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June 16, 2009

Yes, There is Right-Wing Extremism

A few months ago, as the world knows, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on the dangers from right-wing extremists, and were roundly pilloried from all sectors of the mainstream right.

The DHS report, titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current. Economic and Political Climate Fueling. Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," warned that there are threats of violence from far-right groups, the likes of militias, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others on the extreme political fringe. The report made clear that it was referring to lone nut-types, as well as fringe groups, and came nowhere remotely close to suggesting that everyday Republican voters were a threat to the safety of the Republic.

But the conservative establishment, whether members of Congress, talk radio hosts or bloggers, heard the phrase "right wing extremists" and chose to conclude, "They must be talking about us!" The resulting outcry of fake outrage was enough to even get Janet Napolitano to partially apologize.

Then, in recent weeks, a couple of, for lack of a better word, right-wing extremists the murderers of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum guard Stephen Johns in Washington have carried out dangerous and violent acts, just as the report warned. The Holocaust Museum shooter, James W. Von Brunn, was an individual who frequented neo-Nazi web sites and wrote openly about his desire to kill blacks and Jews, while Tiller's killer, Scott Roeder, had similarly operated at the fringes of the anti-abortion movement.

So you would think those who had attacked the DHS report would be apologizing, right? Wrong. The actual attacks by actual right-wing extremists that actually happened a short time later have led conservatives to argue that the shooters had nothing to do with those named in the report, or that they were actually somehow closet liberals.

Some examples of outrage from the right, in response to the argument that the Tiller and Holocaust Museum killings vindicate the DHS report, have been downright laughable. National Review's Jonah Goldberg wrote that Von Brunn's "hatreds echoed the kind of stuff we hear from the Kos crowd, Chris Matthews, Andrew Sullivan et al." I wasn't aware that Matthews or Sullivan was either an anti-Semite or a murderer; nor, do I imagine, was the virulent racist Von Brunn a supporter of Barack Obama.

Conservative Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart picked an interesting venue the voice mail of former journalist and current Gawker gossip sniper John Cook to rant about how describing Von Brunn as a right-wing extremist was "a f---ing slander on people like me," because after all, the gunman was "a multiculturalist, just like the black studies and the lesbian studies majors on college campuses." Because if there's anything neo-Nazis are known for, it's multiculturalism and if there's anything lesbian studies majors are known for, it's shooting people. And pundit Debbie Schlussel found a way to blame the killing of an African-American war hero by a white supremacist on Muslims.

Politics is a continuum, which some would even call a circle, as the ultra-fringes of the left and the right have a lot in common, i.e., racism, violence, nuttiness, etc. There is a right-wing mainstream, just as there is a right-wing fringe, just as there are similar differences between the mainstream and radical lefts. In most cases, on both sides, it's not particularly difficult to tell the difference. And wrong as the mainstream Republicans may have been in the past decade or so, they're not the Klan, and they're not neo-Nazi gunmen.

If you're an actual conservative who isn't an extremist, you should find nothing offensive about the report. If a member of the Communist Party USA committed a political assassination, I would have no problem as a liberal either with the government sounding the alarm about "violent left-wing extremists," or with the shooter being described as such. Neither should anyone else who is neither violent nor an extremist.

No one is saying the Holocaust museum shooting is part and parcel of what the modern-day GOP is all about (and anyone who does is very, very wrong.) But while this chapter doesn't show that mainstream conservatives are extremists, it does show that many of them just plain don't get it.


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