Wednesday, August 16, 2017

By the Numbers:"A New Kind of Civil War?"

That’s the number of alt-right rallies scheduled for this weekend. [The Atlantic]

That’s the number of right-wing hate groups operating in America [Southern Poverty Law Center].

Below I expand on each of those numbers and what they might mean for a divided America.

The Atlantic speculates about What the Next Round of Alt-Right Rallies Will Reveal Protests scheduled in nine American cities for Saturday will provide a sense of where the movement is headed.

… Turnout for [the Saturday] events will help illustrate exactly what kind of moment this nation has come to. Here’s what to look for:

  • How many people will come out to march with the alt-right after the events in Charlottesville?
  • Which faction will come out on top? Will marchers primarily consist of the same old-school, everything-but-a-hood white nationalists seen in Charlottesville, or will they represent the “fashy” element of the alt-right, which seeks to offset the repugnance of its views with a less ostentatious veneer?
  • Will the marchers be armed and spoiling for a fight, as the rally participants were in Charlottesville?
  • Will they be met by sizeable crowds of counter-protesters?
  • Will those counter-protesters be peaceful, or will they be looking for a fight themselves?

How each of these questions plays out will reveal something about the future of the alt-right. If attendance is very low, for instance, it may signal that Charlottesville was a sobering moment for the movement, perhaps with some adherents reconsidering their tactics, and with other people reconsidering their involvement altogether.

If attendance is very high, on the other hand, it likely means that the Charlottesville rally was an energizing event for the alt-right, even with its culmination in a terrorist attack, and that would be cause for serious concern. If attendance is high and the participants include more of the same Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacists in garish costumes and armed to the teeth, it would be hard to interpret that as anything less than extremely alarming.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reflects on The Year in Hate and Extremism. The radical right was more successful in entering the political mainstream last year than in half a century. How did it happen?

The number of hate groups operating in the country in 2016 remained at near-historic highs, rising from 892 in 2015 to 917 last year, according to the latest count by the SPLC. That’s only about 100 fewer organizations than the 1,018 tallied in 2011, which was the all-time high in some 30 years of SPLC counts.

And the numbers undoubtedly understate the real level of organized hatred in America. In recent years, growing numbers of right-wing extremists operate mainly in cyberspace until, in some cases, they take action in the real world. Dylann Roof, who was convicted late last year of the racist murder of nine black churchgoers, is an example of that — he had no real-world contact with hate groups before deciding, based on propaganda he read on the Internet, that it was time to start a race war.

Right-wing populism, driven in part by the kind of conspiracy theories and bigoted thinking that was espoused by Trump during his campaign, has become the answer for many Americans and millions of Europeans as well. Populism is the idea, as scholars Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell phrased it, that “pits a virtuous and homogenous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are depicted as depriving the sovereign people” of their prosperity and rights.

Translated for today’s situation, the elites are seen as a global plutocracy of self-interested politicians, media leaders and capitalists — or, in the case of Europe, as the well-paid leaders of the European Union. The “dangerous others,” meanwhile, are immigrants, Muslims, black people, Jews and virtually every other minority.

The June vote by 52% of the British electorate to quit the European Union (EU) is in very many ways a close analog to the Trump vote in the United States. Those who voted to leave the EU, which requires open borders and migration within Europe and has welcomed millions of refugees from the Middle East, were mostly older middle- and working-class whites from troubled industrial areas. Also, as in the U.S. after Trump’s victory, the United Kingdom saw a wave of celebratory hate violence — up 47% over a year before — wash over the island nation.

It’s hard to predict where all of this will lead.

On one hand, it does seem likely that Trump’s ostentatiously right-wing politics will continue to dampen the Patriot movement, as happened under the last conservative Republican administration. It is also possible that, like the Patriot groups, the number of hate groups will fall as members look to Trump to pursue their program. On the other hand, it seems certain that Trump will be unable to fulfill many of his harder-line campaign vows — to ban Muslims, build a 2,000-mile border wall, or deport up to 12 million people — and this could easily result in an explosion of anger from extremists who feel betrayed. Historically, it is in just such situations that disappointed extremists may resort to domestic terrorism.

One thing seems certain. The radical right is feeling its oats today in a way that few Americans can remember. There are very large numbers of Americans who agree with its views, as sanitized under the deceptive Alt-Right label, although many of them may be less visible than before because they are not affiliated with actual groups. Whether or not the movement grows in coming years, it seems indisputable that its views have a better chance to actually affect policy now than in decades.

Finally, Robin Wright at the New Yorker asks Is America Headed for a New Kind of Civil War?

America’s stability is increasingly an undercurrent in political discourse. Earlier this year, I began a conversation with Keith Mines about America’s turmoil. Mines has spent his career—in the U.S. Army Special Forces, the United Nations, and now the State Department—navigating civil wars in other countries, including Afghanistan, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. He returned to Washington after sixteen years to find conditions that he had seen nurture conflict abroad now visible at home. It haunts him. In March, Mines was one of several national-security experts whom Foreign Policy asked to evaluate the risks of a second civil war—with percentages. Mines concluded that the United States faces a sixty-per-cent chance of civil war over the next ten to fifteen years. Other experts’ predictions ranged from five per cent to ninety-five per cent. The sobering consensus was thirty-five per cent. And that was five months before Charlottesville.

“We keep saying, ‘It can’t happen here,’ but then, holy smokes, it can,” Mines told me after we talked, on Sunday, about Charlottesville. The pattern of civil strife has evolved worldwide over the past sixty years. Today, few civil wars involve pitched battles from trenches along neat geographic front lines. Many are low-intensity conflicts with episodic violence in constantly moving locales. Mines’s definition of a civil war is large-scale violence that includes a rejection of traditional political authority and requires the National Guard to deal with it. On Saturday, McAuliffe put the National Guard on alert and declared a state of emergency.

Based on his experience in civil wars on three continents, Mines cited five conditions that support his prediction:

  • entrenched national polarization, with no obvious meeting place for resolution;
  • increasingly divisive press coverage and information flows;
  • weakened institutions, notably Congress and the judiciary; a
  • sellout or abandonment of responsibility by political leadership;
  • and the legitimization of violence as the “in” way to either conduct discourse or solve disputes.

President Trump “modeled violence as a way to advance politically and validated bullying during and after the campaign,” Mines wrote in Foreign Policy. “Judging from recent events the left is now fully on board with this,” he continued, citing anarchists in anti-globalization riots as one of several flashpoints. “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”

And Donald Trump seems destined to go down in history as The Great Divider as he fans the flames.

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