How Can Stations Explain Extremism?

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The aftermath of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 has pushed the nation to think deeply about issues that are normally uncomfortable ones, including racism and nativism. Nonetheless, as those who create, support, and engage with the media, it is important for us to help foster those needed dialogues.

The deadly attack on the Capitol building and subsequent armed protests at statehouses nationwide have prompted fears of further harm as President Joe Biden settles into the White House. Worries about escalating violence seemingly arrive every few years with the appearance of a Democrat in the Oval Office. For instance, Americans may remember the far-right American militias that surfaced during the two terms of Bill Clinton and again during the two terms of Barack Obama. The growth of populist radicalism and its potential dangers are likely to be influential in the coming years, as the country continues to debate public policy and social issues.

Donald Trump has been the catalyst for much of the disinformation powering extremist circles, but a variety of pundits, websites and social media accounts have become de facto leaders in their own right. Helping communities understand the nature of extremism’s threat to democracy, as well as how to combat it, may be one of community media’s most important roles in 2021.

How can you understand and educate your community about extremism? Here are a few resources:

  • How significant is extremism? On Feb. 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued its annual report on the 800+ hate groups in America. That’s a decline from the previous year, but SPLC says the growth of online networks have made extremism harder to track. “[T]he proliferation of internet platforms that cater to extremists allows individuals to engage with potentially violent movements like QAnon and Boogaloo without being card-carrying members of a particular group. This phenomenon has blurred the boundaries of hate groups and far-right ideologies, helping coalesce a broader but more loosely affiliated movement of far-right extremists who reject the country’s democratic institutions and pluralistic society.” SPLC has published the report every year since 1990.
  • Much has been made of Parler, a far-right social network, and its role as an organizing and recruitment tool for extremists. To understand the extent of Parler’s funding and use, the Southern Poverty Law Center covered the platform. Since this writing, Apple and Google both removed the app from their stores and Amazon kicked Parler off its servers, though it found a new host shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, encrypted tools are seeing new adoption.
  • The death of QAnon activist Ashli Babbitt at the Capitol sparked questions about the military’s effort to fight extremism within its ranks. Babbitt, Emily Rainey and other active-duty and veteran soldiers have made headlines for their political involvement. Armed forces leadership has had discussions about domestic terrorism since Timothy McVeigh, with renewed investigations in the early 2000s. Recent research has indicated one-third of active duty servicemen and -women had witnessed white supremacist activity. For communities near military bases, challenges posed by dangerous elements may be a prompt for conversations.
  • Where do people seeking to leave extremist movements go? Founded by former hate group activists, Life After Hate has sought to give support to those previously involved in racist organizing. The coronavirus, economic hardship and political rhetoric have contributed to the rise of neo-Nazism and far-right populism, Life After Hate leaders say, but those disillusioned by these movements may not have anyone who understands and wants to help them get out. Life After Hate has received prominent support, including federal grants to help identify extremism online.

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