Despite her efforts to portray herself as an average, small-town, "folksy" American, Sarah Palin's political views - ardently pro-gun, pro-censorship, antichoice and antigay - make John McCain's conservative credentials pale in comparison. What few observers have said, however, is these beliefs are not just extreme - they are radical, and even bear a comparison with some of the most notorious "rural radicals" of our time.
It has been years since groups such as the Montana Militia, the Posse Comitatus and the Sagebrush Rebels, and individuals such as Terry Nichols and Ted Kaczynski have made us wonder why so many "angry white men" populated our rural regions. Many of us have forgotten the threat once posed by domestic terrorists and instead have turned our attention to foreign terrorists. But we should never forget that in the late 20th century, ultra-Christian, antistatist and white-supremacist groups flourished in the states of the Pacific Northwest - called by many the "Great White Northwest" - the very region that Sarah Palin and her family call home.
Demographics most basically define this geographic region. In the six states that make up the Pacific Northwest - Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Alaska - only six counties are more than 5 percent African American. Not by coincidence, each of these counties is also near an important military installation with many African American men and women. Even so, barely more than 3,000 blacks lived in all of Idaho in 2000.
Although home to tens of thousands of native peoples, Alaska is not much different in terms of diversity from the other states of the region. African Americans live in areas near important military installations in Anchorage and Fairbanks and almost nowhere else. Wasilla, where Sarah Palin was mayor, makes the census' list of the top 10 Alaskan communities with the largest number of African Americans because they make up a full 1 percent of the population. Rough calculations suggest that 65 blacks lived in the town.
But the region also must be defined by its history of intolerance, resentment, antistatism and violence. Appearing in the region in the 1980s and 1990s were some of the most notorious "hate radicals" of our time: militia groups, survivalists, Identity Christians, secessionists, white supremacists and others.
Some simply hated the federal government, like Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge, Idaho, a survivalist whose wife and child died when their compound was fired upon by FBI agents attempting to arrest him on gun charges. "Whether we live or whether we die," Weaver said, "we will not obey this lawless government."
Other groups, like the Aryan Nation, with headquarters in Hayden Lake, Idaho, actively planned to rid the United States of African Americans, Jews, and other "non-Aryan" peoples. A few carried out their plans, murdering Jewish radio host Alan Berg in Denver, the Goldmark family in Seattle, an African American state trooper in Arkansas, Fish and Wildlife officials and FBI agents in Wyoming, North Dakota and Montana, and more than 160 federal employees and their children in Oklahoma City.
There is no evidence that Palin was ever affiliated with white-supremacist groups during her years in Idaho or at home in Alaska. On the other hand, the beliefs of ultraconservative, evangelical churches like her family's come dangerously close to those of the Christian Identity movement of those years. Likewise, Palin's husband was a member of a political party whose members favored secession for Alaska, suggesting an affiliation with radical antistatism.
Perhaps somewhere on the record, Palin has publicly condemned the radical politics of her region. But it is hard to know where she stands on issues of race, equality and diversity. Thus it is high time to review the cultural ideals and models of the radical rurals from the Great White Northwest and find out for sure where Gov. Palin stands.