Let’s Understand Right-Wing Extremism

From the editor: Watch the news, read the paper, listen to podcasts, fight with your parents. The words “right” and “left” are intrinsic to our political and sociological language these days. It’s also called a “tribal” language or point of view. This is the first of a two-part explainer prepared by DWGC Legislative Chair Linda Hardman..

White supremacy is as basic to the far-right as the desire to maintain a patriarchal society where people stick to strictly defined gender roles, and men act in a position of power. White people, it is implied, deserve to hold a dominant position in society because of their supposed innate superiority. 

The hard right wants to revive an older social order, one that existed before the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s and the gay liberation movements, and other social and political transformations that upset a white-dominated, patriarchal society. Gender is a significant concern of the hard right. Its goal is to maintain a complex system of male supremacy that asserts, supports, and promotes the supposed superiority of men. This also subjugates women, trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people. 

Politicians, influencers, grassroots activists and members of extremist groups have collectively embarked on a campaign to attack our Constitutional rights. To strip women of their rights forcing them back into subservient roles, demonize LGBTQ+ people, deny trans people access to spaces that conform to their gender identity, refuse them crucial medical care, and ban schools from even recognizing the existence of LGBTQ+ people and families.

Male supremacy has always played a role in right-wing movements, but the right is now increasingly embracing authoritarianism. Its followers are less willing to compromise, and they feel that they must use a heavy hand to deal with people they view as political enemies, which include anyone who upsets “traditional” gender roles and family structures. 

The modern conservative agenda has been intent on enforcing a particular family structure: a working father and dependent mother who assumes the role of primary caregiver for the children. Conservatives opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made men and women equal in the eyes of the law. The far-right goals remain much the same today, asserting that the primary problem facing the country are rooted in an assault on “traditional” American culture . Blame lies, it is said, on the Democratic Party, the broader political left, feminists, LGBTQ+ people, and others who fail to fit rigid views of gender. The far-right wants to assure, through the power of the state, stringent gender roles and social hierarchies, and to punish those who deviate.

The right made some significant inroads after the 2022 midterm election. The result is political and personal, and it affects people everywhere, even in South Carolina.]

The 2022 midterm elections saw the election of a number of hard-right candidates, including some who were elected to South Carolina’s legislature. In SC, these politicians call themselves the “freedom caucus” and attempt to legislate beyond mainstream Republican legislators. 

The midterms also saw the re-election and continued rise to prominence of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose main focus is on “culture war” issues. That is a term used by the right to define a campaign against liberals, African Americans, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and other marginalized populations. DeSantis imposed restrictions on the speech of educators, banning them from including discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in classroom settings. He has barred Medicaid recipients and transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care, and his “Stop WOKE Act” prohibits instruction or training that might make people “feel guilt” or “anguish.” 

In an effort to increase state surveillance of transgender people, DeSantis requested public universities in the state to hand over medical records of students who have sought gender affirming care. 

Now that he has declared himself a presidential candidate, DeSantis has doubled down on his slogan that “We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.” 

Wokeism refers in general to the pursuit of equity. Wokeism encompasses all that the hard right finds objectionable: The pursuit of racial equity, the far-right’s persistent attacks on critical race theory, and equality of people of different genders and sexuality.

Recent years have seen many rights-based political calls to action: the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, an increasingly more active trans rights movement, and others. There’s also been a reactionary backlash driven by the far-right’s attempts to convince the public that masculinity-that is, the social and cultural supremacy of men—is under dire threat, that the masculine spirit is under assault. Right-wing leaders argue that hierarchies are natural and necessary for society to function and that men are the victims of a left-wing culture war. 

Fox News constantly preaches that “America has a masculinity crisis brought on by the radical left” and even aired a so-called “documentary” called “The End of Men.” Apparently, with enemies everywhere— all conspiring to break men down by denying them the chance to fulfill their natural role as patriarchs. The presidency of Donald Trump, with flagrant misogyny and racism, came on the back of the failed War on Terror, the election of the country’s first Black president, and multiple recessions—all events that could easily ignite right-wing extremist movements. Gun manufacturing profits have soared as the industry preyed on young men’s insecurities, successfully marketing assault rifles.

There has also been a surge in militant extremist organizations such as the Proud Boys. Formed in 2016 and open only to cisgender men, the Proud Boys have become the largest and most active hate group in the United States. Their brand of masculinity asserts that men should be dominant in all parts of society; a man’s job is to protect women; and he must be willing to engage in violence to protect the patriarchal order. Women are fundamentally meant to be mothers and caretakers and nothing more. In the past, extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan relegated women to supporting roles in their organization, but many of today’s extremist groups see no role for them at all.

Next month: A look at White Christian Nationalism in shaping far-right extremism in our country.

Sources: The Post and Courier, the Southern Poverty Law Center

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