WHY FIGHT THE RIGHT? EYES RIGHT! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash edited by Chip Berlet (South End Press, Boston, $17, paper)

WHY FIGHT THE RIGHT? EYES RIGHT! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash edited by Chip Berlet (South End Press, Boston, $17, paper)

By Eleanor Bader

THESE 38 ESSAYS START WITH A BLUNT and terrifying reminder, at least for those of us on the progressive end of the political spectrum: “The major mass movements challenging the bipartisan status quo are not found on the left, but on the right.”

The authors put anomalous actions – like the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the 1994 murder of two abortion clinic staffers in Brookline, Massachusetts – into the context of a large, well-funded, and multifaceted political bloc, a right wing that has theocratic as well as secular tentacles. And while the book is limited – I wanted more on the corporate and foundation funders behind right-wing efforts and a deeper understanding of the interconnections between single issue anti-abortion groups and the wider conservative agenda – Eyes Right! is the stuff of sleepless nights, a complex, thorough look at the economic and social conditions that have spawned the right and an analysis of the beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses of particular organizations and campaigns.

Berlet, a senior researcher at Political Research Associates in Somerville, Massachusetts, separates the religious (theocratic) right from racial nationalists and the far right, all the while conceding the overlap between the factions. “The theocratic right’s ideal is an authoritarian society where Christian men interpret God’s will as law,” he writes in “Theocracy and White Supremacy.”

Nowhere is this slice of political piety more blatant than among the Reconstructionists, a fast-growing movement started by conservative Presbyterians who believe that a contemporary application of the Old Testament will lead to the kingdom of God on earth.

“Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life – such as government, education, law, and the arts, not merely ‘social’ or ‘moral’ issues like pornography, homosexuality, and abortion,” writes Frederick Clarkson in “Christian Reconstructionism.” “The nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and wife and children are in submission to him. In turn, the husband submits to Jesus and to God’s laws as detailed in the Old Testament.”

It is startling that Reconstructionist messages have been given credence by such national figures as televangelist Pat Robertson and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Moreover, Reconstructionists have made inroads into county and state GOP organizations, especially in California.

But the GOP is not the only place to have felt the muscle of Reconstructionist invasion. Other targets include the public schools, which true believers have dubbed “Satan’s choice.” Arguing that the secular worldview of public education has led to society’s moral decay, Reconstructionists urge home schooling for their own offspring while simultaneously pushing one another to run for school boards. Though their kids are kept far from the publicly funded classroom, they advocate covert involvement as a way to sink the ship of godless humanism.

LEST YOU THINK THESE EFFORTS MEANingless, the rantings of a minute splinter group of crazed religious fanatics, Eyes Right! tells us that school board members holding Reconstructionist ideas have been elected in several localities; in addition, while it is an admittedly small triumph, Clarkson chronicles the political shifts that have left the County Commission of Cobb County, Georgia, in the hands of the Christian right since the early 1990s. In just a few years, Reconstructionists have won a number of victories there: “Homosexuality has been banned, arts funding cut off, and abortion services through the county public employee health plan have been banned,” he writes.

But what of the non-Reconstructionist, but still religious, right wing? According to contributor Sara Diamond, a June 1994 survey by The New York Times found that approximately 9 percent of Americans self-identify as part of the Christian right. The Christian Coalition, the largest Christian right group, boasts more than a million members and has 1,700 chapters throughout the 50 states.

Like the Reconstructionists, virtually all other groups of Christian rightists blend spiritual tonic with political activism. In fact, Diamond reminds us that white evangelical voters were responsible for Ronald Reagan’s 10-point lead over Jimmy Carter in 1980. Furthermore, she writes, each and every week movement preachers, TV and radio talk show hosts, and newspapers, magazines, and newsletters exhort the flock to call or write their elected officials about everything from welfare reform to immigration, from pornography to prayer in the schools.

Goaded by virulent xenophobia and homophobia, as well as anti-Semitism and racism, both the secular right – including the Wise Use (anti-environmental) and anti-public-broadcasting movement – and the religious right, are fueled by economic hard times and the perceived loss of power by individuals who once believed they had a toehold on the American dream. In “White Supremacy in the 1990s,” Loretta Ross blames potential population shifts for the recent groundswell of racist and heterosexist violence. Right-wing activists, she writes, “are frantic to exploit the earth’s natural resources to accumulate wealth before that time in the 21st century when demographics predict that America will no longer be majoritywhite….They want a fast solution before, as they put it, the white race is extinct.”

Horrifying examples of anti-immigrant brutality, as well as militia activity, give Eyes Right! resonance. Additional chapters on Holocaust-denial movements provide an overview of the permutations of anti-Semitic thought and give teeth to the fight against anti-Jewish bigotry.

“It is not possible to say whether the next 10 years will lead the country further down the path to the end of democracy as we know it,” writes long-time movement-watcher Jean Hardisty in the book’s preface. Such a possibility notwithstanding, if to be forewarned is to be forearmed, Eyes Right! has done its job. An important introduction to the enemy within and an essential part of the fight back, Eyes Right! is eye-opening and indispensable.