Recently making the rounds among conservative news outlets, a Department of Defense manual obtained by Judicial Watch was widely reported for labeling conservatives and the “Founding Fathers” “extremist” as part of a training course for military personnel. What they have missed in that manual is a much broader and much more important, although unwitting, critique. It is less partisan and hits home pretty hard.
At issue in most cases was the document’s claim that “In U.S. history, there are many examples of extremist ideologies and movements. The colonists who sought to free themselves from British rule and the Confederate states who sought to secede from the Northern states are just two examples.”
Then, most made a point to include the following scary statement about modern “extremists”: “Nowadays, instead of dressing in sheets or publically espousing hate messages, many extremists will talk of individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place.”
Both of these statement appear in the original excerpted report by Judicial Watch. Most of the multiple conservative outlets that reported on the incident included these two statements and little more, which leads me to question whether or not they actually read much of the document itself or not. RT.com appears to have done so, but doesn’t much change the angle.
BizPacReview notes the startling paucity of reference to Islamic extremism—apart from one note on 9/11. This is a legitimate gripe.
That site also relates Judicial Watch’s observation that the DoD manual lists the Southern Poverty Law Center as a source for its facts. That’s also a legitimate gripe—if there were nothing to balance it.
BizPacReview also has the courage to admit that our Founders were, indeed, extremist to some degree. I mean, “give me liberty or give me death” has to be considered extreme by some measure, especially in a world in which individual liberty and limited representative government were essentially a novelty—i.e. outside the historical mainstream.
And that kind of observation is what made my reading of the manual a bit different than that of so many conservative outlets—so much so that I think they’re being a bit reactionary.
I am not defending the document per se, but no one seems to have noticed that its working definitions of “extremism” is inherently conservative:
All nations have an ideology, something in which they believe. When a political ideology falls outside the norms of a society, it is known as extremism.
Conservatism historically has been the doctrine of maintaining the status quo: that is, don’t push anything outside the norms of society. There is more nuance to it, of course, but the essays of Russell Kirk comport with this idea in general:
In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. . . . A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers.
Kirk quoted Abe Lincoln approvingly: “What is conservatism? Is it not preference for the old and tried, over the new and untried?”
Against this value, the DoD defines extremism as “A term used to describe the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups who take a political idea to its limits, regardless of unfortunate repercussions, and show intolerance toward all views other than their own.”
Toward such an end, the “extremist” is “A person who advocates the use of force or violence; . . . or otherwise engages to illegally deprive individuals or groups of their civil rights.”
The document does make that sideways (and largely inaccurate) reference to the American colonists in this regard, but mainly focuses on racist groups, neo-nazis, skinheads, etc., including black separatist groups, some of which are “strongly anti-White and anti-Semitic, and a number of religious versions assert that Blacks are the Biblical ‘chosen people’ of God.” I believe the latter is a clear reference to the Nation of Islam.
But what about that reference to those supporting “individual liberties.” Surely this is liberal biased activism. Perhaps, but let’s note, first, that it’s not even as strong a denouncement against those supporting individual liberties as some RINOs, neoconservatives, and even many Tea Partiers hurled against Liberty Movement supporters during the 2012 primaries (and still today).
But more importantly, the apparent suggestion of many of the news sites is based on poor logic. “Nowadays, instead of dressing in sheets or publically espousing hate messages, many extremists will talk of individual liberties, states’ rights, and how to make the world a better place.” This statement is not saying “Those who talk of individual liberties, etc., are extremists.” It is saying that extremists like to cloak their extremism under the guise of more legitimate discussions. They want to appear innocuous and legitimate. But beneath the façade is some form of hate.
As a proponent of a belief often considered radical—theonomy, or Christian Reconstruction—I can assure you this assertion is indeed factual. Many groups that would be considered unacceptably extremist try to present themselves as nothing more than “consistent” members of Christian Reconstruction. They are in reality racists, etc.
As a matter of fact, many mainstream Reformed people would accuse us theonomists of such practice. But that’s another apologetic for another day. Suffice it to say it’s neither true nor equitable.
Back to the point, what no one seemed to gather from the DoD manual is that its broad and naïve presentation against hate and extremism actually includes sweeping categories that subsume nearly everyone. Consider the following “Extremist Traits” (I’ll save the best for last):
Extremists often attack the character of an opponent rather than deal with the facts or issues raised. They will question motives, qualifications, past associations, alleged values, personality, looks, and mental health as a diversion from the issues under consideration.
This describes virtually every political debate that has ever taken place at any level.
Extremists are quick to resort to taunts (e.g., pervert, racist, and crackpot) to label and condemn opponents and to divert others from listening to their arguments.
Again, every political attack ad and more that you can imagine—including the SPLC and this very manual itself! After all, what is it to define and label certain ideological groups as “hate” or “extremist”? The manual either condemns itself outright, or establishes the fact that some such labeling is appropriate.
Extremists feel that their opponents hold differing views because they are bad, immoral, dishonest, hateful, cruel, prejudiced, etc. and not merely because they simply disagree, see matters differently, or are mistaken.
Again, this describes every political debate imaginable, just about, including this manual. It applies even more broadly to many other discussions, inter-party and intra-party. Want to end the drug war? It must be because you’re a pothead. Worthless scum. Criticize standing armies? You’re a coward. Like Austrian Economics? You want anarchy, no different than Marxists.
There are other good ones, but here’s my favorite “extremist trait” in the whole manual:
Extremists may deliberately lie or otherwise distort, misquote, slander, defame, or libel their opponents and/or critics; engage in censorship or repression; or undertake violence in special cases. This is done with little or no remorse as long as it is in the service of defeating the Communists, Fascists, or whomever. Defeating an enemy becomes an all-encompassing goal to which other values are subordinate. With extremists, the end justifies the means.
This not only describes political machination in general, it is an open condemnation, if unwitting, of Americanism, American foreign policy, or more generally, crusading empire and police state across the board, without exception. And I mean without exception including in regard to who’s in office.
Think “war on terror.” Think “PATRIOT Act.” Think TSA agent’s hand in your pants. Think NSA surveillance of millions of cell phones, emails, etc. Think drone policy. Think collateral damage. Think soldier suicide rates, and chronic PTSD. As long as it is done to defeat the terrorists.
Think militarization of police. Think “war on drugs.” Think DEA agents blasting doors in drugs raids—often the wrong doors, and sometimes killing innocent people. As long as it is done to defeat the drug dealers. It’s for the kids, you see. We’re “making the world a better place.”
Think more generally. Think of every welfare program and every tax in existence—all done without remorse by those justifying the defeat of poverty, terrorism, crime, discrimination against women, etc., or the promotion of education, health care, old age insurance, disability aid, and countless other goods.
If “ends justifies the means” thinking is indeed an extremist trait, then every politician who ever lived—and nearly every one of their voting constituents—is to that degree extremist. Perhaps a Martin Van Buren or a Grover Cleveland could escape the charge, but there is no way, by such a definition, that George W. Bush or even a Reagan is not an extremist. And Obama? Don’t make me laugh.
And the fact that each and every state policy and program, and all of their proponents, is backed by the state’s threat of force—that is, violence—if a citizen refuses to obey, is a running condemnation of all statism. The fact that these categories are outlined by the Department of Defense is all the more laughably ironic.
The whole document which purports to target fringe groups is in reality an exposé of the state itself, which “advocates the use of force or violence” in order to administrate its policy.
That is what my conservative friends should have noticed and reported. That is precisely what they missed. And that remiss is precisely the norm of society which we should find most objectionable.