Nazis, Communists, Klansmen, and Others on the Fringe: Political Extremism in America

By John George; Laird Wilcox | Go to book overview

It's Now New: Historical Perspective on American Extremism Prior to 1960

Extremism, broadly defined, existed in America virtually from the moment it was inhabited by humans. Wars among Native American tribes, rivalries within those tribes, and even altercations among individuals all undoubtedly had extremist characteristics. Fanaticism, prejudice toward other Native Americans, and unfairness no doubt marked early American history with distressing regularity.

In 1980 Larry Zimmerman, professor of anthropology at the University of South Dakota, helped in unearthing and studying a mass grave containing the skeletons of at least 486 men, women, and children by the conjunction of Elm Creek and Crow Creek near the Missouri River in South Dakota. He proceeded to chronicle the forensic evidence of a horror the likes of which we tend to associate with the extremism of a Nazi or Stalinist dictatorship.

According to reports, "Between 1325 and 1400, apparently during a prolonged drought that forced severe competition for food, one group of Indians attacked and massacred another. Most of the skulls were bashed in, and knife marks indicate that nearly all were scalped. Many skeletons were missing hands and feet. Some noses were hacked off." Zimmerman noted, "People have tended to idealize Indian life in the past. It goes all the way back to Rousseau's noble savage." Of the skeletons that could be assigned an age and sex, 152 were children under the age of fourteen, hardly "military" threats. Of the victims between fifteen and thirty- nine years of age, seventy-eight were men and twenty-eight were women. The disparity between the sexes may be accounted for by the common practice of forcing women into slavery when captured. 1

American Indians played a part in numerous revolts and insurrections after the settlers came from Europe. Britain's victory over France in the 1760s triggered the great revolt of the eastern tribes known by the extremist-sounding name of "Pontiac's Conspiracy." American independence from Great Britain was followed by Little Turtle's War, the Blackhawk War, the revolt of the Creeks and Cherokees, and the Seminole War. As Richard E. Rubenstein notes in Rebels In Eden:

Calling these conflicts "wars" against Indian "nations," of course. does not alter their character: they were armed insurrections [emphasis ours] by domestic groups denied the privileges of citizenship, as well as the perquisites of nationhood . . . 2

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