As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, when I was a columnist for the Destin Log newspaper, nothing generated more outraged mail than writing about right-wing terrorism.
It didn’t matter if I situated it carefully in the context of terrorism overall (a lot of groups in American history have resorted to terror tactics), readers still screamed there was no such thing! I was trying to tarnish respectable American conservatives by claiming they were outlaws like eco-terrorists and Muslims! Shut up, shut up, shut up!
They were, for the record, completely wrong: right-wing terrorism is a serious threat. Nevertheless, I’m not the only one conservatives complain about: any time Homeland Security brings up right-wing terrorism there are screams of outrage that conservatives are being demonized! Routinely on Twitter I see people equate “armed thugs showing up at school board meetings is bad” with “Democrats say parents are armed thugs!” Or Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville complaining that fighting white supremacy in the military is fighting ordinary Americans. Funny how they don’t have any problem with the military excluding “woke” Americans.
I thought (and still do) that part of this was that it disturbed the post-9/11 narrative that equated Muslims with terrorists. Fear, too, that the massive security state developed in the Bush years might be turned against them. The same people who insisted that spying on nonviolent liberal groups or tapping hundreds of phone calls didn’t matter — people who had nothing to hide had nothing to fear! — squealed like stuck pigs at the thought of being on the receiving end.
A third, uglier reason is that many right-wingers were on the terrorists’ side. On Substack, Noah Berlatsky makes this point about the neo-Nazi shooter in Allen, Texas: rather than argue “the problem is Nazism, not guns” they deny the shooter’s politics: “Gun rights proponents won’t tactically distance themselves from the far right because their ideological and personal connections to the far right are too strong.”
As plenty of liberal bloggers have said, the same is true of the Republican Party. For all their claims that left-wingers are fascists, real American Nazis are a solid block of Republican voters. The party’s leader moved to overthrow the government on 1/6 and Republicans still support him. They still welcome anti-Semitic support while squealing about their support for Israel. Party leaders talk all the time about getting violent while insisting they have no responsibility for violence. Texas Governor Gregg Abbott has talked about pardoning the man who murdered a BLM protester, though he’s been silent about it as the killer’s extremism became clear.
Like Tuberville they’re not going to denounce the extremists. They’ve met the enemy and the enemy is them. As Michelle Goldberg puts it, “guns are at the center of a worldview in which the ability to launch an armed rebellion must always be held in reserve.” Their ability, not anyone else’s.
As LGM says, this will continue to be a problem: “we are going to have a kind of low-level very informal civil war for many decades to come, as Red America and Blue America increasingly come to the conclusion that they don’t want to live with each other any more, but can find no way, either practically or emotionally, to break up.”