A Mighty Fortress is our God (1975-1987)
A nation’s strangest religions have always found refuge in the broken hills and forests of its hinterland, and the far West of Montana in the early days of the American Syndicalist regime attracted the religiously heterodox with the same magnetic power that the “burned-over district” of upstate New York had manifested a century earlier. Utopian communes and polygamist sects flocked to the relative liberty of the Grangeland CSR during the first decade of the CSA’s existence, much to the embarrassment of local government.
The “St Regis Raid” of 1953 is a good illustration of the sometimes fraught relationship between religious immigrants to the region and Grangeland state authorities: a combination of local law enforcement and People’s Militia infantrymen forced entry into a compound operated by a fundamentalist Mormon commune consisting of about 400 people. The commune had been tipped off the night before the raid by a friendly highway patrolman, and ensured that the raid was met by the adult members of the community singing hymns
inside the schoolhouse while the children played outside. The entire community, including 263 children, was taken into custody.
Met by a mixed reaction even with non-fundamentalist Grangelanders – as the Helena Union-Leader opined in an editorial, “By what stretch of the imagination could the actions of the Short Creek children be classified as insurrection? Were those teenagers playing volleyball in a school yard inspiring a rebellion? Insurrection? Well, if so, an insurrection with diapers and volleyballs!”
– the raid rapidly proved itself an embarrassment for the government, who had quietly released the vast majority of the adults within a week (although the children, in some cases, were kept as wards of the state for up to two years). The Grangeland CSR’s leadership, seeking to avoid any course of action which could lead to an official censure from Chicago, largely left the religious communes unmolested for the remainder of the decade.
So much for the 1950s. By 1960, the bureaucratic capture of the CSA was virtually complete: with those elements within government which drew on the nineteenth-century American tradition of utopian religious communes for inspiration almost entirely marginalised, the sects finding refuge in Grangeland ceased to be regarded as any sort of forerunner to syndicalist governance and began to be perceived as a threat.
Measures for social control followed. The crackdown on independent worship which ensued was far less comprehensive than in the CSA’s Centroamerican and Brazilian fellow traveller states, partly because the Church in America had been less intimately linked with the functioning of the pre-revolutionary State, and partly because the Chicago government was frankly uninterested in burning any political capital on a repeat of Brazil’s Campanha Antiteista
of the late 1950s, which had seen the first open and organized resistance to that government and ultimately resulted in a wholesale purging of its relevant departments. Accordingly, most mainstream denominations were able to continue to worship more or less unmolested (and some fairly heterodox, if CSA-supporting, ones, as the Revd Jim Jones proved through the 1970s and 1980s). However, the requirements introduced in 1965 for every place of worship obtain registration documents from their local CSR, to provide the texts of any sermons for pre-approval by the state and for religious communes to present themselves for inspection by officials at any time left a sizeable minority of Grangelanders progressively dissatisfied.
Most of the religious communes and larger communities in western Montana had been dissolved (either through state action or by a simple process of attrition) by the 1970s: inevitably, the vacuum created would be filled by outside actors.
While the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had agreed to halt proselytization in the CSA in 1965 in exchange for the recognition of Mormonism as a religion by state authorities, its various fundamentalist offshoots continued their missionary work, moving from safehouse to safehouse and spreading their gospel to underground congregations in disused barns, abandoned warehouses or simply in out-of-the-way fields and groves. Notwithstanding the sheer risks which the missionaries were running – any unauthorized citizen of the Pacific States of America caught in the Grangeland CSR was liable for summary execution as a spy – a community of fundamentalist Mormons gradually coalesced from the 1970s onward.
Rousas Rushdoony had a similar impact on the Grangeland CSR’s religious life: born into an Armenian family that (according to family legend) had supplied at least one priest in each generation for seventeen hundred years and who had fled to California in the wake of the Armenian Genocide, his religious studies pulled him progressively in the direction of Dominionism, the idea that America should be governed by a priesthood and according to the dictates of Old Testament law (involving, inter alia,
death by stoning for homosexuality, adultery, witchcraft and disrespecting one’s father). Rushdoony, who combined absolute fanaticism with undeniable physical and moral courage, bribed a Grangeland border guard in 1964 and managed to infiltrate a hard labour camp with his family: preaching in secret to the prisoners, he had amassed a genuine following both within the camp and in its surrounding logging and mining collectives by the time of his death.
In some cases, the vacuum was filled by even stranger and less palatable theologies. Ben Klassen, a Los Angeles used car salesman, founded in 1965 the Church of The Creator, a pantheistic religion which espoused beliefs in fruitarianism and the natural superiority of the Aryan race, and in an impending and inevitable “Racial Holy War”, which would see the extermination of all non-White people and the foundation of a divinely-guided world ethnostate. Klassen chose to proselytise through the airwaves: the two radio towers in Idaho that he purchased were able, despite increasingly frantic attempts at frequency jamming by the Grangeland CSR, to beam sermons to every house with a radio from the late 1970s onwards. Even this warped religion found fertile ground for adherents in western Montana: to the dispossessed small farmers, remaining victims of the “therapeutic state” of the 1960s and remaining underground utopians, the concept of an approaching apocalypse seemed more and more convincing as the 80s approached, bringing in its wake a series of commodity shocks and a lengthy recession which reduced living standards for Grangelanders still further. Sheltering from largely ineffectual state efforts at stamping unauthorised religions out, the Grangelanders waited for a single spark to ignite the conflagration which they knew would soon come.