In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Peter Bergen and David Sterman claim “right wing” extremists pose more of a danger to U.S. citizens than radical Islamists, citing the recent murders in Kansas City by Frazier Glenn Miller. They describe Miller as “a well-known right wing extremist” then argue that so-called right wing extremists pose a greater threat to the U.S. than Islamic jihadists. Their fear mongering thesis has one goal: to demonize conservatives.
It has long been popular for liberal pundits, amateurs and professionals, to assert that white supremacists in the form of the KKK or Neo-Nazis are part of the extreme right wing of the U.S. political spectrum. Their aim is to make everyone believe that Republicans, especially its more conservative elements, and other “right wingers” are racists and ultimately dangerous.
By failing to explain why white supremacy is classified as a right wing ideology, leftists want people to embrace a logical fallacy known as “affirming the consequent.” Place two true assertions together and draw a false conclusion. Specifically, leftists want people to believe that since white supremacy is considered a right wing ideology and Republicans and conservatives are right wing, then Republicans and conservatives are racists.
The fallacy lies in the fact that ideologies that accept or embrace inequality are considered right wing, no matter how they relate to each other. White supremacists are considered right wing because they espouse inequality based on race. Ideologies that believe in equality of opportunity, irrespective of identity, but accept unequal outcomes are also considered right wing. So, if you oppose discrimination but also oppose government mandating “equality,” you are considered a right winger. By this formulation, white supremacists and those who expressly reject racism and discrimination are both classified as right wingers.
If you think there is something intellectually dishonest about placing ideologies that are antithetical to each other in the same classification, you are not wrong. After all, ideologies that view themselves as collectivist or egalitarian (such as socialism, communism, and fascism) require a strong central government to enforce their version of equality. They require a political or government class to decide what is equal and how to enforce it. They are inherently hierarchical and, therefore, should also be considered right wing. Yet, they are unerringly considered left wing.
In contrast, one would think that a belief that all people should be treated as equal before the law would be considered a left-wing ideology because of its emphasis on equality. But, as noted above, such a belief is considered a right wing ideology where it rejects government mandating economic or social equality regardless of talent, ability or effort.
In the case of Frazier Glenn Miller, labelling him a right winger is factually incorrect. Miller was a Grand Dragon in the KKK, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a fan of left-wing anti-Semite Max Blumenthal. Miller’s praise of Hitler means he is a fascist, the political ideology founded by Hitler. Fascism is not a right wing or left wing ideology. While it embraces hierarchy and tradition that would classify it as right wing, it also embraces collectivism that would classify it as left wing. Hitler rejected classifying his theories along the left-right spectrum.
The inaccuracy does not stop there. The KKK, the original U.S. racist organization was formed by Democrats and proudly supported Democrat candidates. Collectivist progressives gained influence in the Democrat Party in the 1920s and 1930s. That progressive influence is stronger now than ever, which is a left wing ideology. Every politician who supported segregation and opposed the Civil Rights Act in the 1950s and 1960s belonged to the Democratic Party, including some who served in Congress into this century. Despite many attempts to rewrite the nature of the Democratic Party, there was a clear continuity of racists in the party throughout the last century and into this.
Finally, while Bergen and Sterman mention plots and actions by supposed leftist ideologues, including eco-terrorists, they discount the danger those groups pose not because they do not exist, but because the attacks failed. Should supposed right wing terrorists be considered more dangerous than so-called left wing terrorists merely because the “right wingers” have been more successful? Obviously, no.
The purpose of Bergen and Sterman’s piece is not to raise awareness of the threat of domestic terrorists, despite their milquetoast conclusion. Their purpose is to demonize conservatives by drawing an association between the murder in Kansas City and other acts of violence, on one hand, and so-called right wing political ideologies, on the other hand. If not, they would have omitted any reference to the political spectrum. But, then, defining political ideologies along the right-left spectrum is not about academic precision. The purpose of using the spectrum is to apply value judgments and limit perceptions. It makes it much easier for pundits to demonize the opposing side.