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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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Overt lawlessness: A group that is separated from society, living in its own world, telling itself stories that justify violence, gripped with paranoia, perfectly willing to engage in petty thuggery and intimidation and is armed to the teeth has pretty much everything required to turn into a first-rate criminal cartel.

Members come to believe that they answer to a "higher law," and express that newfound "freedom" by overtly and deliberately defying laws passed by a government they don't respect as legitimate.

At this point, it's common to see people who've never been in trouble with the law before suddenly coming into contact (and confrontation) with the authorities. Lawlessness is a sign of an increasingly open contempt for and defiance of the larger society -- and a hint that that the group is moving into the openly oppositional stance that precedes a large-scale attack or confrontation.

Furthermore, once they get to where they're brazenly breaking laws, you can bet they're especially breaking weapons laws. Gathering guns and bomb-making materials is seen as necessary to either defend their home turf from their perceived enemies or for make offensive plans to eradicate those enemies.

Picking fights with authorities: A decade ago, law enforcement and government officials too often blundered into bloody showdowns with radical groups because they simply didn't understand the central role they played as The Enemy in the group's unfolding eschatological drama.

These days -- following several disastrous confrontations in the 1990s -- government officials are being trained to move slowly, to avoid backing would-be revolutionaries into humiliating corners and to work within their worldview and belief structure wherever possible to defuse a possible confrontation.

That's important, because a group that's gone all the way to the end of the road arrives at a place where it's armed, barricaded, mentally and physically prepared and spoiling for a fight. From that point, any excuse -- a routine business inspection, a traffic stop, a custody hearing that didn't go the right way -- can become the catalyst that leads the group to take out after its government persecutors.

As the group becomes more dug in and angry, these confrontations become harder to avoid. And all too often, they end in disaster. 

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From here, the most likely case is that the vast majority of the folks now drunk on right-wing hate talk will ultimately sober up just soon enough not to follow the movement's emerging leaders down this road. But, if the 1990s were any guide (and the DHS report seems to think that they are), there will also be a small but significant fraction of hard-core right-wingers who will zoom right through the flashing red lights and ride all the way to the bloody end.

Without the moderating influence of the saner voices among them, they'll quickly turn violent -- and we could be in for an interesting few years before it all burns itself out.

And, in the end, it probably will burn itself out. In the 1990s, the violence escalated to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 -- an event so gruesome and dramatic that it discredited the movement even among its own followers. Tim McVeigh's capture and execution also scared tough-talking movement leaders with the threat of real consequences. And so that round ended.

What we've seen the past 100 days strongly suggests that, to at least some degree, we will be going there again. The right wing long ago accepted a foundational narrative that justifies violence.

Now, the leaders of the movement are inciting their followers to take many (if not most) of the intermediate steps that signal a group actively gearing up for violence. From this point, it's only a short slide to further separation, disengagement, and finally, confrontation.

 
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