Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Extremist Groups

The following is the introduction for Extremist Groups available to read on e-Notes

Political ideologies can be visualized as points on a straight line, with liberals to the left of center and conservatives to the right. Located near the center of the line are political moderates. At the far points at either end are the extremists, both liberal and conservative.

Liberals and conservatives differ primarily in their view of the proper role of government in the lives of citizens. While liberals tend to favor the federal government taking an active role in correcting social inequities, regulating business activities, and protecting the environment, conservatives tend to mistrust federal interference in these affairs. Conservatives believe that, to the extent that any regulation is necessary, these functions are best performed by state and local governments. Moreover, by definition, conservatives tend to be wary of change in society while liberals tend to favor change.

Both the liberal and conservative camps harbor extremists who favor revolutionary changes. Liberal extremists are often called radicals while conservative extremists are often referred to as reactionaries. Extremists push an agenda that makes the majority of people, regardless of their beliefs, uncomfortable. Often, the actions of extremist groups push through social or legal barriers. Some extremists engage in unlawful activity—such as the destruction of private property— in order to further their agenda and garner media attention for their cause. Many resort to violence.

The liberal extremist Theodore Kaczynski killed three people and injured twenty-three during an eighteen-year period in the 1980s and 1990s. The Unabomber—as Kaczynski is called—sent bombs through the mail to people he considered enemies of the Earth. One of the Unabomber’s victims was Gilbert Murray, president of the California Forestry As- sociation, a timber industry group. Kaczynski believed that Murray and the timber industry were contributing to the destruction of the environment. Another victim, Thomas Mosser, an advertising executive, was falsely accused by the Unabomber of helping Exxon clean up its public image after the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill in March 1989. In Kaczynski’s manifesto, he advocates a revolution whose object “will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis for the present society.” Many analysts like Ralph R. Reiland argue that Kaczynski took the ideas of environmental groups such as Earth First! and pushed them to the extreme. Far left radicals like Kaczynski, he notes, take the ideas of other extremists and violently act on them. Reiland writes: “In short, the Unabomber was no intellectual loner.”

Leftist radicals are by no means the only extremists who promote violence, however. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two right-wing extremists associated with the militia movement, were convicted of blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995, killing 168 people in the process. McVeigh and Nichols—like others from the militia movement—mistrust government just as Kaczynski does, but for very different reasons. Militia members assert that the government conspires to deprive people of their constitutional rights. Those involved in the militia movement contend that it is necessary to maintain a body of armed citizens and a stockpile of weapons in order to defend the people against a tyrannical government. In addition, many within the movement believe that the government protects minorities at the expense of white males. According to John M. Swomley, president of Americans for Religious Liberty, militias “are anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, and tend to accept fundamentalist white-supremacist and anti-Semitic theology as well as the subordination of women.”

As the above examples illustrate, left and right wing extremists— while holding antithetical views—often arrive at similar solutions to perceived problems. Both Kaczynski and McVeigh mistrusted government, for instance, and both used bombs as a means of challenging the status quo. The straight line that illustrates the political spectrum, in fact, often turns into a circle with extremists from the right and left occupying the same position. While the Unabomber did not go so far as to call for the abolition of government, other extremists on the left do. Anarchists, for example, believe that government is oppressive and always undesirable. They advocate a state ruled by no political authority. In this regard they are in agreement with those from the militia movement. However, while the aim of anarchists is to turn over the means of production to the workers in order to achieve an egalitarian society, many of those in the militia movement desire a return to the days when white men had more authority and control.

Some commentators argue that extremist views—but not extremist actions—such as those held by Kaczynski and McVeigh can benefit society by acting as a catalyst for change. For example, Marc E. Fisher, a political and religious analyst, contends that Jesus Christ was considered an extremist in his time. Fisher argues that Christ’s doctrines of brotherly love and forgiveness, however, “began a movement that would eventually change the lives of millions, indeed billions, of people” for the good. Many detractors also considered 1960s civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. an extremist. King turned that label around, asking those who would maintain racial segregation: “Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Neither Jesus nor King advocated violence. However, many would argue that extremist ideas—while perhaps stimulating— inevitably lead to violent and hateful actions. For example, while members of the environmental group Earth First! do not publicly endorse violence, some commentators contend that individuals like Theodore Kaczynski nevertheless feel encouraged by the group’s ideas to commit violent acts. And while not everyone in the militia movement advocates the bombing of federal buildings, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols evidently felt that the ideas espoused by militia groups justified the bombing that killed scores of people. At their worst, extreme ideas can lead to the deaths of vast numbers of people, as witnessed by the millions killed in World War II as a result of the hatred spewed by Adolf Hitler.

The authors in Extremist Groups: Opposing Viewpoints debate in the following chapters whether the beliefs of various extremist groups threaten the United States: Does Religious Fundamentalism Benefit Society? Do Liberal Groups Benefit Society? Do White Supremacist Groups Promote Hate and Violence? Does the Militia Movement Pose a Threat to Government? When political, social or economic issues such as animal rights or gun control are debated, extremists will come forward to voice their opinions. Listening to them enables others to predict the violent actions that often follow.

Be sure to read more of this fascinating topic @ e-Notes

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