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[Ron Paul with Steve Hempfling of the Free Enterprise Society. For a gallery of other Patriot favorites from the FES, see here.]

I have to admit that when Rep. Ron Paul announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, I didn’t raise much of an eyebrow, even though I am a longtime Paul watcher. After all, he’s run before; his 1988 Libertarian Party candidacy attracted little attention because he ran mostly from the fringe, and his views haven’t changed substantially over the years.

What I didn’t expect was that his anti-war advocacy would attract as many evident admirers from the left as it seems to have, particularly those who are dissatisfied with Democrats’ apparent fumbling of the Iraq war issue. Certainly, the message boards at liberal outlets like Crooks and Liars who’ve carried factual counterinformation about Paul have been flooded with raging defenses of the man, as have some of our comments threads.

To what extent this is an illusion created by Paul’s legion of True Believers is difficult to ascertain. Paul is very well organized online — much of his support is derived from this — and it’s entirely likely the flood of “liberals” and “progressives” who are busy arguing that someone like Paul is worth forming an alliance with are, in fact, simply part of Paul’s corps and they’re doing their part to muddy the waters and ultimately attract new supporters in a “Third Way” kind of strategy.

And to some extent it seems evident that they’re succeeding. Mostly, they seem to be taking advantage of a combination of amnesia among those experienced enough to know better, and simple ignorance on the part of progressives who’ve never heard of, or paid any attention to, Ron Paul previously. They hear Paul’s carefully crafted antiwar rhetoric and his critique of the Bush administration — all of which elide or obscure his underlying beliefs — and think it sounds pretty good, especially for a Republican.

As my cohort Sara has already explained, there’s a real problem with that — namely, for all of Paul’s seeming “progressive” positions, he carries with him a whole raft of positions well to the right of even mainstream conservatives.

A more important point, though, that’s overlooked in all this is that Ron Paul has made a career out of transmitting extremist beliefs, particularly far-right conspiracy theories about a looming “New World Order,” into the mainstream of public discourse by reframing and repackaging them for wider consumption, mostly by studiously avoiding the more noxious and often racist elements of those beliefs. Along the way, he has built a long record of appearing before and lending the credibility of his office to a whole array of truly noxious organizations, and has a loyal following built in no small part on members of those groups.

And it’s equally important to understand that he hasn’t changed his beliefs appreciably in the interim. Most of his positions today — including his opposition to the Iraq war — are built on this same shoddy foundation of far-right conspiracism and extremist belief systems, particularly long-debunked theories about the “New World Order,” the Federal Reserve and our monetary system, the IRS, and the education system.

Much of this has already been documented by Sara here and here, as well as by phenry at dKos (who has more here) and by Off the Kuff, which also notes Paul’s kookery on Social Security.

The Republican Party has a history of hosting right-wing fringe figures like Paul, people who portray themselves as patriotic conservatives and exploit the latent conspiracism and paranoia of their audiences well enough to win election to Congress, but who actually build remarkable records of non-achievement once in D.C., mainly because their beliefs are so far removed from the mainstream that no one pays them any mind, except the folks back home, who are persuaded by all the bellicose flag-wrapping that these characters are doing the job they want done back in Washington. I had the fortune (both good and bad) of covering three such figures from Idaho over the course of my newspapering career: George Hansen, Steve Symms, and Helen Chenoweth.

All of these folks, at various times in their careers, were publicly quoted saying things that were at the very least racially charged and insensitive — but in the end, it became difficult to make the case that they were outright racists. What all of these incidents did reflect, however, was their willingness to adopt racist talking points and ideas and parrot them unthinkingly, which similarly reflected their susceptibility to associating with right-wing extremists of a broad variety of stripes. This didn’t mean that they were racists per se — particularly if your definition of racism includes attacking members of other races hatefully. Rather, what it demonstrated unquestionably was that they had extremely poor judgment, especially regarding whose ideas and agendas they helped promote.

The same is generally true, I think, of Ron Paul. While I think the evidence that Paul is incredibly insensitive on racial issues — ranging from a racially incendiary newsletter to his willingness to appear before neo-Confederate and white-supremacist groups — is simply overwhelming, it isn’t as simple to make the case that he is an outright racist, since he does not often indulge in hateful rhetoric — and when he has, he tries to ameliorate it by placing it in the context of what he thinks are legitimate policy issues. (Hansen, Symms and Chenoweth were also skilled at this.)

To be fair, Paul has written on the subject of racism and seemingly denounced it. But take a close look at his argument:

Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals. Racists believe that all individual who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups. By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism. Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups.Conservatives and libertarians should fight back and challenge the myth that collectivist liberals care more about racism. Modern liberalism, however well intentioned, is a byproduct of the same collectivist thinking that characterizes racism. The continued insistence on group thinking only inflames racial tensions.The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims. Liberty means free-market capitalism, which rewards individual achievement and competence, not skin color, gender, or ethnicity. In a free market, businesses that discriminate lose customers, goodwill, and valuable employees – while rational businesses flourish by choosing the most qualified employees and selling to all willing buyers. More importantly, in a free society every citizen gains a sense of himself as an individual, rather than developing a group or victim mentality. This leads to a sense of individual responsibility and personal pride, making skin color irrelevant. Rather than looking to government to correct what is essentially a sin of the heart, we should understand that reducing racism requires a shift from group thinking to an emphasis on individualism.

This is, in fact, just a repackaging of a libertarian argument that multiculturalism is the “new racism” — part of a larger right-wing attack on multiculturalism. This is, of course, sheer Newspeak: depicting a social milieu that simultaneously respects everyone’s heritage — that is to say, the antithesis of racism — as racist is simply up-is-down, Bizarro Universe thinking.

If Paul’s express views on racism are less than convincing, then the piece that appeared under his name in 1992 about black crime, as reported by the Houston Chronicle, was simply damning. The ugly smear intended by the rhetoric in that case was unmistakably racist. Paul has since claimed it was ghostwritten and he wasn’t paying enough attention, but that doesn’t explain why he continued to defend those views to a reporter four years later, in 1996:

Paul, a Republican obstetrician from Surfside, said Wednesday he opposes racism and that his written commentaries about blacks came in the context of “current events and statistical reports of the time.”… Paul, writing in his independent political newsletter in 1992, reported about unspecified surveys of blacks.”Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions, i.e. support the free market, individual liberty and the end of welfare and affirmative action,”Paul wrote.Paul continued that politically sensible blacks are outnumbered “as decent people.” Citing reports that 85 percent of all black men in the District of Columbia are arrested, Paul wrote:”Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the `criminal justice system,’ I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal,” Paul said.Paul also wrote that although “we are constantly told that it is evil to be afraid of black men, it is hardly irrational. Black men commit murders, rapes, robberies, muggings and burglaries all out of proportion to their numbers.”

A campaign spokesman for Paul said statements about the fear of black males mirror pronouncements by black leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has decried the spread of urban crime.

What Paul never explained was that one of the primary sources for this information about black crime came from Jared Taylor, the pseudo-academic racist whose magazine American Renaissance was at the time embarked on a long series of tirades on the subject (the June 1992 issue was primarily devoted to the subject; the statistic claiming that 85 percent of black men in D.C. have been arrested appears in the August issue), the culmination of which was Taylor’s later book, The Color of Crime, which made similarly unsupportable claims about blacks.

This sort of unspoken dalliance — an uncredited transmission of ideas, as it were — takes place all the time with far-right politicos like Ron Paul. It’s one of the reasons to be concerned about any traction they may actually gain within the mainstream.

This is especially the case because there is nothing in Paul’s present behavior or positions that is inconsistent with his past; he’s just more astute about how he voices them. No reporter yet seems to have asked him about his belief in the “New World Order,” notably.

His history is replete with far-right dalliances, and more importantly, many of his current positions are taken directly from the extremist right, and in fact embody the propagation of their longtime agenda. A look at his record makes clear how and why this is so.

His propensity for right-wing extremism manifested itself fairly early in his career, even before he ran for president as a Libertarian. One of the earlier signs of this was his association with Gary North, the son-in-law of R.J. Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism and himself a leading figure in the movement. North served briefly on Paul’s staff in the 1970s, but their association continued well beyond that.

For instance, Chip Berlet at Public Eye noted Paul’s attendance in 1985 at an “investment planning seminar” put on by North at the Los Angeles Airport Hyatt. Among the speakers were a panoply of right-wing conspiracy theorists, including Antony Sutton, Joel Skoussen, Dr. Frank Aker, Larry Abraham, and Howard Ruff, as well as Constitution Party founder (and militia sympathizer) Howard Phillips and … Ron Paul. More recently, North could be found expounding on the wisdom of Ron Paul.

Along the way, Paul developed as one of his major ongoing themes the extremist belief that the Federal Reserve is an illegitimate authority, that our current monetary system is built upon a house of cards and is due momentarily to collapse, and that to avoid such a fate we must return to the gold standard and abolish the Fed.

Notably, Paul makes only passing reference to this at his campaign Web site:

In addition, the Federal Reserve, our central bank, fosters runaway debt by increasing the money supply – making each dollar in your pocket worth less.  The Fed is a private bank run by unelected officials who are not required to be open or accountable to “we the people.”

He’s much more explicit about all this in his book The Case for Gold, which takes old far-right theories about the legitimacy of the monetary system and launders them of their sometimes explicit anti-Semitism and presents them as devout and reasoned patriotism.

These arguments, in fact, have had some currency on the extremist right for some years now, having been a favorite theory of the Posse Comitatus and various tax protesters, including the Montana Freemen, who themselves picked it up from other conspiracy theorists, and then used it for creating fictitious monetary systems of their own. As I explain in Chapter 5 of In God’s Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest:

The Freemen justified this with an argument straight out of Roy Schwasinger’s seminars: The federal government was bankrupt and illegally printing bogus money anyway, money that no longer had any basis, since the government took the dollar off the gold standard in 1971. So the Freemen were free to create their own money out of equally thin air — not only that, but by basis of the “constitutional” nature of the common-law courts that issued the liens, their system was more legitimate than the federal government’s.The alternative-universe notion that the Federal Reserve system prints “funny money” based on no real foundation has floated about on the far right for years, and is a key component of some cult belief systems like Lyndon LaRouche’s. In reality, the modern international monetary system is based on the economic engine behind each kind of currency — the levels of supply and demand that a nation produces. It is, like all economic systems, essentially a mental construct, but it has very real grounding in the work of producing goods and services within each nation. The American dollar’s continuing strength abroad is a reflection of our nation’s output; indeed, it is still considered the basis of most international currency rates.Those who argue that money must be based on some hard commodity — usually gold and silver — ignore the fact that when a currency is based on gold, the value given to gold is as essentially arbitrary as that assigned to paper currency. That is, the value of gold would rise and decline according to the value of the output behind the economic system using it as a standard. Indeed, since gold is still used in manufacturing and jewelry-making, the crossover between gold as a commodity and gold as an expression of currency had the tendency to destabilize the currency system, which is why the United States went off the gold standard in 1971.

These tax-protest theories extended to other beliefs, including the notion that the Internal Revenue Service is an illegitimate agency and the federal income tax a scam. As the ADL explains in this report, have been circulating on the fringe right for some time now, mostly in the guise of the tax-protest movement. And Ron Paul has been one of their leading figures in the past decade:

The other tax protest movement to emerge in the second half of the 20th century had a very different history. It was an extreme right-wing movement that had its origins in longstanding conservative opposition to the income tax, which was ratified as the 16th Amendment in 1913. Conservatives objected to the progressive nature of the tax, the loss of personal income, and, later, the intrusive nature of the withholding process. Some pointed out that a “heavy progressive or graduated income tax” was one plank in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.Early opposition in the postwar era was relatively mild and consisted in large part of various campaigns to repeal the 16th Amendment. Of these, the most important were attempts to pass the so-called “Liberty Amendment.” First introduced in Congress in 1952, it essentially tried to strengthen states’ rights. However, in 1957 Congressman Elmer Hoffman of Illinois introduced a revised version of the Liberty Amendment that included a section mandating the abolition of income, estate and gift taxes. In this form, the amendment garnered considerable support among extreme right-wing conservatives as well as the budding libertarian movement.In the late 1950s, Willis Stone became national chairman of the Liberty Amendment Committee and tried to raise support for the proposed amendment through a book, Action for Americans. Stone and the Committee were able to persuade several state legislatures (eventually nine) to request that Congress send the amendment to the states for ratification, but this fell far short of the requirements for a constitutional amendment. Since then, far-right conservatives have repeatedly tried to reintroduce the Liberty Amendment in Congress — most recently by Congressman Ron Paul of Texas in 1998 — but without any success. Given the costs of the Cold War and the simultaneous expansion of government services in the 1950s and 1960s, it is not surprising that Stone and the Liberty Amendment Committee had little chance of success.

For much of the far right, especially the Bircher element, accompanying this hostility to the IRS, the Fed, and the federal monetary system was a similar hatred of the United Nations. And again, Ron Paul has been a leading figure in this regard in Congress; he continues annually to promote the American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which would withdraw the United States from the U.N.

Helping fuel the U.N.-bashing in the 1990s, you’ll recall, was the conspiracy theory holding that the “New World Order” suggested by the first President Bush in 1991 was actually part of a larger plot to enslave the world under a global government located at the U.N. Black helicopters and sightings of Chinese troops massing on the borders were part and parcel of these beliefs.

And helping promote these beliefs, and lend them the legitimacy of his office, was Congressman Ron Paul, who even to this day promotes the “New World Order” theories — it is, indeed, much of the basis of his hostility to the Iraq war. Just three years ago he gave an interview to Conspiracy Planet on the subject of the NWO, and this is how it went:

EF – I’ve read in The New America that you are aware of the Round Table Groups, Skull & Bones, and other “secret societies” that have actively participated in the dismantling. In your essay “Neoconned”, you went so far as to align the Bush Administration with Trotskyites. However, it seems that the Bush/Skull & Bones guys are perpetually fighting the United Nations, the CFR, the Bildebergs. Are the Bohemian Grove Republicans on the same team as the Rockefeller Round Table members, or are they at war?RP – You know, their rhetoric suggests they might not like the United Nations, and you hear that often. They’ll be complaining about the United Nations, and this and that. But, we have to remember, when it came time to get authority and a reason to go to war, they mentioned the United Nations twenty-one times in the authority, when we voted for the authority for the President to go to war when he felt like it.I think what’s going on, they’re not anti-U.N., they’re anti-U.N. if they don’t do exactly what they want. Because there is a fascist-type faction that wants to keep the military/industrial complex going, and the oil control. Then there’s the Kofi Anan-type guys. They are Socialists. They like world government.Richard Perle, not too long ago, made a statement that he thought we should get out of the United Nations. Well, I think that’s, sort of, to pacify some of our supporters. They figure, “Oh, this is great. We’ve never had a President so sharply critical of the United Nations.” But in his mind, they may well be believing they are saving the United Nations or transforming the United Nations, rather than being opposed to world government.EF – You have also written (and I have quoted you) that the U.N. is actively working to criminalize the 2nd Amendment. Who do you think the men at the top are, and what is their ultimate plan?RP – Anybody in Washington that likes big government, authoritarian government, which is most of them; deep down, the 2nd Amendment is their greatest obstacle, in the physical sense. Their other greatest obstacle is the right of free speech.

I think that they haven’t been able to be as aggressive with guns because it’s a healthy sign of this country. I think our people defend the 2nd Amendment better than they defend the 1st Amendment. Which is sort of a twist, I think. Twenty years ago that probably wasn’t the case.

Once again, what they say and what they really want are two different things. They criticize the U.N, yet they want to build it up. They can say they support the 2nd Amendment. At the same time, they wouldn’t mind curtailing that freedom. Because that is the ultimate freedom.

I kid a lot at my speeches and say, you know, I believe in gun control. I want to take the guns away from those 100,000 federal bureaucrats who own them. The Al Gores of the world, Schumer, these people…they want a monopoly of the guns. They never talk about getting rid of the guns from the bureaucrats. But, they want to get rid of the guns from the people who can’t defend themselves.

EF – Going off that, Americans are still reeling from the ’95 Clinton ban? How many Congressmen and Senators would you estimate are actually directly involved with these plans of destruction? Or can most claim ignorance?

RP – You know, it’s weird. From outside and observing it objectively it looks like that’s what they are dedicated to. Many are sort of dupes.

It’s sort of like us on our side, who believe in pure liberty. We have a lot of support and a lot of help. But, a lot of people aren’t as dedicated. On the left, there’s probably just a few who really believe in totalitarian government completely and totally. So, it’s the propaganda that you have to watch out for.

Just look at how the propaganda machine gets busy when they decide the country must go to war. It’s really a powerful force.

EF – You have sponsored legislation that would get America out of the United Nations. Some Americans believe that if we must go to war, that the United Nations would be the people to fight. You have claimed that the U.N. is actively working to destroy American sovereignty. Can you list of the main bullet points that support that theory?

RP – Well, just everything they’ve done. Everything the U.N. does from day one, you give up a certain amount of your sovereignty. And, the worst giving up is this notion of going to war under U.N. resolutions, which we did very quickly after we got in the United Nations. There was a U.N. resolution and we sent off all those men to get killed in Korea.

Whether it’s that, or the WTO that manages trade, or the IMF that we subsidize with our taxpayers’ money and then they go off and play games with their special interests. They rarely ever help poor countries. The World Bank isn’t any better. That’s an international welfare scheme. It’s sold as a scheme that’s going to help poor people in poor countries. But, all these programs end up helping the very wealthy, connected corporations and banks.

Note, if you will, that the interviewers’ questions are all predicated on a belief in old far-right conspiracy theories about “banking elites” [read: Jews] are secretly out to control the world — and Paul clearly accepts those premises as valid.

The embrace of extremist beliefs also includes Paul’s views on education: just as he’d like to eliminate the Fed and the IRS, he’d also like to do away with public education. He’s an avid supporter of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, and has been since its inception. You’ll note his inclusion as a supporter on their Web site.

With all these extremist beliefs forming the underpinnings of his political agenda, it follows, like night and day, that he’ll be exhorting like-minded extremists to follow. This is why you’ll find, in Paul’s record, a nearly unbroken string of appearances before various far-right groups, from the Gary North wackaloons in the 1980s to various “Patriot” organizations in the 1990s to neo-Confederate and white-supremacist groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens and the League of the South.

It’s also why you’ll find him coming to the defense of a variety of right-wing extremists involved in violence, from the cross-burners Sara described here, to the Branch Davidians and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, which engaged in a similar armed standoff with authorities.

And that in turn is why Paul enjoys so much support among the far-right racists and conspiracy theorists out there. These range, as Sara has noted, from David Duke and the Stormfront folks to the neo-Confederates, tax protesters, and Birchers — all believers in the “New World Order,” all fans of Ron Paul. This shows up, for instance, in the unusual level of support that Paul enjoys among members of the Constitution Party — Howard Phillips’ far-right entity that was a significant promoter of the militia movement in the 1990s. Indeed, listed among the leading supporters of Paul’s presidential bid this year are Chuck Baldwin, the 2004 Constitution Party Vice Presidential candidate, and Jim Clymer, the Constitution Party chairman.

These are the people who are empowered by Ron Paul’s presidential campaign — and the more traction he gains, especially if he can start pulling in support from the antiwar left, the more they will revel in it. Only a “progressive” who remains unconcerned about the increasing influence of the extremist right in our mainstream politics will be interested in lending Ron Paul and his supporters even a nod in the direction of the time of day.

Ron Paul may or may not be a racist — and arguing about it is likely to end up nowhere. But what is unmistakably, ineluctably true about Ron Paul is that he is an extremist: a conspiracy theorist, a fear-monger, and an outright nutcase when it comes to monetary, tax, and education policy. The more believers and sympathizers he gathers, the worse off the rest of us will be.

 [Cross-posted at Orcinus.]