By Kevin Wilson
Radicalization is one of those words that a lot of people use, but not many fully understand. It’s frustratingly common in this day and age to see it affixed like a label to just about any cause we don’t like, because it dilutes the power of the word.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: radicalization is fucking scary. It is technically possible to be both nonviolent and radical, but by and large, radicals don’t worry about things like passive resistance and winning hearts and minds. They blow shit up, assassinate political rivals and government officials, and spread their message through fear and terror.
And then we go around and throw the word around like a cheap insult.
Vote for the wrong candidate? Hold the wrong ideals? Pray to the wrong god? You’re a radical. If you support socialized healthcare, you’re a radical. If you support the Second Amendment, you’re a radical. If you’re a Christian and you don’t support gay marriage, or a Muslim and don’t see anything wrong with a hijab, you’re a radical.
This is extra crispy handfuls of deep fried Prozac insane. If you were born in the last thirty or forty years and lived your whole life in the states, chances are, you don’t know radicalism. 9-11 gave us all a little taste, but the bone deep terror that suffused the nation in the days that followed has faded into memory. Unless you were there, lost someone, or went to fight in the resulting wars, the passing of the anniversary each year is probably nothing more than a slight nuisance as offices and organizations go through the motions of holding a moment of silence.
It wasn’t that long ago, however, that radicals operated openly in the US. Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the far, far Left was all about blowing shit up and burning shit down. College campuses were a hotbed for radical activity, and what’s worse, the radicals enjoyed a high level support from various Leftist organizations. The perpetrators, when they were caught, rarely saw anything like serious prison sentences, and many went on to enjoy prominent careers in politics.
Once it became clear that the Revolution was not now and that they weren’t any closer to seizing the means of production or overthrowing the bourgeois, the radicalized Left mostly faded away, but with the election of President Trump, it’s looking to make a comeback. Don’t believe me? Google “antifas”, then sit back and watch the madness. The conditions are there for Leftist radicalism to make a comeback, and all it really needs is just the right fuze to set off the powderkeg.
I’m not as worried about that, however, as I am about a radicalized Right.
See, here’s the thing. What really made the radical Left scary back in the 70’s was they had a whole hell of a lot of support, especially from Marxist friendly groups and countries. Much of that support network has atrophied, and while they more or less still have a lock on academia, the chances of them blowing up a police station and getting off with less than a year in prison thanks to world class lawyers is slim.
A radical Right, on the other hand, is just starting to get its feet under itself, and they’re getting a lot of help from the mainstream Left. Not in terms of material support, mind, but in recruiting.
These days, a Trump bumper sticker is an invitation to harassment on many a college campus. Anything less than complete and total outrage with the Trump administration is seen as complicity, and is an invitation to harassment. Just being a Republican in this day and age is a good way to get harassed, both in public and outside of some specific Right-leaning corners of the internet.
To be fair, this isn’t anything new, even if it is getting worse. I can’t say for sure when leaning right became a social faux paus, especially in intellectual circles, but I first noticed it back when George W. Bush was in office. Even in pursuits that were technically apolitical, people would automatically deduct 20 IQ points from you if they found out you were a Republican. Nowadays though, they don’t assume you’re stupid. They stop assuming you’re human.
Folks on the Right are getting fed up with this shit, and Trump’s election is proof. But rather than realize that they fucked up and reach out to moderate conservatives who could help erode Trump’s support, the Left has doubled down on the rhetoric and the hate, and it’s driving the Right further towards extremes.
The Alt-Right is the first to really take advantage of the growing wave of discontent, but they won’t be the last. And while they’re mostly happy to stir up outrage and harass people on Twitter, they’re still definitively in the Shout, not Shoot stage of political discourse.
How long will that hold? Can’t say for sure. I suspect that the catalyst that will cause the radical Right to coalesce will be the increasingly radical Left. It’ll start off almost purely as self defense, and things will spiral out of control from there.
So how is this scarier than a radical Left? Two reasons. First and foremost, the Right has most of the guns. Given that the Left has been pretty hardline on the Second Amendment for the last couple decades, they just don’t have the level of pervasive gun ownership that the Right does. And not only does the right have more guns, they have, generally speaking, better ones.
All the guns in the world don’t do any good without training, and that’s where things get really scary. See, the Right has one resource that the Left has always gone out of their way to shun: veterans. While the military tends to lean Right, the majority of the estimated 2.5 million vets from Iraq and Afghanistan will be content to sit back and open online T-shirt companies. If things really start to explode, however, it’ll only take a handful to get up and decide to Do Something to make this radical Right truly terrifying.
They’ve seen how effective a small handful of motivated individuals can be against a superior force. Hell, they’ve had a masterclass in insurgency thanks to the clusterfuck that was Iraq towards the end, and they’ve seen just how difficult it is to fight. All it takes is one or two guys who really know what they’re doing, have the charisma to attract followers, and the ability to train them to be really dangerous on a grand scale.
Now, the overlap between folks with that skillset and folks with a moral compass faulty enough to put it to use on American soil is, hopefully, small. But it’s probably not zero. That’s not just scary, that’s pretty damned terrifying.
But the worst part is there’s exactly fuck all you and I are going to be able to do to stop it. If the far Left continues down the path towards radicalization, the far and even parts of the moderate Right are almost certainly going to respond in kind. Where things go from there, I can’t say. I don’t even want to speculate. I just hope the US is still standing when the fires burn out.