the cadre organization. When people talk about "The Party Line," they mean the line the cadre group members are bound to uphold in public.

Ultra-leftism is an egocentric form of mythopoetic martyrdom whereby practitioners anoint themselves as the beleaguered guardians of the one true political line. They read long impenetrable manifestos at public meetings. They show up at mass demonstrations with helmets and hockey sticks for a game of self-fulfilling prophecy that often results in violence as they hurl themselves at police. They inevitably urge a course of action that is hopelessly out of touch with reality. Even Lenin called this an "infantile disorder."

Theory, structure, organizational practice, and individual behavior interact in complex ways.

Cadre organizations indeed resemble "sects" in terms of internal organization and hierarchy, but not all cadre organizations or their members are "sectarian" in organizational practice. Not all cadre organizations engage in ultra-leftist activities. Some cadre members of ultra-left groups can still act appropriately as individuals in mass organizations.


Andrew Feenberg in "Paths To Failure: The Dialectics of Organization and Ideology in the New Left" discusses how sectarianism and ultra-lefitism can create a false sense of achievement. Looking at the New Left of the 1960s and early 1970s, Feenberg, argues the attraction of "sectarianism and ultra-leftism sustained its energies for several decisive years while dispersing its audience."
"Sectarianism in the movement was based on a sense of moral superiority that was effective in motivating an in-group but incompatible with its expansion among those sympathetic to its program. Moral heroism mobilized the troops, but it was accompanied by a characteristic romantic elitism rooted in a sense of differentness, of sacrifice and oppression."

"New left sectarianism was often conjoined to ultra-leftism, the systematic failure to employ strategies realistically adapted to the situation at hand. Instead, many new left groups preferred to substitute individual morality for politics and became obsessively concerned with establishing the revolutionary personal identity of their members at the expense of effective action on the real world. Ultra-leftists became adept at driving a wedge between principle and practice in every kind of situation, blocking the employment of even the most elementary instrumental intelligence in political work."
In the mid 1970s thousands of left activists joined new cadre organizations. The results were mixed. Some individuals carried out successful organizing campaigns. Other groups sank into a totalitarian morass. In the worst scenario I witnessed, lesbian couples were broken up, told to marry heterosexual fellow cadre, and moved to industrial cities to "merge with the industrial proletariat."

In Chicago in the 1980s I was asked by friends of my spouse to be parliamentarian at a founding meeting of a national US/Albanian Friendship Society. At the time, I was still collecting hours of such work needed to become a certified parliamentarian. I turned out to be one of the few attendees not in one of three competing Stalinist cadre organizations. Everyone was on their good behavior, however, and over several days we actually managed to draft principles of unity and a constitution and by-laws. I had quipped that if this group somehow managed to come up with democratic guidelines that didn't require supporting the government of Albania or its political system, that even I would join. They did, so I paid my dues and have been red-baited ever since.

It was in this group that I finally took the time to understand the ideological rift between Moscow, China, and Yugoslavia, which occupied far too much conversation time among my leftist friends. I learned that in post-war Europe some of the countries had been semi-feudal; and that for survivors to side with the communists who had fought in the resistance, instead of re-installing Nazi-collaborationist monarchs and oligarchs who had looted the country, was hardly difficult to understand. I helped investigate the harassment of ethnic-Albanian Chicagoans who were protesting Yugoslav repression of Albanian intellectuals in the Kosovar region (premature anti-fascism redux). I made friends.

Unfortunately I also made enemies. At one point some cadre member who held an elected position in the local group fell out of favor with her party's leadership. At the next meeting all of her former colleagues arrived with the same script. She was no longer doing a good job. She must be removed. I protested that what was happening was obviously a decision by a cadre organization to enforce conformity of action through democratic centralism. I argued that this was not appropriate in a democratic mass organization. It was clear that some of the individual cadre members were troubled by what was being asked of them. I gave an impassioned speech on the importance of moral conscience over blind obedience that had some of them in tears. Resistance was futile. They all dutifully voted to purge the poor woman from her meager post. She was also required to remain an active member...another humiliation.

My retribution was not to quit. I wasn't in a cadre group and I was too well known to purge. I hung on until I left Chicago. What was left of the group threw me a going away party. There we were in a rented hall, the chair of the group, the purged woman who came to thank me, and me. That's all that was left.

Block voting by cadre members in a mass democratic organization is one of the most destructive practices I have seen in the US left--and I have seen it far too often. It undermines the basic premise of actual debate, the informed consent, that makes democratic practice possible.

Two Steps Back...

One response to sectarianism and ultra-leftism has been to condemn identity politics as reflecting new forms of those tendencies. To me this sounds like the voice of privilege complaining about how annoying it is to deal with those pestiferous people who keep pointing out how unfair the privilege is. My mental image is a support group for former slave holders after the civil war. Nobody likes to give up privilege and power (well, I certainly don't) but I see it as an issue of fairness.

Jean Hardisty, in her book Mobilizing Resentment, acknowledges that a "theme common to nearly all those who discuss the state of the progressive movement and its future is our lack of agreement on a vision around which the movement's different groups can coalesce." According to Hardisty, "to blame 'identity politics' for the decline of the larger movement fails to look at the reason identity groups arose in the first place--the neglect of their input and their issues."

Hardisty embraces the thesis of Francis Calpotura and Kim Fellner in their pamphlet, "Square Pegs Find Their Groove," and summarizes their views as arguing that:
"...if all the people who are marginalized and excluded from power are to achieve real self-determination, progressive organizers must address not only class inequities, but also related forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism--even if these are not directly germane to a specific organizing uncompromising solidarity with marginalized groups is the bottom line of this model of grassroots organizing."
You Can't Judge a Book...

I have worked on organizing campaigns that were destroyed by sectarian ultra-leftism, yet I have worked on organizing campaigns where members of cadre organizations played an important leading and sustaining role. While I have never been tempted to join a cadre organization, I have seen the good--not just the bad and the ugly--emerge from such groups. Clearly there are some organizing campaigns where the energy and commitment of cadre groups sustains the work through dry spells. Therefore, it is not the cadre organization itself that poses the problem.

In the 1950s the National Lawyers Guild refused to purge its members who were members of the Communist Party. Today there are Guild members who are cadre in a variety of communist groups along with a majority of unaffiliated members. As a paralegal investigator, I joined the Guild in the 1970s. I found an example of an organization that tried hard to incorporate the participation of cadre within a democratic structure.

Easy? Are you crazy? The cacophony at some meetings makes "Star Wars" seem like a minimalist film. I have chaired committee meetings with debates featuring cadres from Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, and Maoist groups, along with Marxists, anarchists, libertarians, and progressive independents--interacting with a preponderance of reluctant Democrats--all intertwined with multiple alternate identities as lawyers, legal workers, labor organizers, tribal sovereignty activists, civil liberties and civil rights advocates, environmentalists, feminists, gay men and lesbians, and people of color.

Bernice Johnson Reagon has discussed the practical problems of coalition work in terms of risk and discomfort. She built a metaphor around her problems breathing due to being at a high altitude for the first time at a 1981 meeting of women in Yosemite National Forest:
"You got one group of people who are in strain--and the group of people who are feeling fine are trying to figure out why you are staggering around, and that's what this workshop [on coalition politics] is about this morning." 
"I wish there had been another way to graphically make me feel it because I belong to the group of people who are having a very difficult time being here. I feel as if I'm gonna keel over any minute and die. That is often what it feels like if you're really doing coalition work. Most of the time you feel threatened to the core and if you don't, you're not really doing no coalescing."
Practical Magic

In real life, a mass democratic organization needs to establish principles of unity that apply to both the goals of the group and its internal operating procedures.

Can cadre organizations relate to the mass-based group in a principled manner? Can members of cadre organization abide by the principles of unity established by the mass-based group? The issue boils down to behavior. Do individual people behave appropriately? If not, is there a process to deal with their behavior that is problematic?

Principled opposition needs to be respected within a mass organization as long as it is not disruptive to a degree that threatens the existence of the group. Some disruption is inevitable, even healthy. How else would people of color, women, and gays and lesbians assert their right to be treated with respect? If a group cannot accommodate these issues of respect, then its existence is problematic, and maybe a mass exodus and formation of a new group with new principles of unity is a good outcome. The trick is to find the balance between the constant struggle that democratic and inclusive practice requires, and the ability of the group's goal to be pursued without endless splits. As Reagon graphically explained, real coalition work is hard.

Individuals who repeatedly engage in disruptive behavior should be expelled from a group, as long as some sincere attempt is made to reconcile the person to the group's principles of unity regarding appropriate behavior. Nothing is more destructive in a mass organization than rumors claiming someone is a secret member of a cadre cell, or a police agent, or mentally unbalanced. Some people are just disruptive, for whatever reason. It is essential that the objective effect of the behavior be the focus, not the assumed intent or cause of the behavior.

It is not fair for cadre organizations to send blocks of cadre members bound by democratic centralism (or other mandates to conform to a single line) into mass organizations to commandeer debates and votes. It is manipulative, elitist, and profoundly undemocratic.

Members of cadre organizations need to be sensitive to the fact that their presence changes the dynamics of mass organizations, and learn to tread lightly. They may see themselves in the vanguard, but history makes that judgement. Insisting it is so will not speed up the process. Everyone needs to persuade others by the force of their ideas and the exemplary character of their actions...not by brute force.

Leaders of mass organizations need to be sensitive to the fact that in a truly democratic organization, every voice must be heard. It is not appropriate to silence real or imagined cadre members because of a presupposition that the message will be a repeat performance or that a cadre is just parroting the party line. So what? Either the ideas are persuasive or they are not.

Activists in cadre organizations get to proselytize and even recruit, as long as they do the work, and abide by the principles of unity agreed to by the mass organization. Groups get to set the rules for time, place, and manner. The usual time is before and after the main event. I usually tell cadre members I will listen to their pitch if they will listen to my tirade on why the concept of "democratic centralism" is an oxymoron.


Organizer Suzanne Pharr, wrote In the Time of the Right: Reflections on Liberation, in which she urges that within the movement we must "Create principled internal politics and healthy standards for work and working conditions:"
"Be respectful of everyone. Do not act martyred. Build relationships that include more than work: celebration, ritual, play. Use positive humor whenever possible and often. Get a life, have a life, live a life--as fully and joyously as imaginable."

Democracy is a process,
not a specific set of institutions
Democracy is a process that assumes
the majority of people, over time,
given enough accurate information,
and the ability to participate
in a free and open public debate,
reach constructive decisions
that benefit the whole of society, and 
preserve liberty,
protect our freedoms,
extend equality, and
defend democracy.

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[Chip Berlet, an investigative researcher and reporter, has been an activist and organizer since the mid 1960s, when he joined the civil rights movement as a high school student and youth delegate for National Council of Churches ecumenical projects.]

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My Tweet:

Occupy your process. How genuine democracy deals with cadre organizations: Abstaining from Bad Sects #OWS