My longtime friend and colleague Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air earlier this week, talking about right-wing extremism (a term he actually loathes). It's a fascinating discussion and an enlightening listen, as it often is with Chip.
The focus of the discussion was a new paper Berlet wrote for PRA: "Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, and Scapegoating". [The main PDF is here.]
Berlet bounced off the paper for Huffington Post in discussing the Holocaust Museum shooting, and sums up his argument concisely:
People who believe conspiracist allegations sometimes act on those irrational beliefs, and this has concrete consequences in the real world. The shooting today is a prime example of why it is a mistake to ignore bigoted conspiracy theories. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That's not a police problem, that's our problem as people responsible for defending a free society.
... Apocalyptic aggression is fueled by right-wing pundits who demonize scapegoated groups and individuals in our society, implying that it is urgent to stop them from wrecking the nation. Some angry people already believe conspiracy theories in which the same scapegoats are portrayed as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action mandatory and you have a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States.
Now the only question is: Will Bill O'Reilly send one of his ambush crews after Chip now?