Plumb Lines

June 12, 2009

Extremism Defined

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael E. van Landingham @ 1:01 pm

What with right-wing extremists running around killing abortion providers and attacking the Holocaust museum in D.C. (per the Department of Homeland Security’s prediction), and the subsequent attempt of some conservative talkers to call those maniacs liberal, I thought I’d offer a few definitions to help everyone out there. First things first: I am not talking about rank-and-file anyone here. That’s why I am using the term “extremists,” i.e. on the extreme, or periphery, of the political spectrum. Even unhelpful ideologues like Mark Levin on the right or Janeane Garafalo on the left don’t really fall into the “extremist” category. While I am sure they are one-percenters in some respects, they aren’t the tenth-of-a-percenters represented by anyone who would pick up a gun to murder a political opponent.

A right-wing extremist as obviated by the term is an extremist embracing right-wing ideology. Right-wing ideology at its logical extreme seeks to preserve a vision of a society endangered by current political trends or that is already lost to them. In the latter case the right-wing extremist seeks to overthrow the current order and reestablish a country’s former glory. A classic manifestation of this is a society threatened by immigration or growing ethnic minorities. For instance, Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party became popular under the crushing weight of the Great Depression and humiliation brought about by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler’s goal was to recreate the Reich that had been lost, and win glory for the German people over all others. The current neo-Nazi and other ultra-nationalistic movements found in Russia are fed by the fear that migrant laborers will take over Holy Russia as its majority Great Russian ethnic group declines rapidly.

The Constitution and a strict interpretation of our founding document underpins a particularly American manifestation of right-wing extremism. These individuals believe the federal government to be illegitimate, income taxes to be illegal, and reject the monetary system. In particular these individuals fear any federal intervention in gun laws, a topic I wrote about earlier. This tends to lead to the creation of militias and the belief in conspiracy theories that a world government composed of the United Nations, Bildebergers, Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, etc. controls the United States. Some right-wing extremists influenced by rabid religiosity may also equate abortion laws to the Holocaust and feel strongly enough about them to justify murdering doctors who perform the procedure. Similar to Nazis, they would favor criminalizing homosexuality. (It should be noted here that homosexuality was also illegal in the Soviet Union, a decidedly left-wing state. In this instance, though it was ascribed to bourgeois sexual decadence.)

Thus American right-wing extremists usually want to return the United States to a pre-World War I style of governance including isolationism and a gold standard, favor removing all non-European ethnicities or at least stripping them of rights, and reject all forms of left-wing politics. This is why we see an uptick of right-wing terrorist activity during leftist administrations and economic downturns. The fact our current president is half black only fuels the right-wing extremists’ rage.

Left-wing extremists, on the other hand, draw most of their inspiration from Marxist theory and previous anti-government revolutions that have overthrown autocratic governments. They would like to see the demise of private enterprise, the dissolution of national boundaries and the family unit, and favor radical equality. Though the goal is the withering of the state, it usually becomes more powerful as the revolutionaries seek to carry out their agenda. In the United States these left-wing extremists manifest themselves as anti-war activists fighting the “imperial intentions” of the government, anarchists against globalization, or as ecological terrorists who would use violence to halt what they consider detrimental projects. The Weather Underground during Vietnam, the Seattle WTO riots, and the Environmental Liberation Front represent these groups respectively. Additionally, they have championed environmental causes more than the right and oppose Second Amendment rights. The right tends to look at these as causes capable of expanding government, something directly opposed to their ideology.

Lastly we have anti-Semitism. Both left and right can be anti-Semitic. Recently, the decidedly left-wing Jeremiah Wright accused the “Jews” and “Zionists” from AIPAC of keeping him from the President. Nowadays many left-wing extremists decry Israel’s actions vis-à-vis Palestinians, and often this takes a turn towards anti-Semitism. Disagreeing with Israeli domestic and foreign policy alone is not grounds to call someone an anti-Semite in and of itself, though. In their hatred of outside influence and powerful government coalitions, right-wing extremists embrace anti-Semitism as a tool to root out a group that could otherwise “pass” a superficial skin color test. They cite the relative number of Jews in society versus influential positions held by Jews as evidence of a conspiracy.

I should also point out that 9/11 Truthers, like anti-Semites, come in both left- and right-wing varieties. The left-wingers are anti-Bush and tend to believe his administration planned 9/11 to gain support for the war in Iraq. Right-wing Truthers most likely believe it some sort of neoconservative (a group with many prominent Jewish members) and/or Jewish plot to do something or other. I haven’t really read up on that part.

So while right- and left-wing extremists may hate the same groups (multinational corporations, Israel, etc.), they hate them for different reasons. In many respects it isn’t a question of who they hate, but why they hate, even if they end up in the same place.

-Michael E. van Landingham

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