“Ultimately, right-wing populism is a tool that is used by cynical elites for their own political advantage. However, right-wing rage is not something that can be controlled.”


History: An inconvenient record suggesting it regularly repeats itself.

The on-line radicalization of Pittsburgh synagogue shooter George Bowers is discussed, and as I embark on a new book …

Ian Kershaw’s ‘To Hell and Back: Europe, 1914-1949’

 … Why did Europe go mad? The four horsemen of the apocalypse Kershaw identifies in his nightmare history are a dramatic rise of ethnic-racist nationalism; angry, conflicting demands for territorial revisionism; acute class conflict that took on sharper focus by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia; and a prolonged crisis of capitalism that many thought terminal.

 … I can’t help but observe that those prattling on about how a “good” economy alone is sufficient reason to ignore sheer lunacy is pretty far over the lunatic boundary line themselves.

The problem comes when the economy turns bad. Who’ll be blamed? My advice is tear yourselves away from comic book movies and read a bit of history.

The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist, by Joseph Flatley (CounterPunch)

 … “Much of Bowers’ online profile resembles those of countless other extremist users,” according to a Southern Poverty Law Center analysis of the shooter’s social media. “As with other alt-right killers, it’s likely that Bowers was radicalized entirely online.” His social media activity revolved around several common obsessions of the racist right. He feared “white genocide,” an antisemitic conspiracy theory which holds that everything from immigration and multiculturalism to low birth rates and abortion are being promoted by the “globalists” (that’s an antisemitic code word for “Jews”) to drive the white race to extinction. In Bowers’ virtual reality, the white men have no power—undoubtedly resonant to a white man who seemed to have little in his own life worth living for—while George Soros is personally overseeing the extinction of the white race.

“Lone wolf terror” (sometimes called “leaderless resistance”) describes terrorist attacks conducted by a single person, or perhaps a very small, unaffiliated group. As terrorism expert George Michael writes in his book Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance, it is commonly understood among right-wing populists that “they are part of a relatively small and marginalized movement,” and that to take up arms “would almost certainly lead to organizational suicide,” not to mention actual suicide. This has led to the strategy, favored by the more conservative members of the right-wing populist movement, to concentrate on winning the masses over through propaganda.

The more extreme elements of right-wing populism, not willing to abandon armed struggle, have encouraged “lone wolves” to pick up arms. The idea is that individuals like Bowers and MAGA mail bomber Cesar Sayoc are the vanguard of a new movement that’s paving the way for a right-wing takeover of the United States. Now, this might be the case—but probably not in the way that the extremists like to imagine.

“Under specific conditions,” writes journalist and activist Chip Berlet, “virulent demonization and scapegoating can—and does—create milieus in which the potential for violence is increased.” While you can’t predict which individual will turn to violence, it can pretty much guarantee that someone will, “upon hearing the rhetoric of clear or coded incitement,” strike out at the perceived enemy.

Right-wing populism is a continuum. The extreme right (which Berlet also refers to as “the ultra-right”) is the revolutionary arm of right-wing populism in America. This includes the Klan, neo-Nazis, Aryan Nations, and anyone willing to pick up a gun or a baseball bat or make a pipe bomb for the struggle. Among the more conservative elements of right-wing populism are “reformist political movements.” These include the Republican Party, FOX News, and conservative think tanks. In between these two poles—the revolutionaries and the reformers—are the dissidents. This includes patriot and militia groups, right-wing talk radio, tea partiers, and anti-semitic conspiracy theorists. There is a lot of movement along this continuum: people might be drawn into right-wing talk radio, for instance, which becomes a conduit to a more extreme right-wing ideology.

Quite possibly, this is what happened to Robert Bowers …