One of the most common concepts to arise in political discourse and conspiracy theories is the scapegoat. It is also a very important idea to be aware of when looking at tensions between groups and how utilizing it can feed into some very atrocious outcomes such as hate, violence, and even genocide. From prejudiced thoughts or beliefs to discriminatory actions, with the former being a strong precursor to the latter. 

 Allport (1955), shows two minorities, statistical minorities, that are not the object of prejudice, and the mildly disparaged and discriminated against psychological minorities. Though, Allport mentions that it is only those who harbor strong hostility towards the psychological minority that it would be called a scapegoat or true scapegoating (p. 243-245).  Allport notes that scapegoats can be centuries old, such as the Jews, or relatively recent, like the communists (p.257). Allport views it as a means of projection, or displacement of guilt and aggression (p. 512). Berlet (1998), 

Scapegoating on a societal level can be seen as a process whereby the hostility and aggression of an angry and frustrated group are directed away from a rational explanation of a conflict, and projected onto targets demonized by irrational claims of wrongdoing (p. 6). 

The implication is that scapegoating serves as a means to alleviate the individual of pieces of their psych or subconscious they may not want to acknowledge. It begins to dip into psychodynamic theory.  An example of this would be the more radical sides of the alt-right complaining protestors are sadistic and want to burn their communities down. Much like how Nazis might refer to Jews as greedy sadistic blights on the planet, there is a clear displacement of thoughts and behaviors, all as a means to justify or rationalize behavior towards another group.

Instead of looking at the broader issues that brought a conflict or tension into existence, it seems that it might be easier for some to find those groups or individuals so as to place their own cognitions. Allport (1955) notes three types of projection in these cases. First is direct projection i.e, Nazis calling jews sadistic. Second is a mote-beam projection which exaggerates qualities in other people that both they and we possess, though we may not realize we possess them. The third is a complementary projection whereby the process of justifying our own state of mind is in reference to the imagined intentions and behaviors of others (p. 387-391). 

Brought into focus, when utilized by larger powers the effects of scapegoating allow for actions that seemingly go unquestioned by those who have put faith in their leaders. Like the backlash towards the Middle East shortly after 9/11, Arabs and Muslims were demonized and the resulting slaughter of their populations overseas quickly outmatched the death toll of the twin towers falling. Crawford (2018), presents the human cost of the post 9/11 wars, showing that even conservative estimates put the death toll near or over five hundred thousand, with half of them being civilian deaths. 

The 2,977 civilian deaths caused by 9/11, essentially sparked one hundred times as many civilian deaths, all of whom had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. Not to mention that the pretenses for invasion and war were highly questionable, especially the Iraq wars legality. But in the eyes of the right and media at the time, it was the Muslim populations that had to be dealt with to keep their violent barbarism at bay. To which racism towards Muslims still lingers and is utilized as propaganda throughout the west.

Not only the wars and the unlawful deaths raise concerns, but there was also the explosion of broader government surveillance over the population while also encroaching on civil liberties. All shrouded in the argument for maintaining safety and freedom. Presenting scapegoats and existential threats to society, all for the sake of more power. 

This is being repeated today, as BLM protestors and anti-Trump camps are demonized by the right, utilizing scares of communism or being engulfed by complete anarchy. Meanwhile, the state is continuing its ICE concentration camps and the wealth in the nation keeps being redistributed to the top one percent of the population. Even in current news, with Trump paying $750 in taxes. He can be a scapegoat when you consider that many companies including Amazon, Chevron, Halliburton, and IBM essentially paid $0 in taxes in 2018. According to Dabla-Norris, Kochhar, Suphaphiphat, Ricka, & Tsounta (2015), the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, even in advanced economies.

Those who largely fall in line with the ideas of these groups are typically no better off in the long run. Their projections harnessed to fulfill the desires of a demagogue or group. 

As pointed out by Lowenthal & Guterman (1949), 

But the agitator, under the guise of pursuing a similar purpose, actually invites his listeners, not to change themselves spiritually or socially, but simply to place all blame, all sin, on the external enemy. He asks them, not to become more conscious of the causes of their difficulties, but simply to give vent to their feelings.

Not the traditional “gravy” promised by politicians, but power conceived of as the right directly to exercise violence is what the agitator offers his followers (p.112). 

All serving as distractions from the core of the issue they have had a hand in developing, from the 9/11 attacks, merely being the repercussions of America’s proxy wars against the soviet union (which will be looked at in the next article) to the recent explosion of right-wing nationalism and militia movements. American institutions have been utilized to embolden these far-right groups by taking action or even, in the past, funded right-wing groups via a secret army organization. They typically pay lip service to these groups, maybe even throw them some scraps, but overall, do not fully get behind their ideals.

A means to an end. 

Next: Cogs in the machine 


Allport, G. W. (1955). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, Mass: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Berlet, C. (1998). Dances with devils: How apocalyptic and millennialist themes influence right wing scapegoating and conspiracism. The Public Eye, 12(2), 3.

Crawford, N. C. (2018). Human cost of the post-9/11 wars: Lethality and the need for transparency. Costs of War

Era Dabla-Norris; Kalpana Kochhar; Nujin Suphaphiphat; Frantisek Ricka; Evridiki Tsounta (June 15, 2015). Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality : A Global Perspective. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved September 29th, 2020.

Lowenthal, L., & Guterman, N. (1949). Prophets of deceit. New York: Harper

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