What are the Armed Citizens Militias?

> The Armed Citizens Militias were a set of loosely affiliated armed Patriot Movement participants who emerged in the mid 1990s in the United States ~~~

Adapted from Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

The militias are a vigilante force and, like many before them throughout
U.S. history, militia members saw themselves as heroes-defending God
and country, kith and kin, hearth and home, family and faith. That these
were clichés only made the force of the narrative more familiar
and powerful. They compared themselves to the brave Minutemen holding
the line at Lexington Green and Concord Bridge. They spoke of betrayal
in high places and of traitors walking the sacred halls of Congress.
They feared plots, so they made plans.

Adapted from Berlet & Lyons, “Militia Nation,” The Progressive Magazine

This coalescence of the militias out of the patriot movement created a potential for violent assaults against certain targeted scapegoats: federal officials and law-enforcement officers, abortion providers and their pro-choice supporters, environmentalists, people of color, immigrants, welfare recipients, gays and lesbians, and Jews.

Militia-like organizations have existed within the right for many yearsin the form of Ku Klux Klan klaverns, the Order cell (out of Aryan Nations), and the Posse Comitatus. But today’s citizens’ militias, which have sprung up across the country over the last three years, represent a new and ominous development within the U.S. rightwing.

But we need to be very careful that we describe the militia phenomenon accurately. Otherwise, we will not blunt the threat, and we may only aid those in this country who are all too eager to curtail our civil liberties.

The first point to underscore about the militias is that not all militia members are racists and anti-Semites. While some militias clearly have emerged, especially in the Pacific Northwest, from old race-hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nations, and while the grievances of the militia movement as a whole are rooted in white-supremacist and antiSemitic conspiracy theories, many militia members do not appear to be consciously drawn to the militia movement on the strength of these issues. Instead, at least consciously, they focus on blaming a caricature of the government for all the specific topical issues that stick in their craw.

To stereotype every armed militia member as a Nazi terrorist not only increases polarization in an already divided nation; it also lumps together persons with unconscious garden-variety prejudice and the demagogues and professional race-hate organizers.

Similarly, it would be wrong to assume, as some in the media have, that all members of the armed militias are marginal individuals on the fringes of society who have no connection to mainstream politics. In this view, there are always a number of fragile people who are subject to political hysteria. When they snap, they adopt an increasingly paranoid style and make militant and unreasonable demands. But this “crackpot” theory is not an accurate picture of everyone in the militia movement; it dismisses out of hand every political grievance they have, and it denies the social roots of the militia movement.

Nor would it be wise to accept the view of the law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, which see the militia movements as the creation of outside agitators who comprise a crafty core of criminal cadre at the epicenter of the movement. These leaders, the theory goes, use the movement as a front to hide their plans for violent armed revolution. Advocates of this view conclude that widespread bugging and infiltration are needed to penetrate to the core of the movement, expose the criminal cadre, and restore order. The larger movement, they claim, will then collapse without the manipulators to urge them to press their grievances, which were never real to begin with.

The problem with these interpretations is that some of the grievances are real. We need to remember that the growth of the militias is a social byproduct, coming on the heels both of economic hardship and the partial erosion of traditional structures of white male heterosexual privilege. It is at times of economic dislocation and social upheaval that the right has grown dramatically throughout our history. Indeed, the most famous militia movement in the United States, the Ku Klux Klan, arose as a citizens’ militia during the turmoil of Reconstruction.

More Articles

Militia Diary

By Anne Bower

An outline of militia activities and observations provided by a national researcher.

Read More…

Apocalyptic Conspiracy Theories & the Militias

The armed militia movement formed as the militant wing of the patriot movement following the government’s excessive use of force against the Weaver family in Idaho and the Branch Davidians in Texas. Patriots and militia members have an anti-government agenda laced with paranoid-sounding conspiracist theories, many of which echo apocalyptic millenialism of Christian fundamentalists.

Read More…

What is the Tea Party Movement?

Shift in Tea Party Ideology and Frames 2007-2016


Enlarge the graphic

 The U.S. Tea Party Movement began as an elite conservative campaign designed as“astroturfing,” which is a propaganda model that creates the false impression of an actual grassroots movement. The idea, however, gained momentum and swept across the country. The Tea Parties became an actual social movement, and by the autumn of 2009 were beginning to build social movement organizations in most states, and negotiate with the Republican Party over  policy matters.At first much of the energy for organizing the grassroots portion of the movement came from libertarians and supporters of Ron Paul. Over time, participants in the pre-existing Christian Right and Patriot Movements emerged as playing an increasingly significant role in local units and chapters of the Tea Party Movement. They brought into the tea party racial antipathies towards people of color, and opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights. They also brought in a broader range of conspiracy theories than those promulgated by Ron Paul supporters.

 The Christian Right involvement in the Tea Party campaign to gain political power is related to therole of Dominionism, a broad theological tendency that began growing in the 1970s (Barron,1992; Diamond, 1989,1998; Clarkson, 1997; Goldberg, 2006). According to Diamond, ‘the concept that Christians are Biblically mandated to “occupy” all secular institutions has become the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right’ (1989: 138, italics in the original).
When Tea Party activists hold government spending hostage they see themselves as patriots protecting America from financial ruin at the hands of tax-and-spend liberals. Congressional Town Halls ring with polemics charging that President Barack Obama is greasing a slippery slope of big government collectivism that will slurry the nation into an immoral cesspit of totalitarian tyranny.

Signs appear at rallies comparing Obama to both Hitler and Stalin.Within several subcultures of the political right in the United States, such claims are common sense and received wisdom from a long line of authors whose books sit on the shelves of conservatives, economic libertarians, and right-wing Christian evangelicals. These tomes warned of the dangers of collectivists, banksters, the Federal Reserve, and organized labor  bosses. At meetings the debate over dinner centers on who is really behind this awful conspiracy to destroy our nation. Is it the Bilderberg banking group, the Trilateral Commission, the Rockefeller family, the Freemasons and their Illuminati handlers, or the Jews? Since the terror attacks on 9/11/2001 Muslims have been incorporated into some right-wing conspiracy narratives. For some Christians who embrace conspiracism, the devil is in the details, working behind the scenes like a fire-breathing chimera.

Tea Parties & Conspiratorialism

Many of the negative claims about Obama flowing out of the Tea Parties are based on conspiracy theories about subversion and betrayal by political liberals. (Berlet, 2010). Some of these conspiracy theories are recycled from the militia and Patriot movements of the 1990s. Others were originally aimed at George W. Bush from the right, including claims of eroding sovereignty made by right-wing ideologues including Jerome Corsi, Phyllis Schlafly, and Pat Buchanan. For a time, these conspiracy theories were repeated and amplified by Lou Dobbs on CNN before he was terminated (Berlet, 2009). Fox News helps encourage the growth of the Tea Parties whileheaping abuse on critics of the movement.
When Glenn Beck was on Fox News, his program frequently sported conspiracy theories that previously had been circulated by the conspiracist John Birch Society (Zaitchik, 2010). Socialism and National Socialism (Nazism) are portrayed by the Tea Partiers and Town Hallcriers as two sides of the same collectivist and totalitarian coin.
This is the argument found in the best-selling book by Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (2007). According to Goldberg, Today we still live under the fundamentally fascistic economic system established by Wilson and FDR. We do live in an ‘unconscious civilization’ of fascism, albeit of a friendly sort infinitely more benign than that of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, or FDR’s America (2007: 330). This idea traces back to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, (1944).
Read More Here:
This was originally submitted as a conference abstract with the title:
Bad “Banksters” or Capitalism’s Punch Line

It became a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association
Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV, 2011-08-12A revised version appeared in Critical Sociology as: “Collectivists, communists, organized labor bosses, banksters, and subversion:The Tea Parties as a countersubversion panic”

Tea Party Nationalism study by Burghart & Zeskind for NAACP

Significant Recent Critical Essays

Chip Berlet’s Series on the Tea Bag Movement & Right-Wing Populism

Video & Audio Resources

More Details About the Tea Parties

What is the Patriot Movement?


What is the Patriot Movement?

Adapted from Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

The Patriot movement is bracketed on the reformist side by the John Birch Society and the conspiracist segment of the Christian Right, and on the insurgent side by groups promoting themes historically associated with White supremacy and antisemitism. A variety of preexisting far-right vigilante groups (including Christian Identity adherents and outright neonazi groups) were influential in helping to organize the broader Patriot movement. The Patriot movement, however, drew recruits from several preexisting movements and networks:

  • Militant right-wing gun rights advocates, antitax protesters, survivalists, and far-right libertarians.
  • Christian Patriots, and other persons promoting a variety of pseudo-legal “constitutionalist” theories.
  • Advocates of “sovereign” citizenship, “freeman” status, and other arguments rooted in a distorted analysis of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments, including those persons who argue that a different or second-class form of citizenship is granted to African Americans through these amendments.
  • White racist, antisemitic, or neonazi movement, such as the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, and Christian Identity.
  • The confrontational wing of the antiabortion movement.
  • Apocalyptic millennialists, including those Christians who believed the period of the “End Times” had arrived and they were facing the Mark of the Beast, which could be hidden in supermarket bar codes, proposed paper currency designs, implantable computer microchips, Internet websites, or e-mail.
  • The dominion theology sector of the Christian evangelical right, especially its most militant and doctrinaire branch, Christian Reconstructionism.
  • The most militant wings of the antienvironmentalist “Wise Use” movement, county supremacy movement, state sovereignty movement, states’ rights movement, and Tenth Amendment movement.

Multiple themes intersected in the Patriot movement: government abuse of power; fears about globalism and sovereignty; economic distress (real, relative, and anticipated); apocalyptic fears of conspiracy and tyranny from above; male identity crisis, backlash against the social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and more.

The Patriot movement, using conspiracist and producerist rhetoric, identified numerous scapegoats. Each unit, and in some cases each member, could pick and choose from the following list:

  • Federal officials and law enforcement officers;
  • Jewish institutions;
  • Abortion providers and pro-choice supporters;
  • Environmentalists and conservation activists;
  • Gay and lesbian rights organizers; and
  • People of color, immigrants, and welfare recipients.

The contemporary Patriot Movement began to emerge during the G.H. W. Bush administration and continued to grow under the Clinton administration. Both presidents were seen as liberal globalists in the eyes of the Patriot movement.




Patriot Constitutionalists & Freeman

Adapted from Berlet & Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

Throughout the late 1990s the Patriot and armed militia movements overlapped
with a resurgent states’ rights movement and a new “county supremacy” movement.
There was rapid growth of illegal so-called constitutionalist common-law
courts, set up by persons claiming a nonexistent “sovereign” citizenship.

These courts claimed jurisdiction over legal matters on the county or
state level and dismissed the U.S. judicial system as corrupt and unconstitutional.
Constitutionalist legal theory created a two-tiered concept of citizenship
in which White people have a superior “natural law” or “sovereign” citizenship.

The most doctrinaire constitutionalists argue that only the original
U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) are valid
and legally binding, all later amendments are not. Put into effect, this
would relegalize slavery, abolish women’s right to vote, rescind the
right of citizenship now guaranteed to all persons born in the United
States, and allow state governments to ignore the Bill of Rights itself.
Amazingly, many supporters of constitutionalism seem oblivious to the
racism and sexism inherent in this construct.

The most publicized incident involving common-law ideology was the 1996
standoff involving the Montana Freemen, who combined Christian Identity,
bogus common law legal theories, “debt-money” theories that reject the
legality of the Federal Reserve system, and apocalyptic expectation.

In another incident, three men suspected of shooting a law enforcement
officer while attempting to steal a water truck in Colorado in 1998 had
talked to friends about the coming collapse of society, using Patriot-style
rhetoric. Two of them reportedly attended meetings of a local Patriot

Many of the fears over declining sovereignty and imminent tyranny
were linked to the idea that “the UN is a critical cornerstone of the
New World Order,” as one Birch Society publication put it. Opposing the
collectivist menace of global government, militia groups invoked metaphors
from libertarianism, conspiracist anticommunism, and apocalyptic millennialism.

Constitutionalists carry forward the theories of the Posse Comitatus, an armed underground movement that peaked in the 1980s. Many Christian Identity groups also adopt Constitutionalist theories, such as the Aryan Nations and the Weaver Family. The Constitutionalist movement takes the basic themes of the States’ Rights Movement which opposed integration in the 1960s and wraps them in even more vivid and aggressively apocalyptic conspiracy theories. While some Constitutionalists appear unaware of or deny the White supremacist roots and branches of the movement, others are consciously racist, and some propose the eradication of people of color and Jews.



State Citizenship:
Patriot Ties To White Supremacists And Neo-Nazis

By Tom Burghardt, Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights



[i] Stern, Force Upon the Plain; Lamy, Millennium Rage.

Trump’s Demagoguery Threatens Democracy Itself

Now is the time for blunt talk. Donald Trump is a dangerous demagogue generating “scripted violence.” Trumpism threatens not just the First Amendment but democracy itself. I call him a right-wing populist using fascistic rhetoric to target scapegoated groups. Other journalists and scholars have dubbed him a fascist or a totalitarian. But we all smell the stench of the burning bodies.

So let us have our terminological debates, but setting aside all intellectual disagreements, as citizens of an increasingly unfree society, we must stand up and speak out.The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, and that includes the right to call religion ridiculous. It protects devout Roman Catholics and those in the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster–even those who sometimes wear colanders as hats. At Talk to Action, where this essay was first posted, we are nonpartisan, welcome respectful contributions discussing human, civil, and constitutional rights, and find debates between theists and atheists annoying (no trolls blasting either are allowed). Democracy is what we cherish…and it is in trouble.

Some early studies of prejudice, demonization, and scapegoating treated the processes as marginal to “mainstream” society and an indication of an individual pathological psychological disturbance. More recent social science demonstrates that demonization is a habit found across various sectors of society among people who are no more prone to mental illness than the rest of society.Philosopher Hannah Arendt taught us that ordinary people can become willing–even eager–participants in brutality and mass murder justified by demonization of scapegoated groups in a society

Lawrence L. Langer raises this as a troubling issue regarding the Nazi genocide:

“The widespread absence of remorse among the accused in postwar trials indicates that we may need…to accept the possibility of a regimen of behavior that simply dismisses conscience as an operative moral factor. The notion of the power to kill, or to authorize killing of others, as a personally fulfilling activity is not appealing to our civilized sensibilities; even more threatening is the idea that this is not necessarily a pathological condition, but an expression of impulses as native to ourselves as love and compassion.”

A troubling concept–that some of us who helped jumpstart this website have discussed for decades–is that when most people in a society realize that a fascist movement might actually seize state power, it is too late to stop it. So let us act now: as Republicans, Democrats, Independents and the folks who think voting just encourages a corrupt system. As people of faith, the spiritual, the agnostic, and those who think that God is Dead because she doesn’t exist. We are all in the same lifeboat here. Grab an oar.

Facing History and Ourselves reminds us of the “Fragility of Democracy” in a series of essays by Professor Paul Bookbinder, an international expert on the Weimar Republic in Germany in the period just before that nation collapsed into the inferno of Nazi rule and genocide. No, we do not face a crisis like that faced by the German people in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet as Bookbinder observes, there were moments when Hitler’s thugs could have been stopped.

In her small yet powerful book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt concluded that evil was banal, and that if there was one clear universal truth, it is that ordinary people have a moral obligation to not look away from individual or institutional acts of cruelty or oppression. We recognize the processes that lead from words to violence, they are well-studied, and the theories and proofs are readily available. Silence is consent. Denial is complicity with evil.

The Rhetoric of Donald Trump

The authors whose works are listed here do not necessarily endorse or even agree with the material elsewhere on this website.

Lauren Carroll, “In Context: Donald Trump’s comments on a database of American Muslims, November 24th, 2015, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2015/nov/24/donald-trumps-comments-database-american-muslims/.

Affan Chowdhry, “Trump leads in polls despite gaffes,” The Globe and Mail, July 15, 2015. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/trump-leads-in-republican-race-despite-gaffes/article25516246/.

CNN, [Donald Trump Confrontation with “Black Lives Matter” Protestor]  http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/22/politics/donald-trump-black-lives-matter-protester-confrontation/

The Guardian,New York Times slams ‘outrageous’ Donald Trump for mocking reporter’s disability,” November 26, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/26/new-york-times-outrageous-donald-trump-mocking-reporter-disability.

Edward Helmore and Ben Jacobs, “Donald Trump’s ‘sexist’ attack on TV debate presenter sparks outrage,” August 8, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/09/megyn-kelly-donald-trump-winner-republican-debate.

Jenna Johnson and Mary Jordan, “Trump on rally protester: ‘Maybe he should have been roughed up’,” November 22, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2015/11/22/black-activist-punched-at-donald-trump-rally-in-birmingham/.

Shaun King, “King: Donald Trump shows he’ll do anything to appeal to his racist supporters,” New York Daily News, (updated) November 22, 2015. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/king-trump-hits-new-racist-tweet-article-1.2443413

David Leopold, “The shocking reality of Donald Trump’s plan to deport millions, MSNBC, 09/15/15. http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/donald-trump-shocking-reality-deportation-plan

David Mark and Jeremy Diamond, “Trump: ‘I want surveillance of certain mosques’” CNN: Politics, November 21, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/21/politics/trump-muslims-surveillance/index.html

Cas Mudde, “The Trump phenomenon and the European populist radical right,” Washington Post, 8/26/15. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/08/26/the-trump-phenomenon-and-the-european-populist-radical-right/ .

Evan Osnos, “The Fearful and the Frustrated: Donald Trump’s nationalist coalition takes shape—for now, The New Yorker, “The Political Scene,” August 31, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/31/the-fearful-and-the-frustrated.

Rick Perlstein, “Donald Trump and the ‘F-Word’: An unsettling symbiosis between man and mob,” Washington Spectator, September 30, 2015. http://washingtonspectator.org/donald-trump-and-the-f-word/

Robert Reich, “Why Hate Speech by Presidential Candidates is Despicable,” November 29, 2015 http://robertreich.org/post/134235925280.

Adele M. Stan. 2015, “A Nation of Sociopaths? What the Trump Phenomenon Says About America,” American Prospect, September 9, 2015. http://prospect.org/article/nation-sociopaths-what-trump-phenomenon-says-about-america.

Jason Stanley “Democracy and the Demagogue, Opinionator – A Gathering of Opinion from Around the Web, The Stone, October 12, 2015, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/12/democracy-and-the-demagogue/http:/opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/12/democracy-and-the-demagogue/

Washington Post, “Fact Checker” column, July 8, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/.


Matthew N. Lyons and I defined the term in our book Right-Wing Populism in America:

===Populism is a way of mobilizing “the people” into a social or political movement around some form of anti-elitism. Populist movements can occur on the right, the left, or in the center. They can be egalitarian or authoritarian, inclusive or exclusionary, forward-looking or fixated on a romanticized image of the past. They can either challenge or reinforce systems of oppression, depending on how “the people” are defined.[i]

[i] Chip Berlet and Matthew Nemiroff Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort (New York: Guilford Press, 2000) http://www.rightwingpopulism.us/.


Resources on Trump’s Voter Base

The Trump Collection Landing Pages:

White people who are (or fear they are, or fear they soon will  be) downwardly mobile–so race and class issues–but cross-reference to the hetero-patriarchal “Free Market” Calvinists in the Christian Right — 15% of voters in Presidential elections. Intersecting with anti-Muslim/anti-Mexican xenophobes. A toxic brew.

Doug Brugge

January 1 ·2016

At least glance at the two maps that compare Trump support with racially charged internet searches. Pretty amazing correlation in my opinion. And the analysis…

See More

Donald Trump’s Strongest Supporters: A Certain Kind of Democrat

In a survey, he also excels among low-turnout voters and among the less affluent and the less educated, so the question is: Will they show up to vote?


A Berkeley professor tries to explain Trump to labor in Hartford https://t.co/u2piaE3Zc4 via @ctmirror

Unpacking Trumpism in the context of American history
https://t.co/x2XSQmtSFy via @HuffPostBlog

Republican Primary Voters Over 91% White, Older:
Posted by Arbiter Staff Writers

Who Are Donald Trump’s Supporters, Really?
Four theories to explain the front-runner’s rise to the top of the polls.
Derek Thompson, March 1, 2016, The Atlantic

Who Are Trump’s Supporters?
By David W. Brady & Douglas Rivers,September 09, 2015,
Real Clear Politics

The Media Myth of the Working-Class Reagan Democrats
by Neal Gabler, May 6, 2016, Moyers & Company
The numbers don’t lie. The notion that angry blue collar voters could sway the election just may not be true.

Pundits Will Pay No Price for Being Arrogantly Wrong About Trump
By Janine Jackson, May 6, 2016, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

Why do Tea/Trumpists Feel Angry

‘Trumping’ Democracy:
Right-Wing Populism, Fascism, and the Case for Action
by Chip Berlet


Folks who support the Tea Party and other right-wing populist movements are responding to rhetoric that honors them as the bedrock of American society. These are primarily middle class and working class White people with a deep sense of patriotism who bought into the American dream of upward mobility.46 Now they feel betrayed. Trump and his Republican allies appeal to their emotions by naming scapegoats to blame for their sense of being displaced by “outsiders” and abandoned by their government.

Emotions matter in building social movements. The linkage of emotion and politics are at the heart of a forthcoming book by University of California, Berkeley, sociologist and author Arlie Hochschild.

In it, Hochschild reports on many conversations with Tea Party members in the South, where the movement is strongest.47 Many she spoke with long doubted that Obama was American; even after the publication of his long-form birth certificate some still suspect that he is Muslim and harbors ill will toward America. Hochschild also observes that this set of beliefs was widely shared among people who otherwise seemed reasonable, friendly, and accepting. How she wondered, could we explain this?

Her premise is that all political belief:

is undergirded by emotion. Given the experiences we’ve undergone, we have deep feelings. These shape our “deep story.” And this is an allegorical, collectively shared, “honor-focused,” narrative storyline about what “feels true.” We take fact out of it, judgment out of it. A “deep story” says what happened to us from the point of view of how we feel about it.

The “deep story” of the Tea Party is that the American Dream has leveled off. Ninety percent of Americans between 1980 and 2012 received no rise in salary while dividends from a rising GDP rose dramatically for the top 10 percent.

Arlie Hochschild:

October 26, 2015, resources, an analysis, and abstract of the Hochschild talk, by Jonathan G. Haney.

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Right-Wing Populism:
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Just in Case: Progressive Security and Safety: Threats from Right-Wing fanatics spurred on by demagogic political rhetoric have turned into isolated acts of violence against progressives. Pick up your self-defense homework here.

Donald Trump, Nasty Rhetoric, and Scripted Violence

by Chip Berlet

Adapted from my published scholarly study:
“Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill:
How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence,”

New Preface, December 2015

Trump is ratcheting up his xenophobia while making the “liberal” press his adversary. As he works to gain votes, he is throwing Muslims, Mexicans, and other scapegoats to the wolves.

Demagogic rhetoric targeting unpopular groups of people can incite violence. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump can claim he never told his followers to hurt anyone, and perhaps avoid legal consequences, but Trump is morally responsible. His nasty vilification produces “scripted violence.” The victims of Trumps rhetoric are piling up. The term “incited violence” also describes this process that draws from the media studies concept of “constitutive rhetoric.” Incitement to violence also has legal ramifications.

Last August the Washington Post in an editorial warned that “Mr. Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric breeds violence.”[1] In a column, Robert Reich collected a long list of violence in the path of Republican bigoted blustering. Those that commit bigoted violence “often take their cues from what they hear in the media” wrote Reich in November following the murderous attack on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.[2] Reich said “the recent inclination of some politicians to use inflammatory rhetoric is contributing to a climate” in which violence against targeted groups is real.

While Trump is a right-wing populist, his rhetoric recalls that of Hitler’s murderous German Nazism; while his demeanor is like a Saturday Night Live sketch of Benito Mussolini and his Italian Fascism.

Writing about Trump’s nasty rhetoric, and the alarming welcome it has found during the Republican pre-primary media blitz, American Prospect journalist Adele Stan put it bluntly:

===What Trump is doing, via the media circus of which he has appointed himself ringmaster, is making the articulation of the basest bigotry acceptable in mainstream outlets, amplifying the many oppressive tropes and stereotypes of race and gender that already exist in more than adequate abundance.[3]

And it is not just Trump. Some of the other Republican hopefuls closer to the Christian Right also demonize gay people and feminists, and excoriate defenders of reproductive rights. One militant slogan is “If abortion is murder, then act like it is.”

Excerpt from Published Study

How does the process of scripted violence work? The leaders of organized political or social movements sometimes tell their followers that a specific group of ‘Others’ is plotting to destroy civilized society. History tells us that if this message is repeated vividly enough, loudly enough, often enough, and long enough—it is only a matter of time before the bodies from the named scapegoated groups start to turn up. Social science since World War II and the Nazi genocide has shown that under specific conditions, virulent demonization and scapegoating can—and does—create milieus in which the potential for violence is increased. What social science cannot do is predict which individual upon hearing the rhetoric of clear or coded incitement and turn to violence.

In their study of how media manipulation for political ends can help incite genocide, Frohardt and Temin looked at ‘content intended to instill fear in a population’, or ‘intended to create a sense among the population that conflict is inevitable’. [4] They point out that ‘media content helps shape an individual’s view of the world and helps form the lens through which all issues are viewed’.

Frohardt and Temin found that media can create a sense within a target population of potential perpetrators of violence that ‘imminent’ and serious threats were to be expected, even though ‘there was only flimsy evidence provided to support them’,

===When such reporting creates widespread fear, people are more amenable to the notion of taking preemptive action, which is how the actions later taken were characterized. Media were used to make people believe that ‘we must strike first in order to save ourselves’. By creating fear the foundation for taking violent action through ‘self-defense’ is laid.

In approaching some of these questions social science uses the concepts of ‘constitutive rhetoric’; the vilification, demonization, and scapegoating of a named ‘Other’; coded rhetorical incitement by demagogues; the relationship between conspiracism and apocalyptic aggression; and the process of scripted violence by which a leader need not directly exhort violence to create a constituency that hears a call to take action against the named enemy. These processes can and do motivate some individuals to adopt a ‘superhero complex’ which justifies their pre-emptive acts of violence or terrorism to ‘save society’ from imminent threats by named enemies ‘before it is too late’.

can see conspiracy theories built around fears of liberal subversion by President Obama;[8] fears of government attempts to merge the United States, Canada, and Mexico into a North American Union; [9]and fears that Muslims living in the United States are plotting treachery and terrorism.[10]

Conspiracism evolves as a worldview from roots in dualistic forms of apocalypticism. Fenster argues that persons who embrace conspiracy theories are simply trying to understand how power is exercised in a society that they feel they have no control over. Often they have real grievances with the society—sometimes legitimate—sometimes seeking to defend unfair power and privilege. [5] Nonetheless, Conspiracism can appear as a particular narrative form of scapegoating that frames demonized enemies as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good, while it valorizes the scapegoater as a hero for sounding the alarm. [6]

If we assemble the ingredients and processes, we arrive at the following list which traces the linkages from words to violence:

  • Pre-existing prejudice or tensions in the society that can be tapped into.
  • Intensity of the vilifying language, its distribution to a wide audience, and repetition of message.
  • Dualistic division: The world is divided into a good ‘Us’ and a bad ‘Them’.
  • Respected status of speaker or writer, at least within the target audience. A constituency is molded.
  • Vilification and Demonizing rhetoric: Our opponents are dangerous, subversive, probably evil, maybe even subhuman.
  • Targeting scapegoats: ‘They’ are causing all our troubles—we are blameless.
  • The employment of conspiracy theories about the ‘Other’.
  • Apocalyptic aggression: Time is running out, and we must act immediately to stave off a cataclysmic event.
  • Violence against the named scapegoats by self-invented Superheroes.

Levin persuasively argues that both culture and self-interest shape prejudiced ideas and acts of discrimination or violence, which are ‘in many cases, quite rational’. According to Levin, respect for ‘differences can be so costly in a psychologically and material sense that it may actually require rebellious or deviant behavior’, in contrast to the existing norms of a society. Attacking the “Other” turns out to be a common human failing.

While scholarly research exists on its own intellectual merits, we need to recognize that helping unravel the complexity of bigotry and xenophobia assists those working to extend human rights.

Hannah Arendt, in Eichmann in Jerusalem concluded that evil was banal, and that if there was one clear universal truth, it is that ordinary people have a moral obligation to not look away from individual or institutional acts of cruelty or oppression. We recognize the processes that lead from words to violence, they are well-studied, and the theories and proofs are readily available. Silence is consent. Denial is simply evil.

Revised and expanded from my scholarly chapter “Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill: How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence,” in Matthew Feldman and Paul Jackson (eds), Doublespeak: Rhetoric of the Far-Right Since 1945, Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2014.

Full Text Now Online Here at Academia.edu


[1] Washington Post Editorial Board, “Mr. Trump’s immigrant-bashing rhetoric breeds violence,” August 21, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mr-trumps-politics-of-incitement/2015/08/21/c33d0f2e-483d-11e5-8ab4-c73967a143d3_story.html

[2] Robert Reich, “Why Hate Speech by Presidential Candidates is Despicable,” November 29, 2015 http://robertreich.org/post/134235925280

[3] Adele M. Stan. 2015, “A Nation of Sociopaths? What the Trump Phenomenon Says About America,” American Prospect, September 9, 2015. http://prospect.org/article/nation-sociopaths-what-trump-phenomenon-says-about-america.

[4] Mark Frohardt and Jonathan Temin, Use and Abuse of Media in Vulnerable Societies, Special Report 110, Washington, DC, United States Institute of Peace. October 2003, http://permanent. access. gpo. gov/websites/usip/www. usip. org/pubs/specialreports/sr110.pdf, (accessed 26/9/2012). Although an excellent study, the report is flawed by the failure to include a single footnote. See also Kofi A. Annan, Allan Thompson, and International Development Research Centre of Canada, The Media and the Rwanda Genocide (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2007).

[5] Mark Fenster, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1999).

[6] Berlet and Lyons, RightWing Populism, p. 9.

[7] Chip Berlet ‘Protocols to the Left’.

[8] Chip Berlet, “Collectivists, Communists, Labor Bosses, and Treason: The Tea Parties as Right–Wing Populist Countersubversion Panic’, in Critical Sociology, July 2012; 38 (4) pp. 565-587; Berlet, ‘Reframing Populist Resentments in the Tea Party Movement.’.

[9] Berlet, ‘Fears of Fédéralisme in the United States’.

[10] Brigitte Nacos and Oscar Torres-Reyna, Fueling Our Fears: Stereotyping, Media Coverage, and Public Opinion of Muslim Americans (Lanham, MD: Rowman& Littlefield, 2007); Center for Race & Gender and Council on American-Islamic Relations, Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States; January 2009—December 2010 (Berkeley: University of California, Center for Race & Gender, and Washington, DC: Council on American-Islamic Relations, 2011).

[11] Hofstadter, ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics.’

[12] Ibid., p. 4.

[13] Ibid., emphasis in the original.

[14] Thompson, The End of Time, pp. 307–308.

Scripted Violence

“Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill: How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence,”

Extracted from: Chip Berlet. 2014. “Heroes Know Which Villains to Kill: How Coded Rhetoric Incites Scripted Violence,” in Matthew Feldman and Paul Jackson (eds), Doublespeak: Rhetoric of the Far-Right Since 1945, Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag.

Online at: https://www.academia.edu/26640115/