While going through the literature and researching the topic it seems, at times, that the far-right can work with sophisticated methods of propaganda and persuasion, from a broad view it is like cult behavior or mirrors religious fanaticism in its application and practice. The next several posts will be delving into some of the supposed mechanisms behind these kinds of movements and how it brings people into advancing the cause, whether they are aware or not.
As mentioned in an earlier post the far-right seems to be comprised of white heterosexual males that, outside of socialized political leanings, stumble upon the ideology through various places on the internet, though most notably these sites include, Reddit, 4chan, Twitter, 8chan, and Youtube. Though, as mentioned last time, there are more direct routes ala Stormfront and the like.
Essentially it relies on the spread of the demagogues rhetoric, much of which has reverberated through the ages. Of import is the program of the demagogue which is a shorthand of the work of Lowenthal and Guterman (1949) which can be broken down into these points:
They have been cheated
There is a widespread conspiracy against them
The conspirators are sexually corrupt
The government is corrupt
We can’t trust foreigners
Our enemies are low animals
No middle ground
No polluting of blood
There is disaster around the corner, what can be done?
Situation too urgent to permit luxury of thought
Everybody against me.
Of course, there is a heavy reliance on some “usual suspects” or “devils” such as the Jews, communists, bankers, Orientals, and the state itself (Allport, 1955, p.414-415).
More modern interpretations of these “devils” would be movements such as Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+. There is also the explosion of conspiracy, with misinformation from vaccines, to coronavirus, to the theory Trump and his supporters are actually fighting a satanic pedophile cult that has infiltrated the highest levels of government.
Of course, conspiracy theories about Jews, Orientals, and communism are still mixed in with these more modern moral panics.
As long as there’s an enemy or concept to bring on anxiety or alienation to a group, a demagogue doesn’t necessarily have to promise salvation (Hoffer 1955). Nor is there a need for a leader or demagogue to be present, as can be seen in the spread-out nature of the movement and how far it has come in influencing higher levels of power. It relies heavily on these spooks to start bringing followers into the fold, and the message need not be shared by someone who otherwise would not get behind racist or violent ideologies, a dog whistle message, or meme, could just be funny to some who may not see the harm it can have as rapidly spreading propaganda. Overall, it is important for the message to spread, context aside, it will likely serve its purpose once it reaches its “true” target audience.
As to who is typically brought into these pathways, Hoffer (1955),
“The fanatic is perpetually incomplete and insecure. He cannot generate self-assurance out of his individual resources-out of his rejected self-but finds it only by clinging passionately to whatever support he happens to embrace. This passionate attachment is the essence of his blind devotion and religiosity, and he sees in it the source of all virtue and strength. Though his single-minded dedication is a holding on for dear life, he easily sees himself as the supporter and defender of the holy cause to which he clings. And he is ready to sacrifice his life to demonstrate to himself and others that such indeed is his role. He sacrifices his life to prove his worth” (p.85).
Hoffer provides an eerie outline that matches the descriptor so often attached to those on the deep end of the ideology who go on to perpetuate shootings and mass murder. This is echoed, using the shooter Dylann Roof as an example, by Franklin (2017), seeing alienation, failure, entitlement, projection, masculinity, ideology, and contagion as key ingredients. She views the act as a cultural meme, where an idea, fashion, or behavior is transmitted like a virus and spreads from person to person becoming a self-perpetuating phenomenon. She puts forth a nihilistic profile, arguing that in the end, the ones committing the violent acts are ending their perceived meaningless lives to become a meme.
“Doing it for the meme” or “doing it for the likes” as the sayings go, the last grasp at infamy or immortality. Again, Hoffer (1951) as long as he feels himself part of that whole and nothing else, he is indestructible and immortal. All his fervor and fanaticism are, therefore, clustered around this lifeline (p.127).
Sinking into a culture can be seen in many areas of society, from religion to politics. A topical analogy is police, who for the most part, have tried to meet the threat to their blue lives, a novel concept, but no one is born blue. Nonetheless, it shows a similar degree of inoculation, and if you look, can see the points mentioned earlier aid in maintaining its structure. Twersky-Glasner (2005), found that the screening process often has a baseline, a sameness permeates, and from there it is socialization within the force, that forms the “police personality.”
As for the program of the demagogue, think of the thin blue line. The belief that police stand between society and utter chaos. Presented as a situation too urgent to give the luxury of thought, there can’t be a middle ground when it is good and evil, it is the police under threat, and it will get worse if the blue line is crossed. Clearly, alienation can appear by utilizing these arguments, which might exacerbate the situation, as we have seen with the current mass protests, which are still ongoing. Law enforcement appears to be aiding in the act of fascism on the whims of the Trump administration. It also gives the impression that the police have sided with white supremacy when you compare their reactions to armed militias protesting virus restrictions and BLM protestors, there is quite the contrast in behavior of police towards the two.
In the case of violence, the difference between domestic terrorism and law enforcement is the length and scale of their actions, both view their cause as something larger than themselves, while one has been given legitimacy, the other has not. This becomes poignant when issues of race are considered, the pace at which one or the other works against those that have been othered by systematic forces as well as the implicit or explicit awareness of the harm being caused can be seen by the research and findings on the topic. It at least provides an indicator, where an idea of how much self-image is invested in an ideology or group can be gauged based on rigidity or how personally they react to valid criticism of their culture.
In regards to domestic terrorism, Franklin (2017), sees the focus on a single variable (mental illness, bad parenting, video games, social media, failure at predictions, accessibility to guns, and the like) does nothing to help the situation. Noting that ” we might do well to regard young men like Roof as canaries in the coal mine. It is only when the air in the mine is poisonous that the canary will die” (para. 20).
Allport, G. W. (1955). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.
Franklin, K., Ph.D. (2017, January 02). Dylann Roof: How to make a rampage murderer. Retrieved August 17, 2020, from https://forensicpsychologist.blogspot.com/2017/01/dylann-roof-how-to-make-rampage-murderer.html
Hoffer, E. (1951). The true believer (p. xi). New York, NY: Perennial.
Twersky-Glasner, A. (2005). Police personality: What is it and why are they like that?. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 20(1), 56-67