I always watch with amazement how the conservative Twittersphere reacts to a far-right terror attack. After the New Zealand shooting, when it was revealed that the attacker wasn’t just an anti-Semite but an eco-fascist and supporter of communist China, I saw activists and commentators immediately assert that the shooter “wasn’t really right-wing.” This seems to happen every time a similar terrorist incident has taken place in the United States.
I’m sure this is difficult to read, but I believe conservatives must consider the possibility that this kind of response may be both untrue and unhelpful. As a conservative who has seen the far right up close, I believe we are failing (not for want of trying) to tackle political extremism, and that there is much we must do to reclaim this issue from the Left. I understand that this is a difficult topic to navigate, but I ask that you read this piece with an open mind and consider what I have to say.
Surely the rise of a young, white nationalist movement that disguises itself as “America First” should have proven to us by now that anti-Semites exist within some segments of the broader self-proclaimed Right. Sure, in many instances these people are also socialists, but to be “right-wing” is not necessarily to only believe in a free market and small government. We cannot simply ignore the social values of these people, and far-right terrorists cannot be conveniently dismissed as left-wing as if they would not look out of place at a Bernie Sanders rally waving an LGBT flag. In most cases of far-right terrorism, the perpetrator holds extreme conservative (or “right-wing”) social values, has a desire to protect European identity in the most extreme way, and hates left-wing progressives as much as he hates Jews. These are the same ideas promoted by some of the young so-called “America First” activists, and their economic beliefs are largely inconsequential. A far-right terrorist isn’t thinking about the economy when he’s shooting innocent people in a synagogue.
While conservatives assume a defensive position on these tragedies, far-left ideologues are successfully holding onto the mantle of the political extremism narrative. They decide what is far right and what’s not, and they get to choose what constitutes extremism. Dangerous radicals dictate what can and cannot be said, and we conservatives do our best to assure them that we’re not the same as those far-right terrorists.
Not only do we know we are not the same, but so do the far-left radicals who claim that we are. This is the power that comes with winning a culture war, and with ineffectual measures taken by conservatives to address these issues. When we deny the existence of far-right terrorists, we appear delusional at best, or as if we have something to hide at worst.
We simply cannot continue to allow far-left “progressive” extremists to control the narrative on extremism. If we manage to change this, we will strip the power from those who dictate the parameters of political discussion and reverse the leftward shift of the Overton Window.
Accepting the existence of far-right extremists is just the first part of reclaiming this narrative, and in my new book Monster of Their Own Making, I describe how we can successfully expose the role that far-left progressives have to play in the radicalization of young white men.
My experience in the far Right as a teenager has led me to the conclusion that young white men are radicalized, for the most part, by a three-pronged attack from the politicians, the media, and far-left progressive activists. In 2009, almost one million British people voted for a white nationalist political party, the British National Party. It was the result of mainstream politicians neglecting working class communities across the U.K., ignoring their concerns about mass immigration, and pushing forward with an unpopular policy of state-sponsored multiculturalism. It alienated normal British people, particularly those on the lowest wages and living in the most deprived towns and cities, and pushed people into the arms of white nationalists.
In my hometown, a boy around my age named Jack Renshaw was welcomed into the arms of the most extreme fringe of our political party. His radicalization was gradual, but surprisingly quick. I watched him get angrier and more disenfranchised until eventually, he was arrested after purchasing a machete and plotting to murder our local member of Parliament. I knew him fairly well, and it still gives me chills to this day knowing the monster he turned into.
Issues like this came to a head in the U.K. ten years ago, and it’s happening in the U.S. now. When politicians refuse to accept that Trump voters might have had a point when they said illegal immigration is a problem, call his supporters deplorables, and encourage far-left goons to ambush them (as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) once did), then you can bet you’re going to see the likes of so-called “groypers” capitalizing on that frustration.
It is surprisingly easy for extremists to latch onto legitimate concerns. Just look at how dangerous ideologues have latched onto the “America First” mantra and injected their own blend of smug hatred and anti-Semitism. This does real harm to the America First movement by conflating Holocaust denial and white supremacy with a desire to reduce immigration and protect American workers. It blurs the line between what is important, and what is flat-out extreme. The Left depends on this as it validates its argument that advocates of a stricter immigration policy are extremists and bigots.
Conservatives must realize that we have more power than we think. We can reclaim the narrative on extremism by not just being champions of positive and productive discussion on difficult issues, but by acknowledging that far-right extremism exists and pointing the finger at the far-left radicals who have facilitated its growth.
It is madness — utter madness — to allow far-left extremists to dominate the narrative on extremism. We must now expose the hand they have played in creating a new breed of far-right extremists, and we must start righting those wrongs.
Jack Buckby is an English conservative author and researcher. His new book, Monster of Their Own Making, analyzes how far-left progressives, politicians, and the media have facilitated the radicalization of young white men to the far Right. Follow him @JackBuckby.