Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Right-Wing Embrace Of Conspiracy Is 'Mass Radicalization,' Experts Warn December 15, 202012:17 PM ET

December 15, 202012:17 PM ET
Hannah Allam

The widespread embrace of conspiracy and disinformation amounts to a "mass radicalization" of Americans, and increases the risk of right-wing violence, veteran security officials and terrorism researchers warn.

At conferences, in op-eds and at agency meetings, domestic terrorism analysts are raising concern about the security implications of millions of conservatives buying into baseless right-wing claims. They say the line between mainstream and fringe is vanishing, with conspiracy-minded Republicans now marching alongside armed extremists at rallies across the country. Disparate factions on the right are coalescing into one side, analysts say, self-proclaimed "real Americans" who are cocooned in their own news outlets, their own social media networks and, ultimately, their own "truth."

"This tent that used to be sort of 'far-right extremists' has gotten a lot broader. To me, a former counterterrorism official, that's a radicalization process," said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw terrorism cases and who's now a law professor at Georgetown University.


At the online conference, participants characterized the shift as a mass radicalization. Neumann said the issue keeps her up at night worrying about where the country is heading. She talked about family members who've gone down the right-wing rabbit hole of disinformation. She said conversations with them require patience and negotiation, such as laying out her conditions for coronavirus safety protocols at family gatherings.


On the conference call, the analysts agreed that the leftist fringe also is hardening and promoting its own conspiracies. But they said there's simply no equivalency with the right in terms of the volume of disinformation and conspiracy, or in its connections to violent acts.

"There is a monetization of outrage on both sides," Neumann said, "but in particular the conservative infotainment sector makes money off of that outrage."

On the topic of solutions, the panelists floated ideas about education, media literacy, trusted mediators. But they added there's little chance of progress until Trump, a superspreader of conspiracies and disinformation, is out of the White House.


Kruglanski said revolutions and wars throughout history offer examples of how quickly extremism can go mainstream.

"Every large political movement started at one point as a small fringe minority," he said. "And when it catches on, it can engulf the whole society. So, you know, the danger is there."

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