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Op/ed: What’s Driving Trump’s Foot Soldiers

UMD Psychologist Says Understanding Could Help Mitigate Far-right Extremism

By Arie W. Kruglanski

President Donald Trump's supporters converge on the Capitol building on Jan. 6, when rioters stormed the building as lawmakers were set to certify President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory in what was supposed to be a routine process headed to Inauguration Day.

Photo by Probal Rashid/LightRocket via Getty Images

President Donald Trump's supporters converge on the Capitol building on Jan. 6, where rioters overran the building as lawmakers were set to certify President-elect Joe Biden's electoral victory in what was supposed to be a routine process leading to Inauguration Day. A psychological understanding of what drives right-wing extremism could help mitigate it, a UMD psychology researcher says.

The Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by a mob trying to force a second term for President Donald Trump may have been a shocking sight, but it represented a wave of far-right extremism that has been rising for much of the last decade, says a UMD expert on radicalization.

In a Boston Globe essay, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology Arie W. Kruglanski, who for decades has studied and interviewed extremists from movements worldwide, writes that the Americans who terrorized the U.S. Congress were driven by factors similar to those that motivate their overseas counterparts.  Part of what’s required to end such threats, he said, is an understanding of grievances held even by those whose politics we oppose.  

Participants in last week’s siege of the Capitol probably felt an acute need for significance fed from varied sources. For some, it may have been economic hardships (a loss of a job, the shuttering of a business); for others, it may have been the pandemic lockdowns, the mask mandates, and other COVID-19 restrictions that aroused their ire. Yet others may have felt threatened by claims of systemic racism and believe that the Black Lives Matter antiracist protest movement imperils their place in society. The far-right narrative binds these various strands of grievance into a package that wrongly identifies the culprits responsible for it all: Jews, who they believe dominate the deep state and are colluding with Democrats, Black people and liberals, in taking over the country from its rightful owners — white Americans. Anti-Semitism and white supremacy are the major pillars of the far-right movement.

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, this general narrative was funneled into a specific—and false—accusation: that the establishment stole the election from Trump, the leader and hero of the extremist movement. Much like the Dolchstosslegende, the stab-in-the back fable of 1918 that Germany was winning World War I only to be betrayed by Jews and socialists, the election-steal lie accuses a corrupt Washington deep state of a comparable treason. Just like that mendacious myth of Germany’s past, its current Americanized version is a powerful goad to action to white supremacists.

Read the rest in The Boston Globe

 

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