Chip Berlet

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Chip Berlet
Chip Berlet.png
Chip Berlet in Mexico in 2012
Born John Foster Berlet
(1949-11-22) November 22, 1949 (age 64)
Occupation Policy analyst, investigative journalist, photojournalist
Known for Study of right-wing movements and conspiracy theories

John Foster "Chip" Berlet (born November 22, 1949) is an American investigative journalist and photojournalist activist specializing in the study of right-wing movements in the United States, particularly the religious right, white supremacists, homophobic groups, and paramilitary organizations. He also studies the spread of conspiracy theories in the media and on the Internet, and political cults on both the right and left of the political spectrum.

He was a senior analyst at Political Research Associates (PRA), a non-profit group that tracks right-wing networks,[1] and is known as one of the first researchers[2] to have drawn attention to the efforts by white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups to recruit farmers in the Midwestern United States in the 1970s and 1980s. He is the co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort and editor of Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash.

Berlet, a paralegal, was a vice-president of the National Lawyers Guild. He has served on the advisory board of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and currently sits on the advisory board of the Defending Dissent Foundation. In 1982, he was a Mencken Awards finalist in the best news story category for "War on Drugs: The Strange Story of Lyndon LaRouche," which was published in High Times. He served on the advisory board of the Campaign to Defend the Constitution. He was affiliated with Chicago Area Friends of Albania.[3]


Berlet attended the University of Denver for three years, where he majored in sociology with a journalism minor. A member of the 1960s student left,[4] he dropped out of the university in 1971 to work as an alternative journalist without completing his degree. In the mid-1970s, he went on to co-edit a series of books on student activism for the National Student Association and National Student Educational Fund. He also became an active shop steward with the National Lawyers' Guild.

During the late 1970s, he became the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of High Times magazine, and in 1979, he helped to organize citizens' hearings on FBI surveillance practices. From then until 1982, he worked as a paralegal investigator at the Better Government Association in Chicago, conducting research for an American Civil Liberties Union case, involving police surveillance by the Chicago police (which became known as the "Chicago Red Squad" case).[5] He also worked on cases filed against the FBI or police on behalf of the Spanish Action Committee of Chicago (S.A.C.C.) , the National Lawyers Guild, the American Indian Movement, Socialist Workers Party, the Christic Institute, and the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker group). He was a founder member of the Chicago Area Friends of Albania, leaving the organization when he relocated to Boston in 1987.[4]

In 1982, Berlet joined Political Research Associates, and in 1985, he founded the Public Eye BBS, the first computer bulletin board aimed at challenging the spread of white-supremacist and neo-Nazi material through electronic media, and the first to provide an online application kit for requesting information under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.[6]

Berlet was originally on the board of advisers of Public Information Research, founded by Daniel Brandt. Between 1990 and 1992, three members of Brandt's PIR advisory board, including Berlet, resigned over issues concerning another board member, L. Fletcher Prouty and Prouty's book The Secret Team.[7][8]

In 1996, he acted as an adviser on the Public Broadcasting Service documentary mini-series With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, which was later published as a book by William Martin.[9][10]


Berlet is also a photojournalist. His photographs, particularly of Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi rallies, have been carried on the Associated Press wire, have appeared on book and magazine covers, album covers and posters, and have been published in The Denver Post, The Washington Star, and The Chronicle of Higher Education,[11] reprinted at[12][13]

Books and other writings[edit]

The most recent of Berlet's three books, co-authored with Matthew N. Lyons, is Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, published in 2000 by The Guilford Press. It is a broad historical overview of right-wing populism in the United States.

The book received generally favorable reviews. Library Journal said it was a "detailed historical examination" that "strikes an excellent balance between narrative and theory." The New York Review of Books described it as an excellent account describing the outermost fringes of American conservatism.[14] A review by Jerome Himmelstein in the journal Contemporary Sociology said that "it offers more than a scholarly treatise on the activities of the Third Reich", that it provides a background to help the reader understand the Holocaust and that it "merits close attention from scholars of the political right in America and of social movements generally." [15]

Robert H. Churchill of the University of Hartford criticized Berlet and other authors writing about the right wing as lacking breadth and depth in their analysis.[16]

In articles, Berlet has argued that the United States is currently undergoing a right-wing backlash that is the most sustained of its kind in U.S. history. He argues that although 95% of the US's hate crimes are committed by people not affiliated with any group, they have nevertheless internalized a narrative developed and promoted by the right wing that demonizes certain groups, including blacks and gays. He argues that the left must develop coalitions to find a way to counterbalance these narratives, instead of becoming isolated as another side of the "lunatic fringe".[17]

In ZOG Ate My Brains, Berlet warned of a "troubling resurgence on the political Left" of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that undermine the effort of progressives to bring about social change.[18]

Berlet has provided "research assistance" to a campaign run by the mother of Jeremiah Duggan[19] to reopen the investigation into his death. The British student died in disputed circumstances near Wiesbaden, Germany. Berlet's statement suggests that the LaRouche movement bears responsibility.[20]

US Intelligence policy[edit]

In 1991, Berlet wrote a report entitled "Right Woos Left," which was critical of a number of critics of U.S. intelligence policy including Prouty, Mark Lane, Dick Gregory, Craig B. Hulet, and Victor Marchetti for being willing to work with groups on the right such as the John Birch Society and Liberty Lobby.

Allegations by Berlet of neofascism[edit]

Interview with Chip Berlet on how new hate rhetoric is similar to very old hate rhetoric

Berlet has made allegations that various public figures are tainted by Neofascism. Berlet writes that "In the United States, the 1992 presidential campaigns of David Duke, Patrick Buchanan, and H. Ross Perot echoed different elements of historic fascism… In his Republican convention speech, Buchanan eerily invoked Nazi symbols of blood, soil and honor… Perot's candidacy provided us with a contemporary model of the fascist concept of the organic leader, the "Man on a White Horse" whose strong egocentric commands are seen as reflecting the will of the people."[21]

Ralph Nader[edit]

Berlet criticized Ralph Nader and his associates for a close working relationship with Republican textile magnate Roger Milliken, erstwhile major backer of the 1996 presidential campaign of Pat Buchanan, and anti-unionization stalwart.[22][23]

Center for the Study of Popular Culture[edit]

In 2003 the Southern Poverty Law Center published "Into the Mainstream," in which Berlet named conservative activist David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC) as one of an "array of right-wing foundations and think tanks support[ing] efforts to make bigoted and discredited ideas respectable." Berlet accused Horowitz of blaming slavery on "'black Africans … abetted by dark-skinned Arabs'" and of "attack[ing] minority 'demands for special treatment' as 'only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others,' rejecting the idea that they could be the victims of lingering racism."[24] Responding with an open letter to Morris Dees, president of the SPLC, Horowitz stated that his reminder that the slaves transported to America were bought from African and Arab slavers was a response to demands that only whites pay blacks reparations, not to hold Africans and Arabs solely responsible for slavery. He said that his reminder had nothing to do with lingering racism."[25]

Lyndon H. LaRouche[edit]

Berlet described a worldwide network that he claims is controlled by Lyndon LaRouche, as having a long history of violence, physical assaults, intimidation, psychological manipulation, emotional blackmail, and harassment.[26] He further asserts that the LaRouche network is "a totalitarian political organization that operates through a variety of front groups, with detailed reports from the field constantly being sent back to the worldwide headquarters in the United States."[20] Laird Wilcox and John George (1996), commenting on Berlet's critique of LaRouche, pointed out that LaRouche is most vehemently criticized by authors who "come from extremist ranks themselves", citing Berlet's association with the Chicago Area Friends of Albania, and the National Lawyers' Guild's affiliation with the "Soviet-controlled" International Association of Democratic Lawyers.[4]

Alleges 'Leaderless Jihad' plagiarism[edit]

In an article in Public Eye, Berlet made allegations against Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century. Marc Sageman, the author of the book, argues that there is an excessive focus on al Qaeda, and that terrorism has become decentralized. Berlet stated that passages had been taken from works by Richard Hofstadter and Simson Garfinkel. The director of the University of Pennsylvania Press, publisher of the book, described Berlet's article as "hyperbolic" and called the charges overblown. The publisher promised to add citations in future editions.[27]

The religious right[edit]

In a July 2008 article in The Progressive coauthored with the Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, Berlet argued that the religious right has maintained its staying power despite predictions of its demise. Berlet predicted that, despite predictions of their demise, "On the day after the election, you will not see millions of Christian Right activists raptured off planet Earth. They will be left behind to continue more than thirty years of political activism from within the largest organized social movement in the United States today."[28]

9/11 conspiracy theories[edit]

Berlet is a critic of 9/11 conspiracy theories, as explicated in his debate with prominent conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin.[29] He claimed to have debunked those theories in his review of Griffin's book A New Pearl Harbor.[30]

Tea Party Movement[edit]

After visiting a meeting of the Idaho Liberty Agenda, Berlet wrote: "It helps to recognize that much of what steams the tea bag contingent is legitimate."[31] He sees in the tea party movement a strong strain of producerism, a belief that the productive middle class is being preyed upon by both a parasitic elite (including politicians) and other unproductive segments of society such as minorities, the poor, and immigrants.[32] Berlet writes:

They see their jobs vanish in front of their eyes as Wall Street gets trillions. They see their wages stagnate. They worry that their children will be even less well off than they are. They sense that Washington doesn't really care about them. On top of that, many are distraught about seeing their sons and daughters coming home in wheelchairs or body bags.[31]

In addition to producerism, Berlet sees other elements that he believes are common to right wing populism: demonization, scapegoating, and conspiracy theories of power.[32]

Berlet criticizes "the inside-the-beltway spin that dismisses the rightwing populists as a marginal lunatic fringe…" which, in his view, marginalizes genuinely engaged citizens who have some legitimate fears and thereby feeds their hatred of perceived elites. In and of itself, this centrist vs. extremist model is "toxic to democracy." Berlet also believes that dismissing the tea partiers aids various factions, including John Birch conservatives, "Ron Paul libertarians," the Christian Right, and white supremacist groups, that have been documented trying to recruit the people who are newly moved by right wing populism.[31][improper synthesis?]

Huffington Post[edit]

Beginning in 2008, Berlet's writings appeared in the Huffington Post, until they were discontinued in 2012. Berlet complained on his Facebook page that the Post had refused to provide him with an explanation for why his articles were no longer being published.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About PRA". 
  2. ^ Jason Berry (1993-08-22). "Bridging chasms of race and hate". St. Petersburg Times (Florida) (Times Publishing Company). p. 6D. 
  3. ^ Michael, George. "Confronting Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in the United States" (2003). Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  4. ^ a b c George, John; Wilcox, Laird M. (1996), American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists & Others, Prometheus Books, p. 295, ISBN 978-1-57392-058-2 
  5. ^ "Bibliography: Chicago Police Department's Red Squad's Involvement In Social Protest" (PDF). 
  6. ^ Berlet, Chip. "History of the Public Eye Electronic Forums". 
  7. ^ Brandt, Daniel (December 1992). "An Incorrect Political Memoir". NameBase. Archived from the original on 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  8. ^ Chip Berlet, "Right Woos Left: Populist Party, LaRouchite, and Other Neo-fascist Overtures To Progressives, And Why They Must Be Rejected," Cambridge, MA: Political Research Associates, 1991.
  9. ^ With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Martin, William (1996). With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. Broadway. ISBN 0-553-06749-4. 
  11. ^ Grant Kester (Feb–March 1995), "Net profits: Chip Berlet tracks computer networks of the religious right - interview with Political Research Associates analyst - Special Issue: Fundamentalist Media - Interview", Afterimage (Visual Studies Workshop), retrieved 2007-04-11 
  12. ^ "The Website of Political Research Associates". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  13. ^ "The Website of Political Research Associates". 2000-06-14. Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  14. ^ Baker, Russell (May 17, 2001). "Mr. Right". The New York Review of Books 48 (8). Retrieved 2008-07-26.  Reprinted as Chapter 9 in Baker, Russell (2002). Looking Back. New York Review Books. pp. 139–157. ISBN 1-59017-008-3. 
  15. ^ Himmelstein, Jerome L., Review of book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Jan., 2002), pp. 76–77, American Sociological Association
  16. ^ Churchill, Robert H. "Beyond the Narrative of 1995 - Recent Examinations of the American Far Right." Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Winter 2001), pp. 125–136.
  17. ^ "Race, Class, and Gender: Justice in the Intersections". Workshop at Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly. 1999. 
  18. ^ Berlet, Chip. "Zog ate my brains", New Internationalist, October 2004.
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b "Statement Presented to British Coroner's Inquiry". Retrieved 2008-07-26. 
  21. ^ Berlet, Chip (199). "Right Woos Left". Political Research Associates. 
  22. ^ Right-Wing Populism in America by Chip Berlet, pp. 338–344
  23. ^ Hawkins, Howie (2000). "A Green Perspective on Ralph Nader And Independent Political Action (from New Politics, vol. 8, no. 1 (new series), whole no. 29, Summer 2000)". 
  24. ^ Berlet, Chip (2003). "Into the Mainstream". Intelligence Report. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2006-04-23. 
  25. ^ Horowitz, David (2003). "An Open Letter To Morris Dees". Retrieved 2006-04-23. 
  26. ^ Berlet, Chip and Lyons,Matthew N., Right-Wing Populism in America Too Close for Comfort (2000), New York: Guilford Press, pp. 273–276,
  27. ^ "Missing Attribution in Controversial Book". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  28. ^ Berlet, Chip; Ragsdale, Katherine Hancock (July 2008). "The Christian Right’s Staying Power". The Progressive. Retrieved 2008-09-03. 
  29. ^ "The New Pearl Harbor: A Debate On A New Book That Alleges The Bush Administration Was Behind The 9/11 Attacks". Democracy Now. May 26, 2004.
  30. ^ Berlet, Chip. "The New Pearl Harbor: Review by Chip Berlet". Retrieved March 2, 2011. 
  31. ^ a b c Berlet, Chip (February 2010). "Taking Tea Partiers Seriously". The Progressive 74 (2). Retrieved 2010-06-07. 
  32. ^ a b Berlet, Chip (January 20, 2010). "To Combat Teabaggerism, Reject the ‘Producerist’ Frame!". Progressive America Rising. Retrieved 2010-02-16.  Reprinted from "Tea Bags, Taxes, & Productive Citizens". Z Magazine. Feb 2010. 
  33. ^ Porter, Doug (January 6, 2013). "The Starting Line" column". San Diego Free Press. 

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