Radicalizing Moderates Into Extremists

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CASE STUDY: PROUD BOYS

  • Right-wing extremist groups deserve all the hate they get. But with an eye on the future and as someone who's still hopeful human beings don't need to devolve into violent purity tribes, Proud Boys can be a useful study.
  • Proud Boys began as a bit of a barbed joke and a bit of a push-back on critical race theory - Gavin McInnes the original (and, behind the scenes, probably still) leader set the ball rolling publicly via his videocast, on Anthony Cumia's Compound Media. The Proud Boys are an extremist group now, but arguably weren't back in 2016/2017.
  • This bedfordandbowery.com article is illuminating. It's written by a left-wing Vox-populist journalist who's no fan of the Proud Boys and a declared enemy of the right-wing and alt-right. Bedford and Bower have wiped the original of the article from their live website: Proud Boys Want To Make White Men Great Again
  • Here also is a video by McInnes, ostensibly deconstructing the "right-wing". It's worth a watch, not because he's right but because it's nuance. Keep in mind, also: not all of the groups are embryonic fascist/racist extremists. Check out Guide To The 14 Different Right-Wing Groups.

THOUGHT EXERCISE

It's worth the thought exercise to consider Proud Boys as having radicalized over the past 4 years. The same thought exercise could be used for any ideological or extremist group.

  1. How and why did the group begin moderate, what caused the extremism, how and why did it radicalize?
  2. What factors push moderate counter-cultural groups to radicalize without the growing extremism alienating (losing) members?
  3. What conditions that cause a bunch of different demographics to converge on a shared space, what defines the shared space?
  4. What simpatico belief systems or personality types bind these demographics into a single ideology group?
  5. How does the ideology develop (grow more or less extreme) and why?
  6. Are there shared circumstances or experiences pushing them together?
  7. How is that 'space' fed or starved of new blood; who feeds it; how do we starve it?
  8. What force(s) drive this group to grow and/or to grow extreme? How are the force(s) neutralized?
    • extremist ideology
    • shared life experience / background
    • similarities of demographics (same age range, same gender, location, education level, etc etc)
    • cult of personality
    • social or economic conditions oppressing members (unemployment, debt, glass ceilings, segregations)
    • outlier syndrome
    • prejudice of members or against members (racism, bigotry)
    • fear (parochialism, paranoia)
    • external pressures (persecution, marginalization, new laws, politics)
    • internal pressures (purity tests, dogma, preparation for conflict, new leadership)
  9. What can be done to mitigate the socioeconomic and cultural narratives fuelling conditions that drive moderate individuals to feel alienated and then vulnerable to recruitment by extremist / ideology-led groups?

ANALYSIS

  1. What are the actual crimes and/or transgressions of the 'extremist' group? How much of what is publicized is real, how much is spin?
  2. How much of the roots of antipathy towards (or labeling of) an 'extremist' group is propaganda, how much is evidenced? How much is pique?
  3. How much of an attack on an 'extremist' target is a genuine reaction to real crime/transgression they've committed versus how much of the attack is based on what they may do, i.e. preemptive?
  4. There are always power dynamics involved in antipathy (or support) for one group over another. It's worth spending a minute considering the power dynamics at play around the Proud Boys, from internal and external perspective:
    • looking out at the world as a group member
    • looking out at opponents as an extremist leader of the group
    • looking out at the world as a non-ideological leader of the group
    • looking in at the group as an objective observer
    • looking in at the opponents of the group as an objective observer
    • looking at the group as a leader with an opposing ideology

This may all seem like a lot of brain-time to give to a group like Proud Boys but the above applies to any faction - and the world is a perpetual collage of group power dynamics - so training oneself in fast multi-perspective analysis is an extremely useful life-skill.

LEADERS AND SHEPHERDS

  • The thought-leaders and influential shepherds defining the parameters of public discourse are all experts in this type of analysis.
  • Those who chose simply to follow the guiderails of official team opinion (or for that matter, those who go with their own instinct, unquestioned) leave themselves at the mercy of the experts, whether they're aware of being moved around like pawns or not.