The former executive director of Atlanta's Center for Democratic Renewal and the founder of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit, Levitas has written widely about racist, anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi groups, and has testified as an expert witness in American and Canadian courts. He adapted the following excerpt for Creative Loafing.
The raspy voice of "Reverend" William Potter Gale filled the airwaves over western Kansas on a summer night in July 1982. From the studios of country music station KTTL in Dodge City, Gale's tape-recorded sermon carried into homes, diners, cars and the cabs of combines that rolled across the last unharvested fields of winter wheat. The retired Army lieutenant colonel spoke in short rapid-fire bursts:
"We've got a bunch of empty skulls in Washington, D.C. They're going to get filled up or busted -- one or the other -- very soon. You're either going to get back to the Constitution of the United States in your government or officials are gonna hang by the neck until they're dead -- as examples to those who don't."
"Arise and fight!" Gale told his rural listeners. "If a Jew comes near you, run a sword through him."
Like Gale's other speeches and sermons, this broadcast had a hate-filled theme: A satanic Jewish conspiracy disguised as communism was corrupting public officials and the courts, undermining the sovereignty of America and its divinely inspired Constitution. Gale, a self-proclaimed "minister" in the Christian faith, believed that white Anglo-Saxon Christians were the true descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel to whom God's covenant belonged. Jews were children of the devil,and the nonwhites that swarmed the planet were "mud people," incomplete renditions of the pure Aryan man that God created in Adam.
Obsessed with maintaining white supremacy, Gale railed against all forms of "race-mixing" as a violation of "God's law." Other sermons warned of racial Armageddon, attacked Catholics and other minorities, and advised listeners to learn guerrilla warfare so they could garrote people in their sleep.
"You're damn right I'm teaching violence!" Gale acknowledged. "You better start making dossiers, names, addresses, phone numbers, car license numbers, on every damn Jew rabbi in this land ... and you better start doing it now. And know where he is. If you have to be told any more than that, you're too damn dumb to bother with."
But William Potter Gale had a secret -- something that ultimately exposed the hypocrisy of all he preached.
In 1982, more than a decade before a pair of anti-government zealots Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Gale drew the attention of his followers to federal buildings as possible targets.
"You've got an enemy government running around," he said. "You've got a criminal government running around the land. And its source and its location is Washington, D.C., and the federal buildings they've built with your tax money all over the cities in this land."
Inspired by his hatred of the government, Gale created the paramilitary group known as the Posse Comitatus. Latin for "power of the county," the term refers to the medieval British practice of summoning a group of men to aid the sheriff in keeping the peace by pursuing and arresting lawbreakers. Gale's revision stood this ancient practice on its head: His posse was devoted to promoting armed insurrection. Under Gale's definition, anyone could call out the Posse, not just the sheriff. If government officials attempted to enforce "unlawful" legislation, the Posse could arrest and put them on trial with a "citizens' jury."
Gale officially established the Posse Comitatus in 1971. And a decade later, he helped launch the Christian Patriot movement. It was through these efforts that Gale introduced the concept of private armies and the "unorganized militia," long before the first so-called "citizens' militias" appeared in the 1990s.
Of course, there was nothing original in a right-wing group that cloaked itself in patriotism while instructing its followers to take up weapons, enforce white supremacy, root out communist subversion and resist the evils of central government. But Gale added a new and important twist that made his Posse Comitatus novel and attractive: His message was embellished with elaborate legalistic rhetoric that invoked, among other things, the Constitution, the Magna Carta and medieval principles of British law in order to legitimize his violent call to arms.