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The Terrorist Threat: Right-Wing Radicals and the Eliminationist Mindset

Understanding the dangerous worldview that led to the murder of an innocent doctor and an attack at the Holocaust Museum.

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JH: So she's cherry-picking comments on blog posts and attributing them to the authors of the blogs.

DN: That is correct. Oddly enough, that just happened to her, and she got a taste of her own medicine.

JH: Who did that?

DN: Bill O'Reilly.

JH: Odd -- strange days we live in.

DN: A little bit of irony, yeah. She was on the next morning on Fox & Friends complaining about it. So O'Reilly responded that evening and said, "We probably shouldn't have just pulled blog comments, but people have to control these things." Of course, on his own site they don't control them. On his own Web site, he has hateful comments popping up, and they have never taken them down.

JH: When things like that happen -- like food-fights between Malkin and O'Reilly -- do you pop some popcorn?

DN: Oh yeah. Pop a bowl, and then just watch.

JH: As you note, eliminationism is not a new phenomenon, but in the book you argue that it's been on the rise since the mid-1990s -- over the last 10 or 15 years. What factors do you think account for that?

DN:  Well, one of the great achievements of FDR in the 1930s was that he really formed a longstanding ruling coalition between liberals and conservatives. It lasted for many years -- there was an agreement that they would rule within that framework and that political extremists on either side would be excluded from governing.

I think part of the story is that in the 1990s -- led by people like Rush Limbaugh -- conservatives decided that they didn't want to share power with liberals anymore. They basically decided that they wanted all the power for themselves.

In order to obtain political power once they cut off that relationship, I think that they needed to form a new coalition, and that meant that they became much more closely aligned with the extremists on the right. Particularly, we saw in the 1990s a lot of cross-hatching, as it were, between mainstream conservatives and the patriot militia movement, true far-right extremists.

And over the years, people like Limbaugh and Coulter and many others have transmitted these ideas and themes from the extreme right, repackaged them for mainstream consumption, and broadcast them into the popular culture.

The effect of that has been this powerful gravitational pull on mainstream conservatism so that it's become increasingly right wing, and part of the consummation of that was these tea parties that we just saw, which were classic right-wing populist gatherings. I went to the one in Seattle, and it was all the usual right-wing populism. Let's get rid of the Fed, end the income tax, all of these things, these ideas that we saw originating with the Posse Comitatus movement back in the 1980s. They have gradually worked their way into the mainstream. But it's still a very radical approach to governance, and ultimately is very extreme.

JH:  In the book you tie -- you detail wonderfully -- a lot of examples of eliminationist rhetoric coming from sources that are considered credible by many. Limbaugh and Coulter are certainly examples of that. And we have seen time and time again, how incredibly overheated it becomes and can lead to a spike in hate crimes. When you call out the right on this, their answer is that they can't be held accountable for people who are unhinged, who have ... whatever, mental disorders.

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