Especially historically in United States politics, the radical right is a political preference that leans toward extreme conservatism and anti-socialism. The term was first used by social scientists in the 1950s regarding small groups such as the John Birch Society in the United States, and since has been used for similar groups worldwide.
The term "radical" was applied to the groups because they sought to make fundamental (hence "radical") changes in institutions and remove from political life persons and institutions that threatened their values or economic interests. They were called "right-wing" primarily because of their opposition to both socialism and communism and their ultraconservative or reactionary tendencies which limited new access to power and status.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Theoretical perspectives
- 3 Social structure
- 4 Conspiracism
- 5 Right-wing populism
- 6 History
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
There is disagreement over how right-wing movements should be described, and no consensus in terminology, although the terminology developed in the 1950s, using the words "radical" or "extremist" is the most commonly used. Other scholars prefer calling them simply "The Right" or "conservatives", which is what they call themselves. The terminology is used to describe a broad range of movements. The term "radical right" was coined by Seymour Martin Lipset in his article included in The new American Right, published in 1955. The contributors to that book identified a conservative "responsible Right" as represented by the Republican administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower and a radical Right that wished to change political and social life. Further to the right of the Radical Right, they identified an ultraright. Most ultraright groups operate outside political life, call for drastic change and in extreme cases use violence against the state. These groups were seen as having developed from the Radical Right, both by adopting ideology and containing members drawn from them. In The Radical Right a contrast is made between the main section of the Radical Right that developed in the 1950s and was able to obtain influence during the Reagan administration, and the related ultraright that had turned to violent acts including the Oklahoma bombing.
According to Clive Webb, "Radical right is commonly, but not completely, used to describe anticommunist organizations such as the Christian Crusade and John Birch Society.... [T]he term far right...is the label most broadly used by scholars...to describe militant white supremacists."
The study of the radical right began in the 1950s as social scientists attempted to explain McCarthyism, which was seen as a lapse from the American political tradition. A framework for description was developed primarily in Richard Hofstadter's "The pseudo-conservative revolt" and Seymour Martin Lipset's "The sources of the radical right". These essays, along with others by Daniel Bell, Talcott Parsons, Peter Viereck and Herbert Hyman were included in The New American Right (1955). In 1963, following the rise of the John Birch Society, the authors were asked to re-examine their earlier essays and the revised essays were published in the book The Radical Right. Lipset, along with Earl Raab, traced the history of the radical right in The politics of unreason (1970).
The central arguments of The Radical Right provoked criticism. Some on the Right thought that McCarthyism could be explained as a rational reaction to Communism. Others thought McCarthyism should be explained as part of the Republican Party's political strategy. Critics on the Left denied that McCarthyism could be interpreted as a mass movement and rejected the comparison with 19th-century populism. Others saw status politics, dispossession and other explanations as too vague.
Paranoid style politics
Two different approaches were taken by these social scientists. Historian Richard Hofstadter wrote an analysis in his influential 1964 essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Hofstader sought to identify the characteristics of the groups. Hofstadter defined politically paranoid individuals as feeling persecuted, fearing conspiracy, and acting over-aggressive yet socialized. Hofstadter and other scholars in the 1950s argued that the major left-wing movement of the 1890s, the Populists, showed what Hofstadter said was "paranoid delusions of conspiracy by the Money Power."
Historians have also applied the paranoid category to other political movements, such as the conservative Constitutional Union Party of 1860. Hofstadter's approach was later applied to the rise of new right-wing groups, including the Christian Right and the Patriot Movement.
Sociologists Lipset and Raab were focused on who joined these movements and how they evolved. They saw the development of radical right-wing groups as occurring in three stages. In the first stage, certain groups came under strain because of a loss or threatened loss of power and/or status. In the second stage they theorize about what has led to this threat. In the third stage they identify people and groups whom they consider to be responsible. A successful radical right-wing group would be able to combine the anxieties of both elites and masses. European immigration for example threatened the elites because immigrants brought socialism and radicalism, while for the masses the threat came from their Catholicism. The main elements are low democratic restraint, having more of a stake in the past than the present and laissez-faire economics. The emphasis is on preserving social rather than economic status. The main population attracted are lower-educated, lower-income and lower-occupational strata. They were seen as having a lower commitment to democracy, instead having loyalty to groups, institutions and systems.
However, some scholars reject Lipset and Raab's analysis. James Aho for example says that the way individuals join right-wing groups is no different from how they join other types of groups. They are influenced by recruiters and join because they believe the goals promoted by the group are of value to them and find personal value in belonging to the group. Several scholars, including Sara Diamond and Chip Berlet reject the theory that membership in the radical right is driven by emotionality and irrationality and see them as similar to other political movements. John George and Laird Wilcox see the psychological claims in Lipset and Raab's approach as "dehumanizing" of members of the radical right. They claim that the same description of members of the radical right is also true of many people within the political mainstream.
Hofstader found a common thread in the radical right, from fear of the Illuminati in the late 18th century, to anti-Catholic and anti-Masonic movements in the 19th to McCarthyism and the John Birch Society in the 20th. They were conspiracist, Manichean, absolutist and paranoid. They saw history as a conspiracy by a demonic force that was on the verge of total control, requiring their urgent efforts to stop it. Therefore they rejected pluralistic politics, with its compromise and consensus-building. Hofstadter thought that these characteristics were always present in a large minority of the population. Frequent waves of status displacement would continually bring it to the surface.
D. J. Mulloy however noted that the term "extremist" is often applied to groups outside the political mainstream and the term is dropped once these groups obtain respectability, using the Palestinian Liberation Organization as an example. The mainstream frequently ignores the commonality between itself and so-called extremist organizations. Also, the radical right appeals to views that are held by the mainstream: antielitism, individualism, and egalitarianism. Their views on religion, race, Americanism and guns are held by a significant proportion of other white Americans.
Throughout history, conspiracism has been a major feature of the Radical Right, and subject to numerous books and articles, the most famous of which is Richard Hofstadter's 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". Imaginary threats have variously been identified as originating from Catholics, Mormons, Jews, American Communists, Freemasons, bankers, and the U.S. government. Alexander Zaitchik, writing for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), credited cable news hosts, including Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs, the John Birch Society and WorldNetDaily with popularizing conspiracy theories. In the Fall issue of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, he identified the following as the top 10 conspiracy theories of the Radical Right:
- Martial Law
- FEMA Concentration Camps
- Foreign troops on US soil
- Door-to-door gun confiscations
- 9/11 as government plan
- Population control
- High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP)
- Federal Reserve
- North American Union
From the 1990s parties that have been described as radical right became established in the legislatures of various democracies including Canada, Norway, France, Israel, Russia, Romania and Chile, and had entered coalition governments in Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Italy. However there is little consensus about the reasons for this. Some of these parties had historic roots, such as the National Alliance, formed as the Italian Social Movement in 1946, the French National Front, founded in 1972, and the Freedom Party of Austria, an existing party that moved sharply right after 1986. Typically new right-wing parties, such as the French Poujadists, the U. S. Reform Party and the Dutch Pim Fortuyn List enjoyed short-lived prominence. The main support for these parties comes from both the self-employed and skilled and unskilled labor, with support coming predominantly from males.
However, scholars are divided on whether these parties are radical right, since they differ from the groups described in earlier studies of the radical right. They are more often described as populist. Studies of the radical right in the United States and right-wing populism in Europe have tended to be conducted independently, with very few comparisons made. European analyses have tended to use comparisons with fascism, while studies of the American radical right have stressed American exceptionalism. The U. S. studies have paid attention to the consequences of slavery, the profusion of religious denominations and a history of immigration, and saw fascism as uniquely European.
Although the term "radical right" was American in origin, the term has been consciously adopted by some European social scientists. Conversely the term "right-wing extremism", which is European in origin, has been adopted by some American social scientists. Since the European right-wing groups in existence immediately following the war had roots in fascism they were normally called "neo-fascist". But as new right-wing groups emerged with no connection to historical fascism, the use of the term "right-wing extremism" came to be more widely used.
Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg argued that the radical right in the U. S. and right-wing populism in Europe were the same phenomenon that existed throughout the Western world. They identified the core attributes as contained in extremism, behaviour and beliefs. As extremists, they see no moral ambiguity and demonize the enemy, sometimes connecting them to conspiracy theories such as the New World Order. Most politicians are seen as traitors or cowards. Given this worldview, there is a tendency to use methods outside democratic norms, although this is not always the case. The main core belief is inequality, which often takes the form of opposition to immigration or racism. They do not see this new Right as having any connection with the historic Right, which had been concerned with protecting the status quo. They also see the cooperation of the American and European forms, and their mutual influence on each other, as evidence of their existence as a single phenomenon.
Daniel Bell argues that the ideology of the radical right is "...its readiness to jettison constitutional processes and to suspend liberties, to condone Communist methods in the fighting of Communism." Historian Richard Hofstader agrees that Communist-style methods are often emulated: "The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through 'front' groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy." He also quotes Barry Goldwater: "I would suggest that we analyze and copy the strategy of the enemy; theirs has worked and ours has not." 
The American patriots who spearheaded the American Revolution in the 1770s were motivated primarily by an ideology that historians call Republicanism. It stressed the dangers of aristocracy, as represented by the British government, corruption, and the need for every citizen to display civic virtue. When public affairs took a bad turn, Republicans were inclined to identify a conspiracy of evil forces as the cause.
Against this background of fear of conspiracies against American liberties the first Radical Right-style responses came in the 1790s. Some Federalists warned of an organized conspiracy involving Thomas Jefferson and his followers, and recent arrivals from Europe, alleging they were agents of the French revolutionary agenda of violent radicalism, social equalitarianism and anti-Christian infidelity. The Federalists in 1798 acted by passing the Alien and Sedition Acts, designed to protect the country against both foreign and domestic radicals. Fear of immigration led to a riot in New York City in 1806 between nativists and Irishmen, which led to increased calls by Federalists to nativism.
The Anti-Masonic Party
In America, public outrage against privilege and aristocracy in the United States was expressed in the Northeast by anti-Masonry, a belief that Freemasonry comprised powerful evil secret elites who rejected republican values and were blocking the movement toward egalitarianism and reform. The anti-Masons, with a strong evangelical base, organized into a political party, the Anti-Masonic Party that pledged to rid Masons from public office. It was most active in 1828-1836. The Freemason movement was badly damaged and never fully recovered; the Anti-Mason movement merged into the coalition that became the new Whig Party. The anti-Masonry movement was not "radical"; it fully participated in democracy, and was animated by the belief that the Masons were the ones subverting democracy in America. While earlier accounts of the antimasons portrayed their supporters as mainly poor people, more recent scholarship has shown that they were largely middle-class.
The arrival of large numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s led to a reaction among native Americans, who were alarmed by the levels of crime and welfare dependency among the new arrivals, and the use of violence to control the polls on election day. Nativists began to revere symbols of Americanism: the Puritans, Minute Men, Founding Fathers and true Christians. The immigrants were seen as part of a conspiracy to undermine America. Nativists in New York formed the American Republican Party. It merged into the Know Nothings in the 1850s. The main support for the Know Nothings was urban and working class. The party split over slavery and the northern wing merged into the Republican Party in the late 1850s.
American Protective Association
The American Protective Association (APA) formed in the Middle West in 1887 by Irish Protestants to fight the power of the Catholic Church in politics. It was a secret organization whose members campaigned for Protestant candidates in local elections and opposed hiring Catholics for government jobs. Claiming to have secret documents obtained from nuns and priests who had escaped from the Catholic Church, it claimed that the Pope had absolved Catholics from loyalty to the United States and asked them to kill heretics. It claimed that the Catholic Church ordered Catholics to emigrate to major U. S. cities where they could assume control and claimed that the civil service was dominated by Catholics who remitted part of their pay to Rome. The movement was rejected by mainstream Republicans and faded away in the mid-1890s.
An offshoot of the APA, the Protestant Protective Association (PPA) was set up in the Canadian province of Ontario in 1891. It drew support from Orangemen in the 1890s, before going into decline. Its leaders opposed Catholic influence and supported the Imperial Federation. A PPA was also set up in Australia.
The Second Ku Klux Klan
The Second Ku Klux Klan, which was formed in 1915, combined Protestant fundamentalism and moralism with right-wing extremism. Its major support came from the urban south, the midwest and the Pacific Coast. While the Klan initially drew upper middle class support, its bigotry and violence alienated these members and it came to be dominated by less educated and poorer members. The Klan claimed that there was a secret Catholic army within the United States, that one million Knights of Columbus were arming themselves, and Irish policemen would shoot Protestants as heretics. They claimed the Catholics were planning to take Washington and put the Pope in power, and that all presidential assassinations had been carried out by Catholics. The prominent Klan leader, D. C. Stephenson claimed that international Jewish bankers were behind the First World War and planned to destroy economic opportunities for Christians. Other Klansmen claimed that the Russian Revolution and Communism were controlled by Jews. The Klan frequently reprinted parts of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and New York was condemned as an evil city controlled by Jews and Catholics. The objects of Klan fear however tended to vary by locale and included Catholics, Jews, African Americans, Wobblies, Orientals, unions and liquor. The Klan were also anti-elitist and attacked "the intellectuals", seeing themselves as egalitarian defenders of the common man.
British subjects who became naturalized Americans were encouraged to join the "Riders of the Red Robe", and the Klan was successful in establishing branches in several Canadian provinces, although they disappeared after 1930.
The Great Depression
During the Great Depression there were a large number of small nativist groups, whose ideology and support were similar to those of earlier nativist groups. However protofascist movements, such as Huey Long's Share Our Wealth and Father Coughlin's National Union for Social Justice emerged, which differed from other right-wing groups by attacking big business, calling for economic reform and rejecting nativism. However, Coughlin's group later developed a racist ideology.
The Black Legion, which had a peak membership of 40,000 was formed by former Klansmen and operated in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. Unlike the Klan, its members dressed in black and its organizational hierarchy was based on the military, not fraternal organizations. Its members swore an oath to keep "the secrets of the order to support God, the United States Constitution, and the Black Legion in its holy war against Catholics, Jews, Communists, Negroes, and aliens". The organization went into decline after more than fifty members were convicted of various crimes in support of the organization. The typical member was from a small farm in the South, lacked a high school graduation diploma, was married with children and worked in unskilled labor.
Gerald B. Winrod, a fundamentalist Christian minister who founded the Defenders of the Christian Faith revived the Illuminati conspiracy theory that have originally been introduced into the United States in 1798. He claimed that both the French and Russian Revolutions were directed by a them and saw the Protocols of the elders of Zion as an accurate expose of a Jewish conspiracy. He saw the Jews, the Catholics, the Communists and the bankers as working together to destroy American Protestantism. Although Winrod's appeal was mainly limited to rural, poor, uneducated fundamentalist Christians, his magazine The Defender reached a peak circulation of 100,000 in the late 1930s.
William Dudley Pelley's Silver Shirts movement was overtly modelled on European fascism and introduced a populist statist plan for economic organization. The United States would be reorganized as a corporation, with individuals paid according to their contributions, although African Americans, aboriginals and aliens would be treated as wards of the states and therefore hold a lower status. The organization blamed the Jews for the depression, Communism, and the spread of immorality, but openly welcomed Catholic membership. Its membership was largely uneducated, poor and elderly, with a high proportion of neurotics, and it had a large female membership. Its main base of support was in small communities in the Midwest and West Coast, and it had almost no presence in the Southern States.
Father Coughlin was a Catholic priest who had begun broadcasting on religious matters in 1926. However when his program went national in 1930, he began to comment on political issues, promoting a strongly ant-Communist stance, while being highly critical of American capitalists. He urged government to protect workers, denounced prohibition and held the "international bankers" responsible for the depression. By 1932 he had millions of regular viewers. The following year he set up the "National Union for Social Justice". Although an early supporter of the U. S. president, Franklin Roosevelt, he broke with him in 1935 when Roosevelt proposed that the United States join the World Court. Coughlin then denounced the New Deal, which he claimed had accomplished little but had strengthened the position of the bankers. His organization became increasingly supportive of European fascism.
In 1936 Coughlin began to endorse candidates for political office and supported the presidential campaign of William Lemke, who campaigned on the Union Party ticket. Lemke was also supported by Gerald L. K. Smith, head of the Share Our Wealth movement and Dr. Francis Townsend, head of the Townsend Old Age movement. At the time Coughlin claimed 5 million supporters of his organization, while Smith claimed his organization had 3 million members. In the election however Lemke received fewer than 900,000 votes.
Following this setback, Coughlin became more overtly fascist, attacking trade unionists and politicians for being pro-Communist, calling for a corporate state and setting up the "Social Justice Councils", which excluded non-Christians from membership. His magazine, Social Justice, named Benito Mussolini as man of the year in 1938 and defended Hitler's persecution of Jews, whom he linked with Communism. Major radio stations then refused to air his broadcasts and the Post Office banned Social Justice from the mails in 1942. Threatened by a sedition trial against Father Coughlin, the Catholic Church told him to cease his political activities and Coughlin retired from political life.
Huey Long who had been elected governor of Louisiana in 1928 and was a U. S. senator from 1932 until his death in 1935, built a national organization, Share Our Wealth, which made a populist appeal. He combined both left and right-wing elements. As governor, he removed the poll tax and directed state spending to the improvement of schools and rural roads. He attacked "the corporations and urbanites, the 'better elements' and the professional politicians." At the time of his death, his organization had, according to its files, over 27,000 clubs with a total membership of almost 8 million. According to Lipset and Raab, Long was considered to be right-wing because of his authoritarian style, building a large National Guard and police force, intimidating opponents and the press, and bringing the electoral process and prosecution service under his direct control. Long never introduced minimum wage or child labor laws, unemployment insurance or old age pensions, although other states did so at the time. He actively courted support from big business, and reduced taxes on corporations. He differed from other right-wingers by making no appeal to conspiracy theories, nativism, or morality. He worked closely with Catholics and Jews and never appealed to race issues. However he chose Gerald L. K. Smith, who was associated with the fascist Silver Shirts to organize his Share the Wealth movement. But the movement died out following Long's death.
Although the United States emerged from the Second World War as the world's strongest country both economically and militarily, Communism had also been strengthened. Communism had spread in Eastern Europe and southeast Asia, and there were numerous Communist insurgencies. At the same time, Communist espionage had been found in the U. S. Responding to the fears the new enemy presented, Joe McCarthy, a Republican U. S. senator from Wisconsin, claimed in 1950 that there were 205 Communist spies in the State Department. The main target of McCarthyism however was ideological nonconformism, and individuals were targeted for their beliefs. Black lists were established in many industries restricting the employment of suspected nonconformists, and libraries were pressured to remove books and periodicals that were considered suspect. McCarthy investigated Voice of America and although no Communists were found, 30 employees were fired as a result. The strongest support for McCarthyism came from German and Irish Catholics who had been isolationist in both world wars and had an anti-British bias and opposed socialism on religious grounds. Much of the hostility was directed against the Eastern elites. Following the 1952 election in which the Republicans were successful, McCarthy continued his investigations into the new Republican administration until the Republican party turned against him.
John Birch Society
The John Birch Society, which was created in 1958, combined economic liberalism with anti-Communism. The founder, Robert Welch, Jr., believed that the greatest enemy of man was government, and the more extensive the government, the greater the enemy. To him, government was inherently corrupt and a threat to peace. He advocated private institutions, local government and rigid individualism.
Welch wondered why the American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had helped destroy Joe McCarthy, made peace with the Communists in Korea, refused to support anti-Communist movements abroad, and had extended the welfare state. His conclusion was that Eisenhower was either a Communist or a dupe of the Communists. Already, the U. S. A. government was 60% to 80% under Communist control. Welch saw the Communist conspiracy as controlled by the Illuminati, which he thought had directed the French and Russian Revolutions, and was behind the current civil rights movement. They were also responsible for welfare programs, central banking, progressive income taxation and the direct election of U. S. senators. Welch identified William Morgan, William Wirt and Joe McCarthy as people who been killed for their attempts to expose the Illuminati. Morgan's murder presumably by Masons had led to the earlier Anti-Masonic movement, Wirt had denounced the New Deal and McCarthy had claimed to have discovered a Communist conspiracy.
American Independent Party
The 1968 presidential campaign of George Wallace created a new party, which in later years came under the control of Radical Right elements. In 1969, the party had split into two groups, the anti-Communist American Party (AIP) under the leadership of T. Coleman Andrews and another group under the AIP founder Bill Shearer. Both groups opposed federal intervention into schools, favored police suppression of domestic disorder and victory in the Vietnam War. The two groups united under the American Party banner in order to support the 1972 presidential campaign of George Wallace, but after he withdrew they nominated U. S. Representative John Schmitz.
In Louisiana, Ned Touchstone, a Wallace supporter, edited a conservative newsletter, The Councilor, through which means he attacked liberals in both major parties. The Councilor was the publication of the White Citizens' Council. In 1967, Touchstone ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against Louisiana Education Superintendent Bill Dodd, who carried the support of party moderates, liberals, and African Americans.
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