Stephen Smoot

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sounded the tocsin last week about ISIS, saying "they are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of ... military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen."

He also described them as “an imminent threat to every interest that we have.”

The threat, however, is not unprecedented. Western Civilization has faced this before. Its failure to quickly kill it led to the suffering and death of tens of millions, although freedom ultimately prevailed.

ISIS today looks like the 1919 version of the Bolsheviks. Will ISIS elevate itself, as the Communists did, to being the foremost enemy of freedom anywhere?

From the wreckage of the Russian Empire, the Bolsheviks rose as the loudest, most disciplined, most organized, and most violent of the political groups aspiring to power. First they seized control of an assembly of leftists, then drove away a government committed to building a democratic republic.

Bolsheviks then seized St. Petersburg (then called Petrograd) and Moscow, preparing to defend them against all comers. To protect their revolution, they built an army and the CHEKA.

The very word CHEKA still terrifies the Russian people. Lenin, according to Christopher Andrew and Vasily Mitrokhin’s The Sword and the Shield, instructed his new secret police that “It is necessary secretly - and urgently - to prepare the terror.”

Part of that terror arrived in Tsaritsyn, directed by Joseph Stalin. In 1918 he ordered executions and torture to pry grain away from the peasants who had farmed it. With ghoulish enthusiasm, admirer Henri Barbusse wrote, “Not a day goes by without executions by shooting in the local Cheka HQ.” Stalin biographer Edvard Radzinsky described how “trucks kept their engines running at night, to drown out the noise of shots and the screams.”

Hagel described ISIS as “well funded.” So were the Bolsheviks. They held the riches of the old Russian Empire. Even after Lenin’s plans and war destroyed the economy, he relied on Western Communists in free market clothing, such as Julius and Armand Hammer. The Hammers used their industries, personal wealth, and connections to deliver money and supplies. One report noted “Hammer’s success in getting grain and machines through (an American embargo) was unprecedented.”

ISIS relies on oil sold to unscrupulous buyers, the generosity of true believers, and ransoms paid for the release of kidnapping victims.

Stephen Smoot

Dr. Stephen A. Smoot is a columnist, historian, political adviser, and media expert. He lives with his family in West Virginia.