America’s Homegrown Terrorists Are Pop-Culture’s Newest Villains
Video games and comics cast white nationalists as the bad guys
The pop culture a society consumes says a lot about what that culture loves and loathes. In the 1980s, every other action flick depicted strong American military types laying waste to Soviet foes. In the 1990s, serial killers and corporate scumbags rampaged across silver screens. Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have played the villains in countless video games and movies.
But nothing lasts forever and as political violence increases in America and terrorism gets whiter, the pop-culture landscape is changing, too. Last year’s best horror film pitted a punk band against skinheads. Next year’s biggest video game depicts a Christian doomsday cult as the bad guys. America’s homegrown terrorists, militias and white-nationalist assholes are finally getting their turn as boogeymen.
Video game studios spend years developing an idea and bringing it to market, so the synchronicity of Far Cry 5 is more than a little creepy. Publisher Ubisoft’s long-running franchise typically puts players in the shoes of a dude who’s rampaging in some foreign land, killing lots of people and climbing radio towers. Previous entries have taken players to exotic Micronesia, an unnamed island in the Pacific, a Central African country and the Himalayas.
The newest installment drops players in picturesque Montana. Far Cry 5 pits the player against a white-supremacist Christian doomsday cult called Eden’s Gate. Details about the game’s plot are scant, but we do know the player will gather together the more moderate forces in Hope County, Montana to battle against the crazed Christians.
Online critics of the game have called it a “white genocide simulator,” accused publisher Ubisoft of anti-American bias and even called for a boycott. It’s free advertising for a product that won’t launch for another year — and the conservative press has taken the bait.
“Producer Dan Hay told Kotaku that there would be no specific references to Trump in the game,” Breitbart reported. “But it’s hard not to infer that the backwards religious zealots that serve as the game’s enemies are what the developers really think of Middle America.”
As much as I love Far Cry, and as much as I’m looking forward to the cathartic act of digitally assaulting Christian cultists — and if that pisses you off, try sharing your community with armed religious zealots then get back to me — Ubisoft’s games aren’t known for their nuanced storytelling. The villains are often just stock members of a tribal group the protagonist needs to murder to win.
Leave it to the world of comics to find a more nuanced approach. To get inside the head of America’s homegrown terror threat, check out Brian Wood’s brilliant new comic book Briggs Land. It’s about a power struggle within a sovereign citizen compound in upstate New York.
The story kicks off when matriarch Grace Briggs visits her husband, Jim Briggs, in a federal penitentiary. Papa Briggs has been behind bars for a long time, but he still runs Briggs Land through his wife and their three sons. Grace just dropped by to tell him his time at the top is over.
What follows is an epic tale of local politics and violent crime inside a sovereign-citizen compound. Grace works to shore up support with her sons, dodge the FBI and build a better community. Jim tries to stop her. His reach is long despite his incarceration. It’s The Sopranos meets The Turner Diaries.
The three sons are fantastic characters and the oldest, Caleb, gives the reader a unique view of white supremacy. Caleb is the brilliant tactician and long-term thinker of the clan. He launders money and keeps Briggs Land running. He’s also a hard-core white supremacist.
Caleb launders money through a local hardware store his family doesn’t own but has done business with for generations. Early in the story, Caleb tries to buy out his business partner to increase his cash flow. When the partner refuses, Caleb gets his boys to burn crucifixes and swastikas on his lawn. The guy isn’t Jewish, but it doesn’t matter. Caleb turns the community against his former business partner with the mere suggestion of a tainted bloodline.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in Briggs Land. It’s got corrupt federal investigators, an Afghan war vet coming home to help with the family business, sister-wives and family drama soaked in blood. It’s a comic begging to become a television show, which is probably why AMC is working on the pilot.
The reason for the sudden interest in seeing the nationalists, Nazis and sovereign citizens as pop-culture villains is obvious. America has a homegrown terror problem, one separate and distinct from anything propagated by Islamists.
Briggs Land. Dark Horse art
On May 26, 2017, Jeremy Joseph Christian harassed two women on a train in Portland, Oregon. Three men intervened and tried to get Christian to stop. He pulled a knife and stabbed the three men. Two died. Digging through Christian’s digital life revealed a man who thought Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a patriot and that the Nazis had some decent ideas.
After the violence, local Portland Republican chair James Buchal told reporters he thought it was time Republicans started hiring its own police forces. “There are these people arising, like the Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters,” Buchal said. “We’re thinking about that. Because there are now belligerent, unstable people who are convinced that Republicans are like Nazis.”
The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are right-wing militia groups and, to be clear, they do not publicly espouse white-supremacist views. Some of their members even take pains to divorce the group from white-power groups.
But both groups were present to help the Bundy family wrestle away public land from the federal government during the recent standoffs in Nevada and Oregon. They were also present in Ferguson, Missouri to help “keep the peace” during the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Buchal’s suggestion of using these militias to protect Republicans in the wake of a violent attack by a white-nationalist terrorist is both telling and strange.
Political violence is on the rise in America. The right doesn’t have a monopoly on the violence, but there’s a major difference. Black-clad Antifa take to the streets to rumble with Nazis and cause property damage. White nationalists are killing people.
In 2016, the FBI arrested three members of a Kansas-based militia group called the Crusaders. The three men planned to blow up, on the day after the presidential election, an apartment complex inhabited by Somali immigrants. In 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine African American parishioners at Charleston church in hopes of starting a race war. In January 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six Muslim men during evening prayers a mosque in Quebec City.
The list goes on. America has a white-nationalist terrorist problem — and pop culture has finally begun to confront it.