25 October 2013, 00:10

What does the face of US's modern extremism look like?

What does the face of US's modern extremism look like?

The Tea Party is widely blamed for the recent Government shutdown. Many have labeled their stand against the Obama Administration as "extremist." But that's nothing. In the Voice of Russia new ongoing series, The Endless Fringe, Justin Mitchel examines groups outside the US’s political mainstream.

The shutdown came to be seen as the climax of the Tea Party, a movement that sprang from the far right of the Republican Party. A sizable chunk of the Republican House majority is aligned with the movement.

“Extremist Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to torpedo the Senate’s bipartisan progress”, said Democratic majority leader Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate.

Earlier this week, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson even compared the Tea Party to the Ku Klux Klan – a far right white supremacist group.

It made us think: who are the real extremists in America?

We did what we always do – we went to the experts. We asked them: what is extremism?

“There is not a good definition, it’s the truth.”

That is Mark Potok, a Senior Fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC.

“The problem with the term “extremism” is that of course it relates to where the political center happens to be at a particular historical moment.”

He does have a working definition of extremism and extremists.

“We are talking about people who have ideologies that describe entire groups of human beings generally based on their class characteristics as somehow less.”

But that definition is not used by everyone. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, helps track extremist movements based in the US and they use a different standard.

Here is Gary LaFree, START's director.

“I suppose that probably the closest we have to a consensus is when you’ve actually violated the law for some cause or some political reason.”

So what does this mean for the Tea Party?

Stephen Chermak of Michigan State University also works with START, where he focuses on the far right.

“We specifically exclude far-right conservatives from the definition.”

But that does not mean extremism does not exist in the US. To that question, all our experts say "Yes."

The most well-known strain of extremism in America is white supremacy.

This can take the form of the National Socialists, like these ones depicted at a protest in Atlanta on a video posted by YouTube user Clyde Bradley. But, they are also represented by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which reject the statist overtones of the National Socialists.

Here is KKK Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona speaking to VOR about his organization’s purpose:

“These other races that are coming in, especially like these illegal immigrants coming from other countries, they are not assimilating in our country.”

Both these groups fall on the far right of the political spectrum. But they are not the only ones.

“We will not obey orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people. I will not obey.”

That is from another YouTube video about the Oathkeepers, posted by user David Lory Van Der Beek. They are a good example of another strand of right wing extremists, animated not so much by racial animus.

Here is Stephen Chermak.

“They are fiercely nationalistic, anti-global, suspicious of federal authority and revering of individual liberties, especially the right to own guns and decrease of taxes. They believe in conspiracy theories involving imminent threat to national sovereignty or personal liberty and believe that their personal or national way of life is under attack.”

Many groups have these beliefs without resorting to violence or breaking the law. But ever since the election of Barack Obama, they have seen an uptick in membership.

Most experts I spoke to said this was the single greatest source of extremism in the United States.

But that is not all that's out there.

What you are hearing is a Chechen Islamic radical in a video on Youtube. He is saying that he wants to talk to Muslim youth while their hearts are still alive.

He reached one. This video was at one time posted by Tamerlane Tsarnaev, who went on to bomb the Boston Marathon.

Through the Internet, there have been a decent number of Americans who have engaged in violent Islamic extremism. It is interesting to note, however, that these are much fewer in number than those that come from the far right.

“Look the side of that huge tower…”

This is a news report from Seattle television station KOMO. They are reporting on an action from the last major category of extremists in America.

“Underground environmentalist group Earth Liberation Front has just claimed responsibility for this act of destruction…"

The Earth Liberation Front is an organization responsible for many acts of property destruction over the last few years. They, along with the Animal Liberation Front, are the primary players in today’s far left extremist communities.

As Mark Potok says, though, there is a difference between today’s far left and far right.

“These are very small groups, by and large. And to date they have killed no one. So, that distinguishes them pretty dramatically from the extreme right.”

So, while the Tea Party can hardly be called extremist, that does not mean there are not currents in American culture working outside our established norms.

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