Centrist/extremist theory remains the dominant paradigm for discussion of dissidents even though numerous historians, political scientists, sociologists, social psychologists, psychologists, and activists have thoroughly undermined its underlying assumptions.107
The theory creates a Potemkin village where there is a marginalized lunatic fringe of extremists attacking idealized democracy upheld by a vital center of elites. This view logically then relies on government crackdowns to protect us from the zealots. Centrist/extremist theory hides the oppression and inequality institutionalized throughout US society; the frequent links between right-wing movements and economic and political elites; the complex mix of legitimate and illegitimate grievances underlying the paranoid-sounding conspiracism of right-wing populism; and the danger of increasing state repression.
Why should we fear the government? Ask a Japanese American held at an internment camp during World War II. Ask a target of McCarthy era witch hunts who lost a job. Ask a civil rights activist or a Vietnam war protester spied upon or arrested unfairly. Ask a member of the American Indian Movement, the Black Panther Party, or a Puerto Rican independence group who has friends that were shot by government agents during a raid. Ask an anti-interventionist monitored and harassed by the FBI during its probe of CISPES in the 1980s. Ask a young African-American male driving through a wealthy White suburb.
There is a tragic irony in allowing the use of authoritarian or repressive methods to fight supremacy and violence. We should not have to choose between fighting intolerance and bigotry, and protecting constitutional liberties.
Emerging as a criticism of centrist/extremist theory is a collection of newer theories which include the "political process model," "resource mobilization theory" and "new social movement theory.108
As analysts who are exploring new ways to study dissent, we see mass movements as composed of people motivated by a sense of grievance-legitimate or illegitimate-who mobilize to seek redress of their grievances through a variety of methods including, but seldom limited to, the electoral process. This view sees most participants in social and political movements as being able to organize others using rational and effective strategies and tactics-even if their mobilization is based on grievances that are primarily irrational and conspiracist, illegitimate and prejudiced, or in defense of disproportionate access to power, wealth, and privilege. A basic point of departure for our study is our view that right-wing movements are a normal part of US political traditions, that they are subject to the same basic dynamics as other movements, and that their members are for the most part regular people motivated by a combination of material and ideological grievances and aspirations.109 We see dissidents on the left following the same pattern.
One synthesis of various social movement theories developed by John C. Green of the Ray Bliss Center at the University of Akron, Ohio, argues that all mass movements of dissent arise through a combination of four factors:
A discontented group of politicized persons who have grievances they wish addressed.
A core group of strategic leaders and local activists that effectively mobilize the politicized persons using available resources.
The recruitment of politicized persons into the movement through pre-existing social networks.
The availability of opportunities in the social and political environment exploitable by movement leaders and activists. 110
These new ideas about social movements contradict both countersubversion theory and centrist/extremist theory, and call into question longstanding government assumptions about the essentialist criminal nature of dissident movements. When litigating against government prosecution of dissidents, attorneys should resist prosecution attempts to offer briefs, evidence, or witnesses that would bring these flawed notions into the courtroom; and be prepared to counter these ideas and arguments.
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