A “surprisingly large percentage” of Midwestern farmers who have been politicized by the nation’s farm crisis are supporting right-wing radical groups that blame Jews for farmers’ troubles, religious and farm leaders say.
This movement “has to be organized against,” said Leonard Zeskind, research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal, which tracks such radical groups. “Simply ignoring it will not cause it to go away.”
Zeskind and others said Friday at a news conference organized by the American Jewish Committee that, although the groups may be small, they have grown in recent years and have become more sophisticated, both in terms of their organization and their dealings with the media.
He said there are 5,000 to 6,000 hard-core activists in the Midwest, and seven to 10 times as many sympathizers. He said their groups include the Posse Comitatus; the Populist Party; the Aryan Nations; the Order; the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord; and the National Agricultural Press Assn.
The groups take a “kind of approach that’s Nazi and fascist,” said Roman Catholic Bishop Maurice Dingman of Des Moines. “We disassociate ourselves from these people. We deplore these extremist groups.”
A dozen or more adherents can have a major effect in a county that has only 2,000 to 3,000 persons, Zeskind said. They speak to groups as large as 1,000 people, using everything from pamphlets to videotapes to spread the message that the farmers are not to blame for their misfortunes, he added. The blame is fixed first on the Federal Reserve, then on international bankers and finally on the Jews.
“A surprisingly large percentage of this group of people are buying this message,” Zeskind said.
The radicals are preying on people who “do their very best . . . and still find themselves losing all that they have worked for, now in the 50th or 60th year of their lives,” said the Rev. Donald Manworren, executive coordinator of the Iowa Interchurch Forum.