The Far Right's First 100 Days: Getting More Extreme by the Day
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Sometime back in February, about three weeks into Barack Obama's administration, everybody on the left suddenly noticed that there was something different going on with the conservatives.
The outrageous screeds and paranoid delusions sounded pretty much as they always had -- but there was a new fury behind them, a strident urgency that hadn't been there before, and a very audible shift of the gears in right-wing behavior and rhetoric.
None of this came as a surprise to veteran right-wing watchers -- we'd been predicting a bad backlash since the 2006 election -- but more than three months into the new administration, it's increasingly hard to ignore the fact that this ominous new trend is taking on a momentum of its own.
On April 7, the Department of Homeland Security ratified some of those observations. Fueled by bone-deep racism, an unnatural terror of liberal government, frustration over the economic downturn, and fears about America's loss of world standing, they said, the militant right wing is indeed rising again.
Its numbers are up, its talk is turning ugly, and it's not unthinkable that we could be in for a wave of domestic terrorism unseen since the mid-1990s.
I've been meaning for a while to talk about what changed after the inauguration, and why, and what it means to the country going forward. Our observance of the end of the first 100 days seems to be a good time to do that.
The DHS report laid out the history and the current drivers in straight factual terms and made some safe predictions about what might make the situation worse. But the report stopped short of taking the next step.
(Interestingly, the nightmare scenario for most right-wing watchers -- a white-hot backlash in the wake of another major terrorist attack -- appears nowhere in the DHS assessment. Perhaps they didn't want to put ideas into paranoid right-wing heads.)
We need to look at what long experience has taught us about the past escalation patterns of right-wing rhetoric and violence and figure out where we currently stand within those patterns.
We actually know quite a bit about this. Most national agencies tasked with keeping tabs on political and religious extremist groups look for specific signs that help them sort out who's just talking the talk and who's actually getting ready to walk the walk.
The criteria vary from agency to agency; and our collective insights into these patterns changes and deepens every year. But there are some generally accepted principles -- and applying them to the current state of conservatism gives a clearer view what's changed in the past 100 days, what the shift really means and what could be coming next if the right keeps going down this road.
I want to make it clear: The DHS report emphasizes that there's no specific evidence that any particular group is planning any particular action.
At the same time, what's equally clear from the pattern analysis is that the upshift we heard was the right wing going into overdrive -- the speed at which talk about revolution (which has been going on for years, but intensified after 2006) accelerates into concrete preparation for action.
The far right wing has been laying the groundwork for violent action for decades. Long before they turn dangerous, political and religious groups take their first steps down that road by adopting a worldview that justifies eventual violent action.
The particulars of the narrative vary, but the basic themes are always the same: