The Rise of the Alt-Right – Why Now?

alt right

This blog first appeared on Wicked-solutions.blog.

For many Americans, the rise of the alt-right is distressing. We are not accustomed to white supremacists marching down our streets, advocating for the preservation of “white identity.” So, why is it happening now?

There are a lot of reasons actually. Here are four.

Let’s start with the reason that gets discussed most often in the news — We have a president who has not condemned white supremacy.It’s true. Donald Trump’s unwillingness to distance himself from extreme racism, even after the firing of Steve Bannon, matters. Presidents set the national tone and send signals to groups of all political stripes regarding what is acceptable and what is not. While some might argue that Trump hasn’t exactly supported groups touting this far-right ideology, he hasn’t disavowed them either. Social science research, including my own, finds that silence matters. In fact, if silence is the primary response by a politician or interest group, it often is interpreted as support for a cause.

Groups promoting “white identity” have been organizing online for decades and waiting for their moment to act. Forums promoting white identity such as Stormfront literally attract millions of people, hundreds of thousands of whom register and share their racist points of view. If you navigate to the forum, you will see hundreds of ongoing discussions. The most popular of which feature the “crimes” of ethnic minorities, Muslims, and Jews. Anyone can read the public conversations, and those who have accounts can post and eventually participate in private forums, where they can discuss issues and plan actions with other true believers outside the view of the public. Stormfront is the biggest, but far from the only, forum promoting racist ideologies and actions.

White supremacists and other hate groups have been testing the boundaries of their free speech and right to organize for decades – and have repeatedly won. Westboro Baptist Church is a good example in this regard. Since 1991, the group has organized 60,683 demonstrations outside of everything from military funerals to community theatre productions. The church argues that America is being punished for its support of homosexuality. In their view, the deaths of military personnel and civilians in church shootings are proof of “God’s wrath” on this point. Westboro Baptist churchgoers travel around the country, waving upsetting signs, and chanting about God’s wrath. The church sues anyone who tries to prevent them from sharing their point of view. In 1995,the group won more than $100,000 in a lawsuit opposing the Kansas Funeral Picketing Act, successfully arguing it violated its First Amendment Rights. More recently, Albert Snyder, father of a deceased marine, paid the church $16,510 after unsuccessful litigation. Snyder sued the church in hopes of stopping the funeral protests. He lost and, eventually, the Supreme Court weighed in on the case, determining that the churchgoers’ speech was protected. These tests take place at the state level as well. Just last year the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan sued the state of Georgia for not allowing the group to participate in the adopt-a-highway program – and won.

Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the Republican and Democratic Parties and are turning to (extreme) groups in order to affect change. Donald Trump’s win, among other things, illustrated just how fed up many citizens are with career politicians and American politics. Many Americans do not feel like the political system works on their behalf and they have tried different ways of expressing discontent and affecting change. The Tea Party Movement represented one attempt to change the Republican Party – and it succeeded to some extent. There are certainly still politicians in office, such as Rand Paul, who uphold many of the Tea Party values, particularly as they relate to smaller government. Institutional change, however, is slow and difficult, and some citizens are tired of waiting. Extreme ideologies – such as those represented by the alt-right and antifa – promise action, and, in the case of the alt-right, political influence.

The question I get asked a lot is: How long until the alt-right disappears?

It is not an easy question to answer because, as I noted before, extreme points of view and people who buy into them never completely disappear. I can tell you that there are a lot of organizations that are grouped under the alt-right and they are not working together nearly as closely together as pundits and media outlets let on. To get a good sense of the groups that are currently lumped into the alt-right category check out the Southern Poverty Law Center, which lists and summarizes far-right groups and their ideologies. Some of these differences are highlighted below in a chart made by Quartz. Notice that these different groups broadly share hatred for Non-whites, Blacks, and Jews, but little else.

quartz_hategroups-1

Why does this matter?

Because coalitions, particularly ones where diverse groups don’t have a lot in common, are difficult to sustain. Sure, these groups are currently united in their general hostility toward racial and ethnic minorities- and their right to share their concerns over an increasingly diverse country. But, as with other movements, these groups will find that more divides them then binds them together. Factions will rise and the loose coalition of groups will fall.

Dr. rohlinger.jpg  Deana A. Rohlinger is a Professor of Sociology and a Research Associate in the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy. Rohlinger studies social movements, political participation, and mass media. Her new book, Digital Media and American Society, will be published in spring 2018.

Feature picture taken by Fibonacci Blue and posted on Flickr.

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Why the #MeToo Campaign Matters

This post originally appeared on Wicked Problems, Wicked Solutions

The #MeToo hashtag is everywhere. You are hard pressed to go on Facebook, Twitter, or virtually any news outlet without seeing or hearing a reference to this recent campaign.

Just in case you are unfamiliar with the backstory, the #MeToo hashtag actually started 10 years ago by activist Tarana Burke, who started the campaign as a way to link survivors of sexual assault. The campaign when viral, however,  when actress Alyssa Milano posted the following:

Milano TweetThe #MeToo hashtag spread like wildfire, jumping from Twitter to Facebook and Instagram. Hundreds of thousands of women (and men) have shared their stories over the last several days.

What does this have to do with public policy?

A lot.

Changes in public policy, especially meaningful changes like those associated with civil rights, never happen in a vacuum. In fact, they largely reflect shifts in the culture. This is why elected officials (and court judges) watch reputable public opinion polls so carefully. Polls are, quite literally, a reflection of the citizenry’s collective mood on an issue. We’ve seen this most recently with same sex marriage. The Gallup Poll below shows the support for same sex marriage over time. Notice that public opinion shifts in support of same sex marriage in 2010. It is not a coincidence that between 2010 and 2015 (the year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right of same sex couples to marry) 11 states passed same sex marriage laws (either via the state legislature or through a popular vote) and many more state courts had ruled in favor of same sex marriage. It also is not a coincidence that President Obama publicly stated that gay marriage should be legal in his 2012 reelection campaign.

Support for Gay Marriage Chart.png

This shift in public opinion did not happen overnight. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, and Queer (LGBTQ) citizen groups worked very hard to make their experiences – and institutional discrimination – visible to the broader public. Public campaigns such as the It Gets Better Project do not just provide support for LGBTQ individuals, but also share stories about the hardships LGBTQ citizens face.

Changing the hearts and minds of the citizenry require effective public awareness campaigns like the #MeToo campaign.

The #MeToo campaign effectively accomplishes two goals that could help pave the way for policy change over time. First, it puts a face – a face you might know – on the issue of sexual harassment and assault. Personalizing an issue is incredibly important. Rather than simply dismissing sexual harassment and assault as a “Hollywood problem,” we are far more likely to see it a societal problem, which is exactly what it is. Second, sharing stories creates a sense of solidarity among victims. Women, and men, see that they are not alone in their experience and can begin to move beyond the silence that is associated with sexual harassment and assault.

It is easy to forget that finding a voice is an important precursor to political change. The women’s rights movement in the 1960s was reignited, in part, because Betty Friedan sparked an (inter)national conversation about “the problem that has no name.” Women shared their personal stories and found collective strength in their shared discontent. This could easily happen again.

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In The Wake of the Las Vegas Shooting, Republicans Rally to Restrict Women’s Rights

Last week, we suffered the worst shooting in American history. Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. As we would expect, Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House rallied the troops and launched into action. War has been waged on women’s rights.

Given these harsh, political realities, Republicans needed a common cause. An issue around which they could unite. Restricting women’s access to abortion and birth control is that rallying point.

In case you missed it, the House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for instances where the life of the mother is at risk and in cases involving rape or incest. Two days after the bill’s passage, Donald Trump announced that he would roll back the employer contraception requirement. While the bill may not see the Senate floor any time soon, the roll back on contraception is a blow to family planning. Birth control is critical to the prevention of unplanned pregnancy and, until recently, generally had support from politicians on both sides of the aisle. You may remember the Republican-led effort to make certain kinds of birth control available over the counter and the slew of Republicans, including Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (no women’s rights advocate), signing contraceptive coverage laws in their states.

So, what happened?

The Republican Party took power, and the divisions among conservatives became a real problem. It is not an unusual problem. Divisions are common among politicians when their party is in power, particularly among politicians who want their constituents’ continued support. The difference here is that the Republican Party failed on a seven year promise to repeal Obamacare – repeatedly. This public failure is not inconsequential. It undermines constituents’ beliefs that Republicans – or at least establishment Republicans – can get the job done. Roy Moore’s primary victory for the U.S. Senate representing Alabama makes clear that citizens who identify as Republicans continue to take outside-the-beltway candidates with polemic positions and fiery rhetoric seriously. There don’t seem to be many opportunities for Republican unity in the future, not with immigration and tax reform looming around the corner.

Given these harsh, political realities, Republicans needed a common cause. An issue around which they could unite. Restricting women’s access to abortion and birth control is that rallying point.

The social implications of this well-worn rallying point are numerous. One, in particular warrants mentioning additional attention. Pitting women’s rights against employers’ religious beliefs sets a dangerous precedent that American employees are bound to lose. Down the political road, employers could refuse to cover a range of medications and procedure with a claim of “moral convictions,” including something as simple as blood transfusions, which some religions do not allow.

It is heartening to see Democrats and Republicans working together for a change. Gun control legislation is important, particularly when it comes to devices that allow individuals to shoot potentially human targets faster. Women’s rights to prevent and end pregnancy, however, should not be fodder in party politics.

Stop the War on Women

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Mainstream Media and Oppositional Memes in the Digital Age

Check out Mobilizing Idea’s new essay dialogue. Here is my contribution.

Mobilizing Ideas

By Deana Rohlinger

It is an exciting and challenging time for social movements. Internet Communication Technologies (ICTs) have altered the media landscape, turning some of what we know about media-movement interactions on its head.

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From The Daily Beast

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Dysfunctional Politics in the Digital Age

Check out my latest post on Mobilizing Ideas on Dysfunctional Politics in the Digital Age.

Mobilizing Ideas

By Deana Rohlinger

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From Pinterest                                                                         From Propcott

Something has changed in American politics. The chasm between progressives and conservatives has grown and, according to research by Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, Americans have become more tribal in their politics. Americans feel a deep commitment to their ideological positions and a great deal of hostility toward their political opponents. This is bad news for social movements. Progressive and conservative causes, as well as the movements that organize around them, are caught up in this antagonism, making it more difficult than ever to capture the hearts and minds of the citizenry. Political consensus seems to be a thing of the past and reasoned conversations about important political issues virtually extinct.

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Turning the Anti-Abortion Tide

By Deana A Rohlinger The Supreme Court’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling effectively renders unconstitutional abortion restrictions in some two-dozen states, forcing abortion opponents t…

Source: Turning the Anti-Abortion Tide

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Turning the Anti-Abortion Tide

Check out my latest piece in The American Prospect.

For the first time since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton rulings established a constitutional right to an abortion in 1973, pro-life advocates find themselves squarely on the losing side of a watershed legal decision.

The high court’s dramatic 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt upends laws in two-dozen states around the country that have imposed abortion restrictions comparable to those struck by the court on June 27. In a ruling that cemented the importance of its decades-old finding that states may not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions, the Court rejected a Texas law that had mandated that clinics meet the standards of hospitals, and that their personnel have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The Texas requirements had slashed the number of clinics offering abortion in the state by more than half, yet the high court could find “no significant health-related problem that the new law helped to cure” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in the Court’s majority opinion.

“We agree with the District Court that the surgical-center requirement, like the admitting-privileges requirement, provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions, and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so,” Breyer wrote.

With that, the Court changed the contours of the abortion battle, and dropped pro-life advocates into unfamiliar territory. For decades, the pro-choice movement has been on the defensive and losing ground in the abortion war, particularly as Texas and other states rushed to embrace onerous clinic restrictions known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.

Read more here.

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