American Populism and Cultural Conservatism
Contrary to the implicit messages of capitalism and neoliberal globalism, the accumulation of material wealth is not the only or most important component of human well-being. That’s one of the main reasons why there is such a strong tide of populist skepticism and resentment toward and a desire to be independent from meddling ‘elites.’
Consider the resistance to the liberal, democratic state from the BLM/Antifa movements, Right-wing militia groups, and other militants who believe our leaders do not represent the people's interests. Likewise, think about the predominance of identity politics, anger about decades of exporting jobs and capital, inadequate enforcement of America's immigration laws, and the overwhelming crisis of credibility facing higher education, journalism, and other social institutions.
The basic idea is that many among these groups simply do not trust American leaders or social institutions. They value culture, family, liberty, security, and subjective identity above maximal economic prosperity. They do not want anybody telling them what to do or what they need to know. Individual freedom and local/community autonomy matter at least as much as wealth accumulation to many of these folks.
Much of this anti-elite, populist sentiment on the Right can be traced back to the ‘fierce independence’ of Southern "rednecks," Scots-Irish and Appalachian mountain folk, Cajuns, pioneering frontiers-people (e.g., "Okies"), and so on. Contrary to the Left's oppressor-oppressed narrative, these groups are relatively low income and their perspectives are considerably marginalized in contemporary American society. These reasons, rather than a unique susceptibility to ignorance, bigotry, chauvinism, and hatred, explain why many among these groups oppose globalism, cosmopolitanism, neoliberalism, economic inequality, and elitism.
Double Standards of Tolerance
Mainstream voices on the Left regularly romanticize and provide rhetorical cover for explicitly intolerant, violent, revolutionary far-Left movements. The same voices routinely mischaracterize the Left's political opposition as "racists," "fascists," "white supremacists," and "white nationalists."
Prominent, mainstream voices tend to uncritically endorse and amplify the increasingly predominant view that movements on the Right present an existential threat to the very survival of liberal democracy and, as such, should be forcibly prevented from exercising their 1st Amendment Rights.
Democrat leaders, academics, journalists, and celebrities generally frame lawless neo-Marxist civil insurrection in the euphemistic rhetoric of "mostly peaceful," "antiracist," and "antifascist" protests against systemic oppression and racial injustice. This moralistic language presents American political conflict as a struggle between good and evil. It provides a rhetorical means for arbitrarily dismissing criticism of far-Left movements as unworthy of serious consideration.
For example, the Left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) routinely labels opponents of the far-Left as "hate groups," while granting nearly limitless tolerance to overtly hateful, bigoted, and intolerant voices on the Left (carving out an exception for expressions of anti-Semitism).
Challenging the Mainstream Narrative
Though political violence certainly existed prior to Donald Trump's presidency, assaults of Right-wing demonstrators and Trump supporters by far-Left militants were especially commonplace around the time of his campaign and inauguration. President Trump's incendiary rhetoric has undoubtedly fanned the flames of conflict, and political violence has escalated during his administration.
Over the past several years, Antifa and militant elements of the Black Lives Matter movement have served as the Left's street-level foot soldiers. Claiming they are simply resisting systemic racism and preventing the emergence of fascism, these groups regularly violate opponents' civil liberties, incite riots, and engage in mob violence, assaulting political opponents and police officers, and disrupting peaceful, Right-wing demonstrations.
Militant "alt-Light" groups like Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer
emerged to confront violent and intolerant Left-wing activists. Unlike the white identitarian "alt-Right," these groups tend to emphasize culture (i.e., traditional American culture & western civilization) rather than race.
That is, they are self-identified "western chauvinists" but are inclusive of like-minded people of any race or ethnicity (e.g., Enrique Tarrio, the Afro-Cuban American leader of the Proud Boys; Joey Gibson, the Japanese-American leader of Patriot Prayer). Some are non-religious. Some are Christian conservatives and evangelicals.
Groups like Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys explicitly reject intolerance, racial oppression, and white supremacy. They first drew national attention by forcibly resisting far-Left initiation of violence against Right-wing demonstrators and Trump supporters around the time of the 2016 presidential election.
Rather than threatening liberal democracy, these groups say they are patriots trying to protect America from far-Left anarchists and Marxists waging a violent revolution to fundamentally transform it.
While it is fair to criticize their militancy, disrespect, and chauvinism, they are most accurately described as cultural conservatives, classical liberals, and civic nationalists who emerged to resist the initiation of political violence by intolerant, anti-American movements on the far-Left.
Tensions have recently escalated following months of rioting in cities like Portland. Increasingly frustrated with the dereliction, dishonesty, and double standards of Democrat city leaders, Right-wing, anti-communist, pro-Trump, alt-Light groups have become more aggressive in their confrontations with far-Left militants.
Particularly during the weeks after a communist militant
murdered a peaceful, unarmed Patriot Prayer supporter, there have been some instances of people on the far-Right behaving like their opponents on the far-Left have regularly behaved
for the last several years (e.g., harassing journalists, disregarding the law, taking over public spaces, initiating violence, etc.).
It seems likely that this intolerant and often violent behavior will continue to escalate on both sides as we get closer to the election in November. Patriot groups who want to take the moral high ground, attract mainstream support, and prove their critics wrong, however, should live up to their stated ideals.
They should start by unequivocally demanding that all members and associates immediately cease and desist any initiation of violence and acts of intolerance against peaceful counter-protesters or journalists. They should also clearly delineate the limits of tolerance on their own side.
Specifically, as Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys national organization has recently done, these groups should take a strong stand against all racist, fascist, Nazi, KKK, white supremacist, and neo-Confederate ideologies and symbols.