Archive for Saturday, October 7, 2017

Opinion: The mainstreaming of right-wing extremism

October 7, 2017


Washington — “Some people say I’m extreme,” an Indiana tea party leader told The New York Times at the height of the movement’s rebellion in 2010, “but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”

Uh-huh. The society, which still exists, enjoyed its heyday in the early 1960s and saw Communists everywhere. Robert Welch, its founder, even cast President Dwight Eisenhower as a “dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.” The group was so far-out that the founder of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., published a 5,000-word excoriation in the National Review that excommunicated the Birchers from the responsible right.

And on Ike, Buckley’s friend and ally Russell Kirk offered a priceless riposte: “Eisenhower is not a Communist. He’s a golfer!”

The tea party loyalist’s observation might bring a chuckle from those who still remember the old Birchers, but it was also telling. Why have our politics gone haywire, why have our political arguments turned so bitter, and why was Donald Trump able to win the Republican nomination and, eventually, the presidency?

A central reason has been the mainstreaming of a style of extremist conservative politics that for decades was regarded as unacceptable by most in the GOP.

The extremist approach is built on a belief in dreadful conspiracies and hidden motives. It indulges the wildest charges aimed at associating political foes with evil and subversive forces. What’s striking about our current moment is that such groundless and reckless accusations have become a routine part of politics — all the way to the top.

On Thursday night, President Trump sent out a typically outlandish tweet peddling deceit by way of promoting Republican Ed Gillespie against Democrat Ralph Northam in next month’s election for governor of Virginia.

Trump wrote: “Ralph Northam, who is running for Governor of Virginia, is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!”

If that tweet sounds like desperation, that’s because it is. Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, has been leading Gillespie by 4 to 6 points in most polls. The Democrat was ahead by a whopping 13 points in a Washington Post-Schar School poll released the morning of Trump’s tweet.

On one theory, Trump is trying to rally his enthusiasts to Gillespie to help him cut his polling gap. But the Trump ploy could also backfire: Roughly six in 10 Virginia voters disapprove of Trump’s presidential performance, and nearly twice as many likely voters (30 percent) say opposition to Trump rather than support for him (17 percent) motivates their choice in the governor’s contest. Trump’s intervention could just as easily energize the larger group of Virginians who dislike him.

Tossing out the outrageous absurdity that the moderate, mild-mannered Northam is “fighting for” a gang whose motto is “Kill, Rape, Control” should be disqualifying for any politician who makes it. The claim originated in Trump-like Gillespie advertising rooted in Olympian leaps of illogic and distortion. The ads were taken apart by, among others,, Washington Post editorialists and Post blogger Greg Sargent.

Ah, you might say, campaigns are often dirty. But current forms of right-wing dirty politics reflect a reversion to the old extremism. It has become part and parcel of “normal” politics and justifies kooky pronouncements as expressions of patriotism. Ordinary political acts are painted as diabolical. Dark plots are invented out of whole cloth. They are first circulated on websites that traffic in angry wackiness, and are eventually echoed by elected officials.

Thus did Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., allege last week, as Vice News reported, that the white nationalist demonstration in Charlottesville was organized by an “Obama sympathizer.” Gosar further suggested it was funded by the far right’s favorite Master-of-All-Demonic-Things, billionaire George Soros. Crazy, yes, but also ugly.

If the Birchers saw “The Illuminati,” a shadowy 18th century clique, as lying behind progressive treason, the new far right uses “globalists” as an epithet that is less obscure and more user-friendly.

The old extreme right linked all manner of actions by its opponents to Communism. The new ultra-right regularly ties its foes (as the Trump-Gillespie calumny does) to crimes ascribed to immigrants, or to radical Islam.

An authentic conservative knows that extremism is the antithesis of a philosophy devoted to the preservation of free institutions. The extremists hated Eisenhower because he understood this.

Although our current commander in chief is also a golfer, he otherwise has little in common with our 34th president. Trump is urging the right down a path that leads to nothing but trouble — for conservatism, but also for our country.

— E.J. Dionne is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Richard Heckler 4 months, 2 weeks ago

99% of republican voters have been getting duped by extreme conservatives they have been voting into office. These extreme conservatives are not fiscal conservatives nor fiscal responsible.

They are narrowed minded conservatives who spend big to win elections .... elections that have been leaving 99% of republicans with fewer rights and less money in their bank accounts.

Like it or not we need to stop voting the republican ticket because ultra conservatives took over our party through unethical methods. Big reckless spending and monster lies.

Gary Stussie 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Richard, appears to me that all the hate seems to be emanating from the left (from MSM to Fred's rants)! You consider that righteous anger?

"...groundless and reckless accusations have become a routine part of politics" ... is he referring to the Dems unsupported insistence that Trump team colluded with Russia or the fact that the DNC stacked the deck against old Burnie?

Replace "extreme conservatives" with "extreme liberals" and this article is on point.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 4 months, 2 weeks ago

List of hate from the present GOP Let CHIPS expire Allow discrimination on "religious" grounds Several union busting laws Beating the dead horse of the "trickle down" theory. Lied about Chicago's gun laws Several states kept cities from raising their minimum wages Proposals to privatize Social Security Making suing for racial discrimination much more difficult, opening the door for more discrimination. Allowing businesses to pick and choose what kind of insurance they will pay for if it interferes with their religions beliefs. Warning, don't work for any company run by those people who don't believe in blood transfusions. Still pushing to drug test all welfare recipients, even though ti's been proven that they just can't afford the drugs that people with money can afford. Who knew? Revoked the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order which would make government contractors follow rules of how to treat their employees.

And this doesn't include the lies, which to me are hateful. Or the hateful comments.

And there is a lot of lies that Trump's family and associates have made about connections to Russia, and now we see the Twitter and Facebook have allowed fake news boiler rooms to use their sites. If this investigation reveals nothing, then so be it. But why are you against the investigation? Don't you want the truth to come out? What are you afraid of?

Brock Masters 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Right on Dorothy. Don’t forget making bump stocks legal....oh darn, sorry that one was on Obama.

Brock Masters 4 months, 2 weeks ago

There are extremist on the right and we need to call them out, but it is important that we call out all extremist, especially those who are violent. Condemning one extremist group while condoning another because of politics turns the discussion into you against us instead of we against extremists.

Ernie Lazar 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The primary difference about the type of extremism promoted by groups like the John Birch Society (when compared to other conspiratorial explanations of events) is that the JBS sanitizes what it actually believes in order to attract as many ordinary conservatives as possible into its ranks.

Most JBS members (especially younger ones) don't ever see the original JBS predicates which were based upon the idea that virtually all of our national leaders and government officials during the 20th century (Democrat and Republican) were traitors or "agents" of a criminal conspiracy which consciously worked toward destroying our freedom and bringing us into a one-world socialist dictatorship.

THAT is why senior FBI officials concluded during the 1960's that the JBS was "irrational" "irresponsible" and composed of "fanatics" and a "lunatic fringe". Significantly, the FBI falsified virtually every major predicate of JBS ideology.

Bob Summers 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Next to prominent anti-hate stalwarts Bill Clinton and Carlos Danger, Harvey Weinstein is mine and Michelle Obama's favorite champion of well known people under the influence of DRD4 gene polymorphism to take up the mantle of showing they care for their fellow man....and females....and children.

Michelle Obama's take on Harvey Weinstein in 2013: "He is a wonderful human being, a good friend and just a powerhouse.

Ernie Lazar 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Is there ANY liberal organization which you would NOT describe as "anti-American"?

Amadeus Frison 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is the best Wapo can do after getting exposed lying about the Birch Society? Try to pretend we're no longer here? Good luck with that! a few things: 1) William Buckley wanted to deny voting rights to black people. Does Dionne agree with that? 2) Members of Eisenhower's own cabinet, including the only man to serve two terms in it, agreed with Robert Welch about Ike. Read this exposing why fake news outlets like Wapo try to smear JBS with lies and silly attacks:

Ken Lassman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Extremist left and right groups are not on the opposite ends of the spectrum of political thinking. That spectrum is more like a circle, with the extreme ends bent around to join together--they are side-by-side in their world views. I remember in Tony Gauthier's American Government class in the early 70s at LHS I analyzed the John Birch Society publications and compared them to the SDS Manual (left wing extremist group) and found that substantial portions of their political analysis were the same. They had way more in common with each other than the moderate middle. In fact it is not unusual for extreme leftists to become extreme rightists later on and vice versa. Both extremes are dependent on a set of conspiracies that would make most folks scratch their heads and walk away. This is true today as much as it was back in the early 70s toward the end of the Vietnam War.

Bob Summers 4 months, 2 weeks ago

You're getting closer. Emotional "extremism" is one of the symptoms of people under the influence. Left or Right.

Ken Lassman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Extremism is characterized by broad brushstroke "answers" where everything that is counter to one's preferences can be explained by a few "secrets" that the extremists are privy to. And genetic determinism is right up there with conspiracy theory as far as leading folks down a rat's hole. The fact that folks use newly resolved genetic differences as a kind of behavioral determinant is not only incorrect as exhaustively explained by the behavioral genetics scientific community; it is politically dangerous and provides a slippery slope to historically deadly genocidal eugenics programs.

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