I will make my apologies at the outset for this post, as it may be controversial to some readers but I feel it is well indicated given our growing trend of extremism on all sides of the political spectra.
I have kept this kind of controversy out of my posts but I feel the need to comment from my own in the middle, moderate perspective, that at times, seems endangered nowadays.
The controversy is about facing up to the evils and poisonous dangers of extremism on both ends of the ‘political’ landscape. Left-wing extremism has long been known since the 1960’s Memories of the Weathermen, SNCC, SDS and other groups come easily to mind for students of contemporary American history. I can remember doing the student thing of attending meetings and learning somewhat from the inside, and hearing such figures speak and hold forth such as Rennie Davis, Tom Hayden latter of Jane Fonda and California state assembly renown when he ‘grew up’ and changed. Also, I heard Stokely Carmichael and lesser known figures such as Eric Chester expound their views of radical change that went nowhere and were clearly misguided but borne out of the frustration in the years of Nixon and the Vietnam War divisiveness in this country. I recall talking all this over with my conservative WWII viewpoint’ed father, reassuring him that I was not being “radicalized,” and hearing his stabilizing observations that helped me maintain an independent perspective. Radicalization of course nowadays is a political phenomenon that is once again puzzling and alarming everyone but is not at all new in this country as some more alarmist commentators would have us believe.
A difference is that one check and balance working against the radicals movements of the sixties and seventies is that they were disorganized and very naive–fortunately. Only a few heinous acts of violence came out of those years and movements, notably the bombing of the physics lab at the University of Wisconsin at Madison by the Harrises, a radical husband and wife team who were on the run and living under false identities for over three decades until they surfaced and were discovered several years ago. Also the left wing radicalism never really caught on in much of an organized way.
Radicalism nowadays, whether of Muslim extremism or right wing militias, are more organized than the ‘student radicals’ ever were. Additionally, as Michael Douglas’ prophetic movie, Falling Down of 1993, foretold over two decades ago, we have moved into the era of the lone wolf extremist. The Shoe Bomber and Timothy McVeigh, although from diametrically different world views, were essentially more alike than different. They were loners, disaffected, politically warped individuals, who fell prey over a period of time to equally disaffected political extremist philosophies. This long wolf path is far more dangerous to detect and prevent or reach ideationally in order to help them out of the traps of extremist philosophies.
One mantra that I have never forgotten says ominously, “Violence is the last refuge of the hopeless.” This has become and will continue to be an important motivator for the disenfranchised and for those who feel cast aside by large social forces such as decline of past bedrock industries such as manufacturing, coal mining and other economic sectors that have been eroded to a shadow of their former power and reliable vast sources of employment in this country.
It appears that the baseball park shooter in Arlington Virginia who shot and targeted Republican Congressional members was likely such a disaffected loner person. The very recent report late this week (June 15th week, 2017) that he may have had a list of Republican targets is unfortunately not surprising. Those who feel totally disenfranchised will blame and direct their frustrations that evolve into a rage that robs them of the ability to see their adopting murderous extremism as terribly wrong by any moral or ethical yardstick.
It seems to have been lost the awareness that ‘words do matter,’ and set the tone for public discourse in the social and political arenas.Caution in this regard has been lost by all quarters. This has very great import when we forget that the less mature, less controlled, less reasoned, and more vulnerable members of us, can be greatly motivated in bizarre and disturbing ways by acrimonious climates of discourse.
The current social trends cause me to appreciate how important Dr. Martin Luther King’s and Gandhi’s emphasis on nonviolence in their protest movements for equality and enfranchisement in all the important political and social realms. I continue to be amazed there was not more rageful violence on the part of blacks in this country. Nelson Mandela as has been recognized for decades and again recently by honest commentators led his peoples to not wage race war as many whites feared when apartheid was abolished and the black majority finally assumed political power in South Africa. He forgave and instituted the national truth and reconciliation commission that identified political atrocities and crimes against humanity without permitting descent into the kinds of horrific, senseless butchering of the French Revolution and its emblematic guillotine slaughter.
The disenfranchised tend to target the party in power. They see them as the architects of their misery and target them accordingly. I have worried for months, given my long term interest and understanding of radical movements derived from my witnessing them in my student days in one of the radical centers, Ann Arbor, in this country in the late sixties and early seventies, that we might witness the development of such disturbed actions as the vitriol of the past 20 years, has reached recently in the national political campaign of 2016 and the rhetoric of all parties but perhaps more noticeably to the disturbed of the Republicans. I hope I am wrong but I fear we shall see perhaps more loner acts from the disenfranchised toward the party in power. This will not help any of us at all and may be a social phenomenon we have to weather and learn to correct the level of our political discourse. But I take heart that if the IRA and the Northern Ireland establishment could move to deal with each other reasonably and more and more without mindless radical violence, then we can also.