When faced with horrific behaviour or deeds, how we respond as a society determines whether that horror is perpetuated or mitigated. Some don’t want to think about it, and just want to close their eyes and swing blindly until the evil goes away. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized that response quite candidly, “We do not understand why child predators do the heinous things they do and, in all frankness, we don’t particularly care to.” Karl Rove, on the American side of the equation, said, “Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said, We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said, We must understand our enemies.” Karl Rove was of course attacking the view that understanding one’s enemy is part of an important process to defeat them. The views expressed by Harper and Rove are akin to trying to cure cancer without ever actually learning anything about the disease. As with cancer, this approach will inevitably lead to the perpetuation of horror until it consumes us entirely. When approaching the events of Charlottesville, and the Alt-Right extremists in general, perhaps understanding their radicalization is better in the long term than the simple satisfaction of punching them in the face.

Regarding the American response to Islamic militants, Louise Richardson in her book What Terrorists Want, wrote, “We have believed that the superiority of our values and our systems of government is so self-evident that only the ignorant or the evil could reject it.” The Left has fallen into the same trap. The virtue of feminism is so abundantly clear that anyone who strays from its canon is automatically a misogynist. The righteousness of the Black Lives Matter movement shines so brightly that anyone who questions them is a racist. Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” is no different from Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” When we force a dichotomy of good versus evil, we fall into dogmatic religious absolutism: our moral high ground is all the evidence we need that our opponents are in league with Satan, metaphorically or literally, depending on your point of view. What this means is that we must abandon this illusory dichotomy and assume that the opposition has reasonable points to make. Of course, listening to opposing points of view may mean that compromises will need to be made, and zealots on both sides may deplore compromise as concession, but the alternative is purely violent. A quick look at how the War on Terror is going should show how effective that method can be.

Richardson claims that there are three criteria that need to be met in order for someone to become radicalized. There needs to be a disaffected individual, a legitimizing ideology, and an enabling community. Somewhat surprisingly, poverty in and of itself is not linked to increased radicalization, neither is it linked to stupidity. Where the link does exist is in the perils of social change. According to Richardson, “Rapid socioeconomic changes are conducive to instability and tend to erode traditional forms of social control. These situations are then open to exploitation by militants offering to make sense of these changes, to blame others for the dislocations and humiliations involved, and to offer a means of redress.” One of Donald Trump’s campaign videos highlights this social change perfectly, as it references the stable, good paying jobs that are in sharp decline, the establishment’s participation within that decline through iniquitous trade deals, and the centralizing of power into corporate and political hands. Trump’s community is, according to his legitimizing ideology, the only group capable of standing up and redressing these social imbalances. Of course he points to immigrants as responsible for this destabilization, but the socioeconomic change is there, and it is leaving enough people behind that radicalization is an obvious response.

Richardson is writing about terrorist movements, and there are few who describe the Alt-Right as a terrorist group, but there has been enough violence (such as Charlottesville, the Charleston church shooting, the Portland train stabbing, etc.) that I think looking at the direct motivation for terrorist acts is important here too. They are revenge, renown, and reaction. An IRA member may blow up a police station because the British Armed Forces violently abused a Catholic nun. An Islamic martyr seeks validation and celebrity from his community. The undiscriminating brutality of the War on Terror has created a massive influx in terrorist numbers, making 9/11 a success far surpassing what Osama Bin Laden could ever have hoped for, legitimizing his cause beyond his wildest dreams. If we consider the Alt-Right a terrorist organization, what do they seek when their members commit violence?

Something Richardson points out is that if we are ever to have a dialogue, we must admit to our own failings, our own infliction of suffering, rather than focusing solely on the suffering inflicted against us. Peace in the Middle East is impossible until the voices that matter acknowledge the illegality of Israeli settlements in Palestine, for example. What does the Alt-Right have to complain about though? If all our news is filtered through our political biases before we even look at it, it is unlikely we will ever come across the misdeeds of those from “our side.” For example, a disabled, white teenager was gang beaten, tied up, and tortured by a group of people yelling, “Fuck Donald Trump! Fuck white people!” Someone else took the time to replace cis, het, white, and male with Jew in select comments to show what SJW vitriol looks like: “My sister learned a valuable lesson when she was young – never trust a Jew.” “Listen to me you fucking twat. You are a fucking Jew. Jews don’t get to talk shit about anybody. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. You lost that right when you were born a Jew.” And so on. There was the Dallas Police shooting that prompted obvious propaganda from Alt-Right networks. And then of course the random violence committed by Antifa that is legitimized by the argument that the receptors of violence deserve it simply because they hate our freedoms. Since organizations like Black Lives Matter and Antifa don’t really have a leadership caste to denounce the actions of extremists who operate under their banner, these acts appear to go unchallenged by left-wing progressives. Feminism, being an ideology, cannot comment on the behaviour of those who adhere to it either.

Richardson says that in a war of ideologies, the values and principles of the “good” ideology must remain consistent, since blatant hypocrisy will only serve the argument of your opponents. Even in the sake of emergency, our values are what we’re fighting for, so abandoning them is self-destructive both against ourselves and in the battles abroad. Reaction is a goal sought by terrorists, and if that reaction betrays spoken principles, then their goal is a success because they’ve shown the flimsiness of those principles. “The Intolerant Left” is a rallying cry specifically because it showcases the hypocrisy of those who preach tolerance yet will not accept dissenting views, unless that dissenting view is proselytized by someone less privileged. Equality is laughed at when feminists willfully ignore male issues that place them in a less privileged position.

Yes, it’s propaganda, but its data is accurate. What’s the best way to counteract this narrative? Should its concerns be addressed?

Part of understanding radicalization is learning the nature of its appeal. If being a white man is so great, why are these individuals becoming so disaffected? Why would they seek to embolden their white identity? If one looks at what creates identity in today’s culture (consumerism driven by advertising, impossible role models derived from movies and television, dead ideals of achievable success), and then you consider the allure of inherent acceptance based on an identity derived from ethnicity and gender as found in progressive movements, why wouldn’t these groups seek out a similar way of defining themselves? In the Feminist rejection of #NotAllMen and the language of Dear White People, the generalizations against that demographic alienates them into the warm embrace of those who are willing to give them that inherent acceptance.

We must know thy enemy, so to speak. What are their goals? What would need to occur to reduce disaffection? What is their plan? What is the internal dynamic of their group? Is there dissent or warring factions that could be utilized to destabilize the movement? By refusing to investigate and then, in turn, negotiate, even if it’s simply to gather information about that organization, all that is being done is prolonging the conflict. Negotiation may be seen as a means of legitimizing that ideology, but the alternative is ineffective warfare or genocide. Would the Left be willing to accept white identity if supremacy was not attached to it? Is an ethnostate a universally agreed upon notion within the Alt-Right? Richardson, “By knowing your enemies, you can find out what it is they want. Once you know what they want, you can then decide whether to deny it to them and thereby demonstrate the futility of their tactic, give it to them, or negotiate and give them a part of it in order to cause them to end their campaign.”  If the goals of a radicalized group are non-negotiable, then the next step is isolating them from their enabling community.

The best policies in regard to reducing radicalization will focus on the enabling community, as unstructured groups will always fail without necessary support, so the question that must be asked is what is the best way to undermine support for Alt-Right beliefs in the wider community? According to Richardson, “We must demonstrate in our reaction to them that we respect the right of others to oppose us. We simply do not accept their right to express their opposition through terrorism.” What Richardson is suggesting is that moderate groups must be empowered to speak out against us, since criticism is a necessary component of any dialogue. These moderate groups will act as a counterbalance to the violent extremists, and in turn will reduce their efficacy in gaining new members. Regarding the Alt-Right, one could perhaps encourage the ideology behind the Men’s Rights Movement. It has been argued that MRAs are often the disaffected individuals who become radicalized into Alt-Right movements, and so empowering those dissenting voices could bring back into the fold those with less extreme views. Male issues have some merit, and enabling that discussion will greatly delegitimize the extremist Alt-Right perspectives of supremacy and oppression.

Ingratiating your side toward the community at large is also another way to reduce animosity that may lead to radicalization. Richardson cites an example of the humanitarian aid that America provided to Indonesia after an earthquake in 2004, and how the Muslim opinion in the country improved radically toward the Americans, and greatly decreased against Osama bin Laden because of their charitable relief effort. If Black Lives Matter held a fundraising drive for residents of the Vancouver East Side, would it be as easy for their critics to denounce them? Ingratiating ourselves to our community, building bonds and securing trust, is what will win the hearts and minds needed for an ideological battle.

When combating extremism and radicalization, we need to create specific goals. When George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan before him, declared a war on terrorism, they doomed themselves to fail right from the beginning. If Bush had declared that America would subdue the leadership of al-Qaeda, then that is something tangible that could be achieved. Even reducing extremist allure is a reasonable goal, but then one must recognize that it is a political goal, not a military one, and must be fought accordingly with appropriate tactics for its achievement. In regard to the denouncement of the Alt-Right, if all we say is we want to eliminate racism, that is just as feasible a goal as waging a war against a tactic.

Richardson says, “The language of warfare connotes action and immediate results. We need to replace this language with the language of development and construction and the patience that goes along with it.” If we are really going to try to eliminate far right radicalization without succumbing to oppressive authoritarianism, we must see our ideological opponents as salvageable, not deplorable. There is a non-profit organization in the United States, Life After Hate, that seeks to de-radicalize individuals by connecting them with the communities that they hold in disregard, to show them that there exists a world beyond their narrowly defined worldview. There are methods of reducing extremism. We have to look for them if we wish to eliminate it, and unfortunately, the answers lie behind the voices of those touting extremist views. It is almost certainly a difficult task, but the alternative is allowing it to flourish, and that makes it easier to see which option is more palatable.