Marina Dotor González, Extremism Team
Week of: January 4, 2021
Moderate politics and policies have governed in the Western world throughout most of the last century, however, this trend is now coming to its end. The Western world may now be facing a more polarized political era, which may increase the uprising of extremist groups either from the left or right-wing. This will increase the possibility of a national or international threat such as what occurred to the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The instigation by President Trump to his radical followers to try to stop the certification of, what they consider to be, a counting of fraudulent votes, clearly portrays how the era of moderate politics is coming to an end in the Western world.
To clearly understand the rhetoric used in this report, it is best to define relevant words so that they may serve as technical terms. 'Moderate' is meant to be understood as: "opposed to radical or extreme views or measures, especially in politics, or religion." 'Extremist' is meant to be understood as: "a person who advocates or resorts to measures beyond the norm, especially in politics.”
Since the start of 2010, Western democracies have been experiencing an increase in extremist politics, especially since national political spectrums have begun shifting apart and allowing space for new and more radicalized political parties and politicians to take over. This shift from a moderate to an extreme political spectrum not only affects national governance but societies at large as well, due to the great tension that is created between both parts of society, both wanting to impose their ideology against the opposite. There are clear signs which suggest that these moderate politicians are disappearing from the Western political spectrum, such as the incident in the US Capitol in January or Brexit. There are three types of political spectrums in the Western world: bipartisan pluralism, moderate pluralism, and extreme pluralism, but the real threat comes when a system trespasses the line from the moderate to the extreme type. Until the 2000s, political spectrums in Europe were moderate, merely bipartisan (despite their national differences), and have since transitioned to moderate pluralism where plenty of other parties have come to the scene.
While the rise of these new parties may be seen as a victory to democracy since there are more choices for the voters, it may also bring the threat of extremism with them. If the majority of voters or parties begin in the center of the political spectrum, new parties will have to find room in the spectrum to acquire support, and frequently, this takes place on one extreme side of the spectrum or the other. If this happens and the new extremist parties win popularity, society changes along with them and becomes highly polarized and tense. To keep balance and stability within its population, the duty of a moderate nation would then be to stabilize the balance of power, therefore leaving those extreme parties with some representation but not to the extent that it can take over and transform the system into an extreme pluralist system. Reverting to a moderate nation cannot be achieved immediately since people have already been pulled apart to the extremes by their extremist leaders. Still, it is a problem that can be tackled. In addition to the efforts of moderate politicians to contain their voters within their spectrum, extremist actors themselves have helped return the system to moderation because citizens can evaluate the positive performance of the moderate groups and compare it to extremists. Incidents such as the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6 make many followers of extremist ideas take a step back when they see that these events no longer represent them and their fear of being part of such an extremist movement drives them back to moderate beliefs.
European countries have experienced this issue more than any other country in the Western world. The democracies are no longer as representative as they used to be, and they no longer fulfill all the shortcomings of the globalization generation. The globalization and public agenda demand higher participation of the people which can no longer be represented in just two parties or very centered-positioned politicians. It is because of this that most of the European parties have already experienced the change from a bipartisan spectrum to a multipartisan one. Since the early 2010s, democracies, and politicians have significantly shifted away from moderate politics and have begun to shift to more extremist views within politics. These changes can be seen in many different countries across the Western world, such as France, Germany, Hungary, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Spain, and even the United States, where society is now highly polarized due to the current political climate. Although not every one of these listed countries has changed from a bipartisan system to a pluralized one, the ones who still maintain just two political parties have also experienced the rise of more extremist candidates within their parties, such as President Donald Trump or Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Both figures still represent their parties in a bipartisan system but are not considered as moderate as their predecessors because they are both very attached to one main, yet controversial idea that they have based their campaign on. President Donald Trump based his idea on building the wall on the US-Mexican border, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson based his on Brexit. Another example is Viktor Orban, Hungary’s Prime Minister, who based his campaigns on the anti-refugee ideology when the European refugee crisis in 2015 collapsed Hungary by the large number of refugees that awaited in Budapest’s streets for a permit to either stay in the country or enter into Germany. Viktor Orban is not only known for campaigning against refugees but also against immigration and the European Union, classifying them as threats to Hungary. This type of ideology is no longer accepted by the majority of the Western public’s opinion. That is why, even though political parties or politicians themselves cannot and should not be censored, they must remain in a minority and are thus, not capable of breaking the system from inside. For instance, Hungary pressures Brussels to accept its individualistic proposals but without success. Hungary is already economically tied to the European bloc and that is something that favors the power to put aside its most extreme proposals. Hungary and other countries will still try to impose their more radical and populist ideologies, however, since they have little power inside the EU (due to the size of the country and its population) and they are now dependent on Brussels, their extreme ideologies will remain covered.
Extremist ideology driven by extremist political leaders will most likely encourage their followers to radicalize and commit extremist acts following their leader’s ideology. Jihadist terrorists are also radicalized by their extremist leaders and commit their attacks based on their leaders’ main ideas and ideology. The world has considered for decades the dangerous threat posed by jihadism. Western extremist organizations led by political radicalization, have just been recently identified as one of the world’s biggest threats, but they have not been tackled in a meaningful way yet.
The shift from the moderate system to the extremist one is also visible in the different Congresses, where the entrance of new political groups has led to a higher division; thus, a lower probability of consensus when it comes to making any decision. This may result in low governmental performance due to the incapability of the parties to cooperate and offer solutions to its citizens. Additionally, low governmental performance in a polarized society will likely increase the fanaticism of those who are already on the extremes of the spectrum, providing a suitable scenario for the creation of extremist groups or militias such as in the US. There is usually no need for radicalization for those who have stable life positions, instead, the desire to radicalize occurs when there is a lack of basic rights or needs. People with any kind of needs are more likely to radicalize if their governments have not addressed their issues correctly. Militias are also more likely to arise when there is low governance since instability and needs are their main emergence environment. Moreover, if there is an extremist party with high popularity in a country, there is a high probability that the opposite extremist party emerges as well. This occurred in Spain in 2011 when Podemos, an alt-left party, emerged and gained 12% of the votes in their first elections in 2015. Due to this, Vox, an alt-right party, emerged as an effort to counter the high popularity of their opposition, gaining 15% of the votes in the following elections in 2019. This phenomenon has occurred in the US, where people demonstrated in Charlottesville, VA with Confederate and Nazi flags, as seen in the image below. White supremacist militias are one of the most populous groups to date since globalization has decreased white power in their own countries. Globalization has played a key role here as the diversification of societies is increasing the alt-right's fear of the loss of their national power among immigrants.
The polarization of societies is starting to be a public agenda topic since this is turning into a threat across the Western region. Rather than a broad spectrum of political beliefs, it is now shifting to heavy polarization which may potentially turn into a threat. The current tensioned scenario in the Western world will likely favor the creation of more extremist groups. Past generations have already been experiencing the creation of a large group of extremist and nationalist parties in many different countries. For instance in Germany, their new alt-right party had recent implications in neo-Nazi Whatsapp chats. The same has happened in the Netherlands with their alt-right party and Spain with their former military. On the other hand, there have also been extremist activities from the left-wing, such as the worldwide group Antifa. Although this movement was highly acclaimed by public opinion due to their positioning against Nazis in the 1950s, recent actions from the group have escalated to violent, extremist acts and have led to the group being included in the US terrorist list in May 2020 by President Donald Trump. Societies have come to believe that far-right extremist behaviors are incorrect while assuming that far-left ones are legitimate and justified. These beliefs urgently need to change since both far-left and far-right extremist organizations portray a similar threat and are equally capable of provoking the same harm.
Usually, Western societies believe far-right extremists should be silent because they are violent, while left ones are usually considered a necessary part of positive change. This idea is perceived by plenty of people in Europe and North America, based on the effects of the German far-right in World War II. Although this varies depending on the country, countries that suffered more from Soviet left-wing extremist acts are less likely to consider left-wing movements as legitimate, and the opposite phenomenon can be observed in Germany due to far-right extremist acts in that country. Additionally, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites have blocked President Trump’s account indefinitely, yet President Maduro’s account has never been blocked by any platform, resulting indeed in a very controversial alt-right censorship, while alt-left is not being punished.
The uprising of the new political parties and politicians may be linked to their constant appeal to the feeling of identity, a very well-known technique used by populist movements. Humans tend to desire to identify with a group and these extremists take advantage of it. This can be done in many ways but usually takes place by identifying within family groups or external identifiers such as nationality, religious, social, linguistic, or any other type of belief or desire. The use of more emotional or sensitive politics is one of the main reasons that society is splitting apart and polarizing, yet is also what draws people to vote a certain way and believe in certain things. The nationalistic rhetoric is utilized more frequently by right-wing extremist parties/politicians while left-wing extremist parties/politicians usually appeal more to the feeling of belonging to the revolution and being part of the “correct” group.
Another way of appealing to voters’ feelings is the rejection of the establishment or the moderates. Both the alt-left and alt-right use this tool to appeal to the feeling of anti-establishment. If there are two parties pulling society apart from both sides, society will eventually break. While this is happening from the extremes of the spectrum, the moderates should not just continue with their usual speeches and politics but adapt to the new environment by trying to gain back those lost voters. It is not an easy task, but since moderates are part of the establishment and the center, aligning against their extremist enemies is the best and most effective option to curb extremism. Germany is one of the best examples of this cooperation among the most centered parties, led by Angela Merkel, as the actual government in Germany is formed by three parties. This rejection towards the established political system that has been ruling for decades and has strongly impacted Europe with the creation of Eurosceptic groups such as the MPF (Movement for France) on the right and the GUE-NGL (European United Left–Nordic Green Left) group on the left.
These kinds of anti-establishment groups have now seen a major incentive to keep developing their anti-establishment ideas: the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the sanitary circumstances that took place throughout 2020, these anti-moderate groups have been able to share their opinions, such as alt-right parties and politicians instigating the negationism of COVID-19. For instance, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s rejection of the pandemic caused Brazil to have one of the highest virus-related death tolls, while, on the other hand, people on the left aspired to impose very strict lockdowns without taking into consideration the devastating outcome that a prolonged lockdown would strike on the economy. Argentina, the country with the longest lockdown, is now struggling with starvation and still has high COVID-19 figures every day. During the pandemic months, political leaders have taken the advantage of people’s fear, uncertainty, and loneliness by transforming it into a hatred feeling towards their enemy - those who will not acquiesce to their beliefs and fears - the moderates. Moderates will always be swayed between the right and left, but this struggle will depend on the economic, social, or international current situation of a country. Commonly, moderate voters switch between the moderate right and moderate left according to their needs at that specific moment. However, this will not occur with voters who identify themselves with extreme parties, they are usually loyal to them as they are very emotionally attached to them.
Globalized media and the use of social media have played a major role in the escalation of extremist politicians and parties in Western societies. Although communication existed before the 2010s, social media has sped up the dissemination of worldwide news more than any other communication tool. The outreach of social media has impacted the way politics has evolved. The ability to easily disseminate misinformation and disinformation, compounded with a boundary-less user interaction system, plays a large role in the uprising of extremism as people can spread hate speech and limitlessly attack others online. Social media users can actively engage other users and even create revolutions within a few posts, for instance, the Arab Spring in 2011. This has changed the way to make politics and democracy itself. While some political parties are taking advantage of fake news and even spreading them for their benefit, others are trying to stop what some social media users consider a game. The quick dissemination of fake news makes it difficult for users to identify whether the news is legitimate or not, and this may result in users trusting only certain websites, which could still be fake. Moreover, if users begin to believe in conspiracy theories, most likely, they will tend to rely more on their conspiratorial websites rather than verified sources, provoking increased radicalizations. A prime example of this took place in January, when Trump supporters, filled with conspiracy theories and disinformation, organized themselves and illegally stormed the US Capitol building. This demonstrates the power of social media and the ability of a national leader to disseminate misinformation regarding fraudulent election results.
Fanaticism and extremism will destroy law and order rather than fix anything, and history explains that extremists usually end up in the most violent of the wars, national starvations, or national massacres. Given the recent events occurring in the US, law enforcement, the intelligence community, and social media companies should begin to address this concerning and growing issue, as governments are unable to curb extremism on their own. A potentially successful way to tackle the uprising of political extremists may come along with media repercussions. For instance, if conventional media does not echo political extremists, they may never get as many followers as they do currently have. Censoring them is certainly not the answer as it violates freedom of speech but not giving them high importance on the news would be a way to lower the number of their followers. Fanaticism does not always imply extremism but extremism does imply radicalization, which can lead to violence. There has always been political fanaticism towards some leaders and there will always be. However, the threat does not come along with fanaticism but once this fanaticism is transformed into radicalization and extremism. Moderate politics may not be the answer in every country in the world but they have certainly proved to work well in Western democracies and societies have had less tension and hate amongst each other. Containing fanaticism so that it does not trespass into violent extremism is the main task of moderate politics to avoid an extreme polarization of their population. An extremely polarized population is a situation from which it is difficult to return, although it is not completely irreversible as previously seen in history. A completely new set of politicians and parties, not connected to the past ones, would benefit societies as this could renew the system and ideologies. It could also bring people closer to the center again.
Moreover, cooperation among moderate political leaders could guide those countries to succeed and perform better, giving their society the necessary response they are demanding. Through cooperation, the world has witnessed plenty of achievements, and as the international society fluctuates, more moderate political stages will eventually replace extremist ones, but it cannot be done without proper and swift action. The Western world is facing a violent political era, and it is crucial to deter extremism before it escalates to war. The international method of standing by as extremists rise to power and destroy a country from within can no longer stand. It is time for a new international order, where the international community comes together to fight extremists in all parts of the world.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) and its Extremism Team will continue raising awareness and informing law enforcement about the growing threat of extremism due to the political polarization of Western democracies. It is also very crucial to create awareness among the civilian population by providing them with sufficient tools and knowledge to identify political extremists that may suppose a national or international threat. Raising awareness among civilians can be achieved by spreading reports or articles based on this uprising threat, both on social media and conventional media. If the affected population of the Western region is aware of the risks of political extremism and knows how they are formed, they can take steps to move away from these populisms and extremes. Regarding the governments and the other organizations, it is important not only to have awareness but to acknowledge that the risk is already on the streets and that it is necessary to plan how to avoid violence between the extremes of society. CTG will therefore continue to track and monitor these extremist acts of violence and polarization to try to minimize the effects of political extremes and help law enforcement and AOCs (agencies, organizations, and companies) implement the necessary measures for their defeat.
________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
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