Oppose vaccine mandates? Open borders? Think CRT is taught in your kids’ school and don’t like it? You’re a right-wing extremist!
Ohio State University’s Mershon Center for International Security Studies’ October 12-13 virtual symposium, “The Far-Right: Examining its Roots and Challenging its Reach,” suffered from the same problems as other efforts to confront the issue publicly. Overall, it confused “right-wing extremism” with the ordinary political right and tried to brand all non-leftist politics as QED extremist.
How Serious a Problem Is Right-Wing Extremism?
Ask anyone at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue or Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, and doubtless they’ll tell you right-wing extremism is a serious problem. Just how serious it is, especially relative to other types of extremism, is unclear. Government actors, educational organizations, NGOs, and media have magnified the danger posed by right-wing extremism while obfuscating other kinds, notably left-wing and Islamist. For example, the FBI has pressured agents to reclassify investigations as domestic violent extremism, which is often code for right-wing terrorism.
At the same time, government and media have minimized hate attacks by non-right-wingers. Consider how quickly mainstream media lost interest in:
- Black nationalist, white-hater, Black Lives Matter and anti-Semitism supporter Darrell Brooks’ attack on Waukesha’s Christmas parade last year;
- Louis Farrakhan follower Noah Green’s April 2, 2021 attack on the Capitol;
- Antifa activists’ July 2020 attacks in Portland trying to burn down a federal courthouse and to blind federal agents and Andy Ngo;
- Black Hebrew Israelite anti-Semitic ideologue Grafton Thomas’ December 28, 2019 machete attack on a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York;
- Black Hebrew Israelites (an anti-white and anti-Jewish group) David Anderson’s and Francine Graham’s December 10, 2019 attack on a Jersey City kosher supermarket adjoining a Jewish day school after first killing a police officer; and
- The June 14, 2017 shooting attack on Steve Scalise and other Congressional Republicans by Bernie Sanders volunteer James Hodgkinson.
Rioters hiding behind shields shine powerful lasers at federal officers to blind them. Antifa are organized into many units who carry out specific tasks. Those who aren’t fighting act as barriers, cop watchers, resuppliers & “medics.” This was recorded 25 July. #PortlandRiots pic.twitter.com/L9bqyIEoyB
— Andy Ngô 🏳️🌈 (@MrAndyNgo) July 27, 2020
Under the Obama administration, the federal government did its best to minimize Islamist extremism. For years, the government even denied combat injury benefits to victims of the Fort Hood shooting by classifying the massacre as “workplace violence” rather than terrorism.
Speakers: Political Conservatism = Right-Wing Extremism
The symposium featured a variety of panelists discussing different aspects of right-wing extremism. Doubtless they were sincere, and offered some useful information. Unfortunately, the event was so infected with politics that the speakers’ analyses were suspect. Listening to the program, this author often felt as though she were in an alternate universe. Many of the invited speakers equated anything contrary to their ideological biases with right-wing extremism.
For example, opposition to vaccine mandates was presumed to be evidence of right-wing extremism. One of the speakers said several groups opposing mandates, including the Proud Boys, were right-wing extremists. The idea that opposition to mandates might have non-extremist bases, whether or not some right-wing extremist groups also opposed them, seems not to have occurred to the program’s presenters.
This is the same outlook that resulted in suppressing responsible voices questioning the cost-benefit analysis and constitutional validity of shutdowns as well as vaccine mandates. It’s the outlook behind California’s new law empowering the state’s medical board to punish doctors for disseminating so-called “misinformation”.
People opposed to mandating a new vaccine may reasonably be concerned that the long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines couldn’t have been properly vetted in the short time since the vaccines were developed (think thalidomide – not a vaccine, but you get the point). In some cases the vaccines have led to heart problems (specifically, myocarditis, or swelling of the heart), especially in young men; for young and healthy people, the risk of negative side effects may outweigh the risk of getting the disease and developing a serious case of COVID-19. Also, the vaccines have been associated with at least temporary reductions in male fertility. Furthermore, Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine doesn’t prevent transmission (or at least, was never tested for same), thus weakening the argument that people with reservations about taking the vaccines ought to take them to protect others.
Opposition to immigration is another issue the symposium defined as a sign of right-wing extremism. That’s according to Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. (LIF has previously reported on the ADL’s partisan outlook and trouble recognizing/confronting left-wing anti-Semitism under Jonathan Greenblatt’s leadership.) Mayo tried to distinguish current opposition to open borders from previous, presumably legitimate conservative opposition to large-scale immigration. The problem today, Mayo said, is the “acceptance of replacement theory” on the right.
What’s especially puzzling about this explanation is that Democratic strategy and ‘accepted wisdom’ for a generation has been predicated on the belief that America was destined to become a majority minority nation, and therefore (so the thinking went) destined to have a permanent Democratic majority. In other words, Democratic strategists have wholly subscribed to this “replacement theory” idea.
It isn’t necessarily true. Even if the “majority minority” idea comes to pass, minorities like Hispanics aren’t permanently wedded to the Democratic party, as recent elections and polls have borne out.
Only after conservative white Americans began to believe what Democrats were telling them, that they would soon be a minority and lose what little political clout they had if they didn’t subscribe to Democratic orthodoxies, did belief in replacement theory become a sign of “extremism”. Note that well. Mayo didn’t say acts of violence predicated on belief in this theory constituted extremism, but rather that belief in the theory was extremist.
Mayo implied that all opposition to the current administration’s effectively open borders policy is illegitimate. She ignored the reality that opposition to open immigration might be motivated by factors other than extremist hatred, for example, by lack of resources to integrate millions of immigrants (as the mayors of New York City, Chicago, and Washington have demanded, while hypocritically pretending they still welcome open immigration). Mayo likewise ignored the impact on the body politic of accepting too high a percentage of newcomers to be assimilated easily into citizens.
Mayo also identified rejecting election results as QED, another sign of right-wing extremism. This author submitted a question to the webinar’s Q&A, asking, How far did the connection go between rejecting election results and extremism? For example, did Mayo consider Stacey Abrams to be an extremist for having rejected election results? Mayo did not respond, but another webinar presenter, Adriane Lentz-Smith, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Duke University, did:
I’ll weigh in as a pedantic historian to argue for weighting historical contexts over false equivalencies. Georgia has an egregious track record of pursuing Black disfranchisement through political machination. Abrams mistrust of the election results derived, in part, from her knowledge of past practices.
The 2020 election deniers are not drawing on a history of institutionalized white supremacy to bolster their argument. Instead, they are flipping the roles of perpetrator and victim by accusing of fraud the very people most commonly subject to disfranchisement. This is an old tactic; it fueled the white supremacy campaigns of the 1890s and the re-writing of state constitutions to disfranchise Black southerners.
The extremism of the 2020 election deniers also derives from their continued insistence that the election was stolen despite strong evidence to the contrary. As many of the previous talks have indicated, these folks traffic more in feeling than fact.
In other words, according to Lentz-Smith, when someone on the right side of the political spectrum rejects election results, he’s an extremist; but when someone on the left does so, that’s just common sense, at least if the left-wing denier is black.
Mayo also complained about right-wing extremists claiming that CRT is being taught in schools. “We know that CRT is not being taught in schools,” she asserted. In an extremely technical sense, it’s true that the detailed ideology of CRT is generally not being taught in K-12 schools. (How many philosophy courses did you have in grade school? Or even high school?) But, as LIF has extensively documented, CRT concepts are being taught in schools, suitably repackaged to indoctrinate children. This is yet another example of the symposium’s (and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s) alternate reality, of its branding that reality as normal and anything else as “right-wing extremism.”
The Far-Right: Examining its Roots and Challenging its Reach | Mershon Center https://t.co/yQJrUZr0T3
— Jason Stanley (@jasonintrator) October 10, 2022
Speakers Decline to Say How Much of a Problem Right-Wing Extremism Is Compared to Other Ideologies
This author submitted one other question to the Q&A, asking Todd C. Helmus, Ph.D., a senior behavioral scientist at Rand Corporation, How many extremists in the military are right-wing, how many left-wing, and how many Islamist? Helmus, who had given a presentation about extremism in the military (including both current and former members of the military), never responded to the question, and neither did anybody else.
It isn’t a theoretical question. On July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army veteran who had served in Afghanistan and who supported Black Lives Matter while subscribing to Black Power and hatred of white people, murdered five Dallas police officers and injured seven others. On November 5, 2009, Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who subscribed to Islamist ideology, shot up Fort Hood, killing thirteen and injuring 32 others.
Now, it’s possible that the numbers of left-wing and Islamist extremists currently or formerly in the military are small compared to numbers of right-wing extremists, but if so, why not provide the numbers?
Speaker: Recognize Wisdom, No Matter The Source
Toward the end, TM Garret, extremism researcher and analyst at International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE), offered cautionary advice not to ignore problems just because they were first bruited by extremists. For example, he noted it was the German political far-right that first noted the country couldn’t accept an unlimited number of immigrants. They were initially ignored. Germany accepted some 1.14 million refugees in 2015 alone. After it became clear that many immigrants were refusing to assimilate, and violent crime soared in large part due to immigrants, the German government belatedly agreed. German voters rewarded the political right that was first to spot the issue; and punished more left-wing and centrist parties that had not just missed the issue, but belittled it. The upshot is that Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD) is now one of Germany’s biggest opposition parties, with 83 (10.3%) seats in the German parliament.
Garret may have intended to caution other presenters against automatically branding issues as extremist just because some extremists favor them, issues like opposition to unrestricted immigration. If so, his comments seemed to fall on deaf ears.
Unfortunately, the symposium’s confusion of right-wing extremism with ordinary right-of-center or even centrist politics casts doubt on the quality of its analysis. A doctor who can’t diagnose an illness correctly is unlikely to stumble on a cure.DONATE
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