The Phalange Party founded by Pierre Gemayel boasts an official membership of close to 100,000 and is dedicated to maintaining Lebanon's independence and Christian leadership.
Founded in 1936, the party fought for Lebanese independence against the French and then 'protected' the nation against various plans and ideologies that have swept the Middle East since Lebanon won full independence from France in 1943.
Phalangist historians like to talk of the party's 'baptism in blood' -- a reference to its first anniversary celebrations in 1937 when French authorities outlawed the party. Demonstrating Phalangists clashed with police, and Gemayel was wounded along with several others.
Gemayel, a great sports enthusiast, had flown to Berlin for the 1936 Olympics and come away deeply impressed by the discipline, organization and civic spirit displayed by German youth groups under Adolf Hitler's Nazism.
It was after this trip to Germany that Gemayel, a pharmacist by trade, decided in collaboration with other young Lebanese Christians, mostly of the Maronite sect, to form a youth movement they called the Phalangists, or Kataeb in Arabic.
The Phalange Party initially sought to instill a sense of civil responsibility and discipline in Lebanese youth. It quickly took on a political cast and began working for a Lebanese identity linked to a Phoenician heritage, belonging to neither East nor West.
In many ways, the Phalangists were modeled along the lines of the right-wing Hitler Youth and Benito Mussolini's fascist followers in Italy. They even used the same straight-arm salute.
Gemayel, a tall and pious Christian Maronite, steered the Phalangists on an uncompromising path against communism, and later against the kind of pan-Arab nationalism that sought to align Lebanon with Syria and Gamel Abdel Nasser's Egypt.
'The Phalangist Party has fought communists because they are elements of anarchy and subversion, and because their leadership is in foreign hands interested only in destroying our nationalism,' a Phalange pamphlet once said.
Gemayel also once told a visiting Soviet cabinet minister that 'your communism is atheist, and we Lebanese are believers in God. There is no compromise about this difference. Our people, regardless to which faith they belong, believe in God, principles and destiny.'
The Phalange Party is predominantly Christian, but proclaims it is secular. It has only a small number of Moslem members, and Phalangists have complained that Moslem leaders forbid Moslems to join the party.
In the early 1970s, the party began vigorously objecting to the armed Palestinian presence in Lebanon.
On April 13, 1975, right-wing Christian militiamen stopped a busload of Palestinians in Ain Rumanneh, a Christian east Beirut suburb, and gunned down 30 people. The incident touched off the Lebanese civil war between Christians and Moslems.
Before Syrian troops in the Arab Deterrent Force entered Lebanon on May 30, 1976 in a bid to quell the fighting, the Phalangists were the main rightist military force.
Gemayel's son, Beshir Gemayel, rose to command the Phalangists before his assassination in 1982, shortly after he became president. He took a personal hand in some of the bloodiest fighting of the civil war, including the massacre of up to 1,200 people in Beirut's sprawling Karantina slum.
After the civil war split the capital into its Christian eastern and Moslem western sectors, the Phalange militiary wing -- the 20,000-strong Lebanese Forces -- enforced a state-within-a-state in east Beirut. They had their own police, tax collectors, municipal government and radio and television stations.
Today, the Phalange Party and Lebanese Forces receive massive Israeli support. The Lebanese Forces has urged a kind of Swiss-style cantonization of Lebanon, in which Christian and Moslem sectors of the country would become mostly autonomous and separate.