Responding to the title of a recent article on the militia movement, America’s best reporter on armed right wing politics says that liberal and progressive activists are unprepared for the impact of ‘patriot’ terrorism.
On his personal Facebook page this weekend, writer David Neiwert argued that the left has largely dismissed these reactionary forces as marginal actors, and thus have failed to understand the “bigger picture.”
Right-wing extremists have a powerful gravitational effect, not just on conservatives generally but indeed our entire discourse. Because the right has become stuck in a constant envelope-pushing mode, both rhetorically and in terms of policy and politics, far-right extremists have for years helped shift the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not by defining them. Ideas (and especially conspiracy theories) that were considered radical forms of far-right extremism in the 1990s have become (largely through the aegis of the Tea Party) perfectly acceptable mainstream-conservative ideas in the past decade. A Tea Party gathering in 2016 is virtually indistinguishable from a militia meeting in 1996.
Neiwert is referring to the Overton Window, a theory of right wing change named for its originator, the late conservative intellectual Joseph Overton. By continually stretching the bounds of acceptability in public discourse, Overton reasoned that increasingly radical ideas could be brought into the mainstream, allowing the conservative movement to permanently alter the course of American political history.
As Neiwert explains, the strategy has not only succeeded in changing America, it has also transformed the conservative movement.