Born in November 1949 and raised in northern New Jersey, John Foster “Chip” Berlet describes himself as “an investigative reporter, independent scholar, photographer, and progressive activist specializing in the study of right-wing movements in the United States.” He believes that conservatism is deeply rooted in racism.
As a teenager, Berlet was a youth delegate to a number of National Council of Churches meetings. He subsequently attended the University of Denver for three years before dropping out.
In 1971 Berlet was jailed for civil disobedience (related to his actions in an anti-Vietnam War protest) and was represented by National Lawyers Guild attorney Rudy Schware. Also in the early 1970s, Berlet worked as part of an underground railroad initiative that helped American draft-dodgers enter Canada. He subsequently worked as a writer and editor for the College Press Service (1972-74); as an editor and writer with the National Student Association (1974-76); an as editorial board member for the United Press Syndicate; as an editor, researcher, writer, and program manager for the National Student Educational Fund (1976-77); and as Washington bureau chief for High Times, a pro-marijuana-legalization magazine (1975-80).
In the mid-1970s, Berlet volunteered to work on Counterspy magazine, an anti-CIA periodical founded by Philip Agee, the onetime CIA officer who subsequently turned against the agency and spent years exposing the identity of undercover American spies who were stationed overseas. Berlet also became involved with the Campaign to Stop Government Spying (which was founded in 1977 and became known as the Campaign for Political Rights in 1978).
From 1979-82, Berlet worked as a paralegal investigator at Chicago’s Better Government Association (BGA), where he did research and trial preparation for attorneys representing organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Indian Movement, the American Friends Service Committee, the Christic Institute, the Socialist Workers Party, the Spanish Action Committee of Chicago, and the National Lawyers Guild (where Berlet later served as vice president and co-chair of its Civil Liberties Committee).
In 1981 Berlet became a paralegal member of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a membership he continues to hold. In the early ’80s he was the managing editor of The Public Eye magazine, the NLG’s semi-official organ. Berlet subsequently served a stint as NLG’s elected vice president, and as of 1989 he was the secretary of NLG’s Civil Liberties Committee.
In January 1981 Berlet began a 30-year tenure as a senior analyst with Political Research Associates (PRA), which he co-founded with political scientist Jean Hardisty to monitor “oppressive and authoritarian [right-wing] movements and trends in the United States.” Around that same time (early 1980s), Berlet warned that anti-Semitic and white-supremacist hate groups were seeking to recruit financially struggling Midwest farmers, and that a growing racist coalition was uniting farm-belt hate groups like the John Birch Society, the Aryan Nations, the Posse Comitatus, the Ku Klux Klan, the skinhead movement, armed militias, and neo-Nazis. He sometimes attended meetings held by these groups and confronted their leaders on radio and television talk shows.
Berlet claims to “oppose all forms of totalitarianism,” including Stalinism, “no matter where they appear on the political spectrum.” But during the Cold War, he was a supporter of Communist police states — most notably Albania, one of the most backward and repressive. In 1983 Berlet was a founding member of the Chicago Area Friends of Albania, a Communist front group that supported the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania and the repressive political rule of the Marxist-Leninist dictator Enver Hoxha.
Berlet was a signatory to a January 13, 1984 open letter to Judge Charles Sifton entitled “Political Grand Juries Must Be Stopped!” Published in the Guardian, a New York-based Marxist-Leninist tabloid, the letter condemned the practice of having federal grand juries investigate the activities of leftist revolutionaries who had “supported mass struggle against the military [as well as the] development of an armed clandestine movement [and] broad struggle against repression.”
In 1985 Berlet co-founded Public Eye BBS, the first computer bulletin-board system designed to challenge information circulated by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.
Berlet was a featured speaker at an August 10, 1991 Seattle rally on “Racism, Fascism, & the New Right,” sponsored by the United Front Against Fascism. A key endorser of this event was the Freedom Socialist Party.
At the tenth annual Socialist Scholars Conference in April 1992, Berlet participated in a panel called “How to Investigate the Right.” Held in New York City, the Conference was sponsored by such organizations as the Guardian (the aforementioned Marxist publication), the New York Marxist School, the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy, and the Radical Philosophy Association.
In October 1992, Berlet, who has been known to smear his ideological adversaries as “fascists,” wrote, on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild, that the George H.W. Bush administration’s political agenda “borrows heavily from the theories of corporatism, authoritarianism, and militarism adopted by Italian fascism.” Further, Berlet said that Republican Patrick Buchanan’s “xenophobia … hearkens back to the proto-fascist ideas of the 1930s,” and that Buchanan’s GOP convention speech “eerily invoked Nazi symbols of blood, soil, and honor.” In 1995 Berlet co-authored a piece suggesting that “[t]here has been much cooperation, competition, and interaction between fascism and other sections of the [American] right,” and that “fascist potentials” and “right-wing populism” are “too close for comfort.”
In the Fall 1998 edition of Public Eye, Berlet wrote a piece titled “Dances with Devils: How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism,” which predicted the rise of bigotry and violence against minority groups as the year 2000 approached. At that time, Berlet was on the advisory board of the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University.
In 2003 Berlet contributed a piece to the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s “Intelligence Project” report, in which he: (a) alleged that “hard right” groups were popularizing racism and religious bigotry across the United States, and (b) smeared conservative organizations that did not share his politics as “hate groups.”
On November 30, 2010 at the University of Wisconsin, Berlet delivered a talk titled “Tea Parties, White Rage, & Right-Wing Populism.” One Milwaukee Courier preview of the event characterized Berlet’s message as a broadside against “ultra-right activists” who, as the reporter put it, were “recruiting from among the angry ‘Tea Party’ populists and targeting immigrants, people of color, Muslims, Arabs, reproductive rights activists, and LGBT persons [while] spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about economic woes & foreign policy.” Berlet’s talk was sponsored by Progressive Students of Milwaukee, the National Lawyers Guild’s Milwaukee Chapter, and Peace Action Wisconsin.
Since May 2012, Berlet has been a senior analyst with Research for Progress, an initiative that promotes a variety of left-wing political agendas.
In 2015 Berlet became editor of the Dissent Newswire, a project of the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF), where he has served as both an advisory board member and vice president. DDF’s stated mission is to “protect and advance the right of dissent in the United States” by “alerting local activists to civil liberties threats” and “educating the public, the press and policymakers as to how dissent is crucial to democracy.” Other notable (past and present) DDF board members include Kit Gage, Victor Navasky, and Gore Vidal.
A week after Donald Trump’s victory in the November 2016 presidential election, Berlet wrote a piece titled “Mobilizing Resentment: Trump’s Path to Power.” Lamenting the results of that “horrifying” election, Berlet stated that “the Trump campaign was … a right-wing populist insurgency that focused on mobilizing white nationalism, anti-feminist misogyny, xenophobia, Christian nationalism, and conspiracy theories about the threat of treacherous liberals and totalitarian ‘big government'”; that “Trump supporters make up the classic right-wing populist constituency, the same kind of people who populated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and who voted for Hitler in the late Weimar period in 1930s Germany”; and that “candidate Trump built a neo-fascist mass base” and “was celebrated by former and current neonazis, Klansmen, White Supremacists, anti-Semites, and Islamophobes for moving their agenda to center stage.”
In addition to his aforementioned activities, Berlet has also: (a) served on the steering committee of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, which was founded in 1960 to oppose the anti-Communist efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee; (b) sat on the board of the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a Tides Center project formed in 2005 to combat “the growing power of the religious right” and to “fight for the separation of church and state”; (c) served on the board of advisers for such organizations as the Bill of Rights Foundation, the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights, the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation, and the Committee to Defend the Constitution; (d) been a member of the left-wing speakers bureau “Speak Out Now!”—along with Angela Davis and other radicals; (e) sat on the editorial advisory board of the journal Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions; (f) conducted workshops for the Institute for Policy Studies; (g) addressed the annual meeting of Americans United for Separation of Church and State; (h) served on the board of the Lexington Network for the Study of America; (i) been a member of the National Writers Union, the ACLU, the Interfaith Alliance, the American Sociological Association, the ECPR Standing Group on Extremism & Democracy, and Investigative Reporters and Editors; and (j) co-founded the National Lawyers Guild’s legal newsletter Police Misconduct & Civil Rights Law Report.
Berlet spoke more than once at the Brecht Forum, a Brooklyn-based Marxist educational and cultural center named after the Marxist-Leninist writer Bertolt Brecht.
For additional information on Chip Berlet, click here.
Further Reading: “Chip Berlet” (PublicEye.org, Linkedin.org, Facebook.com, Keywiki.org); “Chip Berlet and the Ford Zoo” (Executive Intelligence Review, 6-16-2006); “Chip Berlet: Civil Liberties & Anti-Repression Work” (PublicEye.org); “Chip Berlet: Leftist Lie Factory” (by Chris Arabia, FrontPageMag.com, 10-16-2003); “Mobilizing Resentment: Trump’s Path to Power” (by Chip Berlet, The Indypendent, 11-14-2016).