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The Far Right's First 100 Days: Getting More Extreme by the Day

Their talk is turning ugly, and it's not unthinkable that we could be in for a wave of domestic terrorism unseen since the mid-'90s.

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First: Their story is apocalyptic, insisting that the end of the world as we've known it is near.

Second: It divides the world into a Good-versus-Evil/Us-versus-Them dualism that encourages the group to interpret even small personal, social or political events as major battles in a Great Cosmic Struggle -- a habit of mind that leads the group to demonize anyone who disagrees with them.

This struggle also encourages members to invest everyday events with huge existential meaning, and as a result sometimes overreact wildly to very mundane stuff.

Third: This split allows for a major retreat from consensus reality and the mainstream culture. The group rejects the idea that it shares a common future with the rest of society, and curls up into its own insular worldview that's impervious to the outside culture's reasoning or facts.

Fourth: Insiders feel like they're a persecuted, prophetic elite who are being opposed by wicked, tyrannical forces. Left to fester, this paranoia will eventually drive the group to make concrete preparations for self-defense -- and perhaps go on the offense against their perceived persecutors.

Fifth: Communities following this logic will also advocate the elimination of their enemies by any means necessary in order to purify the world for their ideology.

All these ideas have been part of the discourse on the right for decades. You can trace their genesis all the way back to the 1950s, starting with the overheated apocalypticism of the anti-communist movement.

Over time, it came to include the dualism of the John Birch Society and assorted white supremacist groups; the persecution complex of Richard Nixon and his Silent Majority followers; the anti-liberal eliminationism that's been gathering force for the past decade; and the war on evidence-based science and reason that's always been at the heart of conservative arguments.

As J. Peter Scoblic argues in Us vs. Them, narratives that justify violence have always been deeply ingrained in the right-wing belief system.

Since the inauguration, all of these themes are being played far more loudly and openly. And somewhere between Nov. 4 and the 100th day, the right wing has also begun to act on these beliefs in ways that push the whole process to the next level -- the level where thoughts and beliefs begin to crystallize into action.

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What's different now?

Plenty of things -- all of which, taken together, strongly suggest a group that's just about done talking and is beginning to organize itself to act.

First: There's been a shift in rhetoric. Over at Orcinus, Dave Neiwert and I have argued for years (with plenty of expert support from social psychologists) that strong words are often a thought rehearsal, a premonition of possible strong action to come.

It's not that people always act on the rhetoric -- they don't. It's that when the actions do come, you find that there's usually been plenty of very hot rhetoric tossed around in the run-up, as people psych themselves up for battle.

That's why agencies watching worrisome groups keep their ears open and listen carefully for a specific shift in tone. A lot of groups seeking change establish the lines of conflict by constantly naming and accusing their enemies and insisting on their essential evilness.

This isn't great politics, but it's not usually a problem -- unless it moves to the next stage, where the group starts expressing a clear intention to eradicate those perceived enemies. This can be a signal that they've accepted the need for violent action in their own minds, and may be actively planning something. It's a shift that should never be ignored.

 
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