In Feb. of 2021, Politico published an article by Zack Stanton about mass radicalization. The movement begins, Stanton writes with “an influential voice pushing the extremist narrative. And over the past 4½ years, we have had a very influential political leader [President Donald Trump] pushing a narrative that is not only polarizing—not only highlighting that the right and left are far apart on policy issues and disagree on discretionary spending—it’s a narrative of “othering.” It’s a narrative that casts the other side as evil, as “enemies,” as individuals you have to fight at all costs in order to preserve your way of life.” To a large degree, radicalization explains why the Trump base excuses his corrupt and immoral haviors and justifies their behaving the same way in his image.
No one could argue the fact that Trump promotes violence with his rhetoric, policies, and behaviors. He yells and screams like Mussolini at his rallies, shakes his fists, calls people names, and insinuates his opponents have evil intentions to ruin lives and steal personal freedoms. He uses demonizing scare tactics to stir hateful, violent impulses in his followers. This is the style employed by cult leaders, auto crats, and dictators whose movements lead to severe violent acts. Trump convinced rural voters, white evangelicals, the under-educated and racists that only he cares about them and will protect their freedoms. He has brainwashed his followers to fear Democrats, immigrants, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t worship him. He encourages verbal and physical violence and supports destroying his opponents reputations and careers. Becoming radicalized within the MAGA World is an expectation that Trump makes clear to all Republicans.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and the FBI have declared domestic terrorism as the #1 threat to national security. They freely use the term radicalization to describe the problem. The Biden Administration has announced the formation of The National Strategy For Countering National Terrorism which is a federally administered, multi-departmental effort to combat heightened domestic terrorist threats. The Jan. 6th insurrection was an exhibition of multiple white supremacist terror groups joining together with the shared goal of violently attacking the Capitol and stopping the electoral college certification of the next U.S. president.
The Feb. Politico article interviewed Michael Jensen, an expert on extremism who leads the domestic radicalization team at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. In the article, Jensen points out the varied characterizes of individual and mass radicalization;
- Rejecting prior held beliefs
- Motivated by grievances or identity ambitions
- A person finds a thrill and answers to their grievances in an extreme ideology
- People will isolate with like- minded people
- Rigid-thinking over openness
- Anger, fear-based thinkers
- Scared, angry, disillusioned audience vulnerable to an extreme narrative to serve their personal biases, grievances and to satisfy their need to blame others
- Goal of the conspiracy is to undermine the current way of life
- An influential person, (often, but not exclusively, political) pushing the extreme narrative
- Contains polarizing messages between the “right and left” promoting the narrative of “othering”
- Strong mechanism to spread the extreme narrative and solidify the brainwashing and loyalty to the ideology and it’s leader.
- The movement especially targets and welcomes people with mental illness, substance abuse disorders, military backgrounds, past trauma, and right-wing, racist ideology.
Jensen sums up his research by pointing out “once the narrative changes into a call for action—when it’s not just about changing someone’s beliefs, it’s about inspiring them to act on those beliefs—you get January 6. You get mass mobilization. That’s what we saw.” With todays reality of mass availability of disinformation through social media platforms, mass radicalization is growing and presents a serious threat to democracy and the inability for differences to exist without the potential for violence.
There is hope that the mass radicalization of the Republican party will change. Trump lost re-election. Despite the radicalizing message of the ” big lie”, he has lost the immense power of the presidency. The insurrection failed, and the rule of law is being followed to hold the perpetrators legally accountable for their crimes against democracy. Statistically, the majority of people holding radicalized beliefs do not turn to armed violence. Additionally, social media companies are reducing the spread of disinformation and messages that incite violence by banning Trump, members of Congress and other individuals or groups who violate the standards of the platforms.
The leader of the poisonous, radical takeover of the GOP is beginning to look more weak, desperate, and cartoonish, even to some of his radicalized base. Constantly being exposed as a pathological liar, especially as each state election recount proves he was the BIG LOSER. Trump is slowly but surely being revealed as the scamming grifter that has degraded the complicit Republican party and humiliated his loyal victims.
The Department of Justice, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland, must aggressively indict those, including the unhinged, autocratic ex-president, who have committed crimes against our democracy in the name of the radicalizing message of MAGA ideology.