Question: What, if anything, significantly differentiates a Christian Identity group from an Islamic extremist group (other than the difference in religion)?
Answer: The differences are sociological, not religious. Religion has little to do with either of these groups. The extremist hijackers of September 11 were no more “Islamic” than are violent Identity racists and anti-Semites “Christian.” These self-serving ideologues do disservice to two of the world’s great systems of spiritual understanding and moral order. Identity is a historic fiction justifying entrenched power inequities between the developed and developing nations, and race-based stratification intranationally, but Identity has little influence. Modern Western society tolerates a high degree of diversity in personal belief and expression while providing technical means—public access television, a reliable public postal system, and the internet—to disseminate virtually any and all claims, constructs, or notions uncensored. In this busy marketplace of ideas Identity is uncompetitive, easily overcome by commercial entertainment and the better organized moral entrepreneuring of more sophisticated special interest groups from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the National Rifle Association. In the United States, fostering this competition is intentional. Freedom of expression is guaranteed while church (and synagogue and temple and mosque) are separated from government by constitutional fiat. But imagine different conditions: economic flaccidity, the ravages and refugees of protracted military and civil conflicts, underdevelopment, tribal factions. Add a weak ineffectual central government bent on imposing a state religion by actively insulating its populous from alternative forms of sense-making, enforcing scriptural dress codes and ritual performances by law (even eliminating moral competition from sandstone Buddhas). In these repressive conditions, pseudo-Islamic extremists peddle a perverse hope—not for now but later—the notion of celestial afterlife for all who die as martyrs in defense of faith. When this message is ardently urged, when alternatives are unthinkable or unknown, when the warrior death is presented as a glorious achievement for the individual and community, a very, very few sink to the occasion and take bloody suicidal action. But most do not in spite of training, propagandizing, and passionate pleas. Fewer yet would in the absence of grinding poverty, uneven justice, and roadblocks to learning.
An Interview with Richard G. Mitchell Jr. author of Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times.