A Crazy Ballad of Crazy People

By Christopher Zoukis

Taking a cue from the zealous Levitical priest Phineas, who, with a thrust of his holy spear, dispatched Zimri and his girlfriend, one group of supremacists calls itself the Phineas Priesthood. 

The Phineas Priesthood is a Christian Identity group in the United States.  They oppose interracial intercourse, mixing of races, homosexuality and abortion.  They also hate Jews, any kind of cultural pollution and paying taxes.  And in general, they don’t like women much either.  In fact, the Phineas Priesthood is so opposed to everything that they have no governing body, no meetings, and no membership process.  You become a Phineas Priest by simply adopting the beliefs of the Priesthood and acting upon them. 

Blowing up federal buildings, bombing abortion clinics, robbing banks and murdering immoral people who participate in interracial relationships are approved methods of acting upon your beliefs, according to the Phineas Priesthood and Christian Identity.

Robert Jay Mathews was a Phineas Priest, only he didn’t refer to himself by that term, because the term wasn’t invented until 1990, which was when Richard Kelly Hoskins coined it.  More about Richard Hoskins later.  Yet the idea of a “solitary warrior” did exist.  And that’s the way Mathews thought of himself – as a “solitary warrior” for God.  Robert Jay Mathews / Image courtesy en.wikipedia.org

Mathews decided he could “accomplish more for God” – those were his words – if he was a little more organized.  If his organization combined violence with a system, the sky was the limit.

If still alive, Robert Mathews would be almost 60 years old now.  Instead, he was dead at the age of 31.

The ballad began in Marfa, Texas.  Where, on January 15, 1953, Una Mathews delivered the last of her three boys.  She and her husband Johnny named the baby boy Robert Jay Mathews. 

As you can tell by the spelling of the name ‘Mathews,’ they were of Scottish descent.  And the Scots are noted for being stubborn and violent and honorable. 

Robert came from good stock, which meant his family had some money, owned property and were educated.  His father was the mayor of Marfa, the President of the Chamber of Commerce, a businessman and a deacon in the town’s Methodist Church.  While Una Matthews was a god-fearing woman; a good mother, respectable wife and a den mother for the Boy Scouts. 

In 1950s America, ‘respectable wife’ meant Una knew her place.  She let her husband wear the pants in the family. 

When Robert was five years old, his family moved to Phoenix, Arizona.  So his father could pursue business opportunities he’d never have in dinky Marfa, Texas. 

Robert began school in Phoenix.  He attended public schools where he was an average student as far as academics were concerned.  His interests were extraordinary.  History and politics.  Not just local or national accounts of history and politics, but international alliances and relations.   Robert’s  viewpoint of history was conservative.  Very conservative.  So conservative it was Orwellian.  In fact, he followed the conspiratorial interpretation of history and of politics – Big Brother was out there and he was watching you.

When he was eleven, Robert joined the John Birch Society, which, like McCarthyism, saw communists behind every tree and under every rock.  The John Birch Society was definitely a cult.  A cult of right-wing, Christian extremists, who believed in honor, duty and one country under God. 

While in high school, Robert was sucked into the Mormon Church.  The Mormons baptized him into the church, literally.  This was not surprising, considering the cultic nature of the Mormons. 

People like Robert, that is, young, white, conservative males, sought out fringe groups because they felt emasculated by American society.  They didn’t fit in.  They had high school educations and low-paying jobs in a culture that was moving faster and faster.  Technology made them feel like they had lost control of their own lives.  Their manhood, their machismo had been taken from them.

Since in the eyes of society they were losers, and since in their own eyes they had failed – in other words, since they were nothing and had nothing to lose – they became angry.  The anger of unmet expectations, which is a terrible and frantic anger.  Almost a kind of madness.