The Role of the Demagogue

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In periods of rapid societal transformation, increased status is awarded to those persons most willing to excoriate the scapegoats and expose them as evil conspirators, even though the claims of these demagogues are fabrications. As Allport writes, "Demagogues play up false issues to divert public attention from true issues."~59 Successful demagogues usually have great personal charisma and appear supremely self-confident and knowledgeable...yet some demagogues can come across as accessible and friendly. Demagogues are usually seen as fitting the category of "The True Believer" delineated by Eric Hoffer.~60 Few dissident organizers actually fit the definition of being a demagogue, even though centrist/extremist theory casts them in the role. That the term and concept of demagoguery has been abused, however, does not negate the reality of demagoguery as one style of organizing.~61

Demagogues often scapegoat groups that suffer widespread prejudice. "Not all [demagogues] select the alleged misconduct of minority groups as their false issue--but a great many do so," observes Allport.~62 Demagogues serve as "inspirational agitators" who mobilize a mass following of persons "who may adopt the program [of the demagogue] for reasons of cultural conditioning or conformity or of occupational and economic opportunism," writes Frederick Cople Jaher in a discussion of antisemitism.~63 Unpackaging the relationships between ideological demagogic leaders and their followers, who may be motivated by a variety of reasons, is an important step in analyzing any populist movement that uses scapegoating. Several factors must coalesce for demagogues to activate mass populist scapegoating. As Robert S. Robins and Jerrold M. Post, M.D. explain:

==="The would-be leader propagating a paranoid theme is a time of tranquillity will appeal only to a small audience. Even in a time of stress such an appeal will fail if the leader lacks conventional political skills. But when the politically skillful leader or propagandist with a persuasive paranoid message calls to an overwhelmed society, the conditions are ripe for a violent and widespread response."~64

Conspiracist demagogues create for themselves a special status as gatekeepers to secret knowledge, a form of Gnosticism in which they are the high priests. Demagogues uses a variety of emotionally-manipulative propaganda tactics to convince an audience that their assertions have merit. They frequently use standard techniques of the propagandist, and use logical fallacies to assert connections between persons, groups, and events that may not be related at all.~65 Some of the illogical and invalid arguments violate the historic rules of logic including the false ideas that sequence implies causation, association implies guilt, congruence in one aspect implies congruence in all aspects, and that simultaneous action implies prior planning.

Conspiracists often argue their case by producing a tremendous volume of data, then make sweeping generalizations that imply connections that have not been logically demonstrated.~66 All conspiracist theories start with a grain of truth around which is wrapped an attractive luminescent pearl of fiction which distracts attention away from the irrational leaps of conclusion. "Pat Buchanan in his 1996 presidential campaign raised real issues such as the negative effects of NAFTA," explains Holly Sklar, "but he blamed a mix of real and false causes to suit his demagogic ends."~67

Gates gives another example based on an antisemitic book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, published by the Nation of Islam:

"[T]he book massively misrepresents the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotation of often reputable sources. But its authors could be confident that few of its readers would go to the trouble of actually hunting down the works cited. For if readers actually did so, they might discover a rather different picture."

Conspiracist demagogues as orators portray as wisdom what is, in essence, parlor tricks of memorization lubricated with fallacies of logic. While this is a form of charlatanism, it is frequently unconscious. Interviews with numerous conspiracists reveals that even when shown that their logic is flawed, they dismiss the proof as a trick or irrelevant.~68

Demagoguery facilitates the projection required for scapegoating. As Allport puts it:

"Demagoguery invites the externalization of hatred and anxiety, it is an institutional aid to projection; it justifies tabloid thinking, stereotyping, and the conviction that the world is made up of swindlers...There is no middle ground...the ultimate objective is vague, still the need for definiteness is met by the rule, `Follow the Leader.'"~69

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