Repression and Ideology:

"Violent Radicalization," "Extremism," & "Homegrown Terrorism"

Discredited Social Science Model Fuels Efforts to Expand Government Surveillance, Infiltration, & Disruption

How Police Justify Labelling Dissenters, Demonstrators, and Ordinary Americans as "Terrorists"

by Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons

New Introduction

Two social science models used by the government--"countersubversion theory" and "centrist/extremist theory"--wrongly assume there is criminal intent and activity behind all mass movements that are critical of the government.1

Centrist/extremist theory (sometimes called Classical Theory" or the "Pluralist School), lumps together dissidents, populists of the left and right, supremacists and terrorists as an irrational lunatic fringe.

The image of a democratic elite guarding the vital center against irrational populists has appealed strongly to many defenders of the status quo, but as a reading of US political traditions it is strikingly twisted and inconsistent.

Centrist/extremist theory denies the structural oppression at the core of US society; it obscures this country's long history of brutality and genocide; it lumps popular movements that fight oppression and supremacy with those that reinforce it.

Jump Directly to the Critique of Centrist/Extremist Theory

Read the Original Article from the Beginning


This article first appeared in Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Law Report
Vol. 5, Nos. 13-14, Jan-Feb., and March-April 1998. Copyright 1998, the West Group

Original title: "One Key to Litigating Against Government Prosecution of Dissidents: Understanding the Underlying Assumptions.”

[Editor's Note: Chip Berlet, a journalist, and Matthew N. Lyons, a historian, are critical of mainstream analytical models used to demonize dissident social and political movements as either "subversive" or "extremist." After the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, their ideas gained widespread exposure in numerous media interviews and articles. Although they are harsh critics of the armed militia movement, they argued that the portrayal of all militia members as potential terrorists probably engaged in criminal activity was inaccurate and raised serious civil liberties and civil rights issues. Berlet was subpoenaed (although not called to the stand) as an expert witness by the legal team appointed to defend Terry Nichols, who was eventually convicted for his role in the bombing.

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