Magnetizing the Middle | An Op-ed to Violent Extremism in Charlottesville, VA

by DAVID LIAPIS August 16, 2017

Communism, Fascism, Progressivism, Conservatism, Liberalism, Libertarianism, Nazism. What do all these "isms" mean, where do the Alt-Right and ANTIFAS fit in, and do most Americans have any clue what to make of it all?

If you search for political spectrum charts on the Internet, you will find disparity. For example, some place Fascism on the far right while others show it on the far left next to Communism and Socialism. You also might gain an idea of whether or not the chart's creator was of liberal or conservative persuasion based simply on the positioning of Republicans and Democrats in relation to the middle, or the historical figures used to illustrate terms.

While most Americans likely fall somewhere left or right of middle on the spectrum of political identity, there are certainly those who inhabit the fringes. Some belong to more commonly known extremist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis, and the gamut of Islamic organizations such as Al Qaida and the Islamic State. Then there are some of the newer groups such as Black Lives Matter, ANTIFAS, and many "Eco-terrorist" groups. These groups have been referred to as terrorist organizations, hate groups, and protestors, among other designations, but "extremists" has become the favored title in the news and especially on social media.

From riots and assassinations of police officers to bombed government buildings and clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors, we are not strangers to the violence and lawlessness associated with both extreme ends of the political spectrum. Sadly, it seems the frequency and intensity of violent actions connected to extremism is on the rise.

Kerry O'Brien Smith, Ph.D. (ABD), American Leadership and Policy Foundation Visiting Fellow and National Director for Children Protected from Radicalization, noted in a recent ALPF publication that "During the Obama Administration, hate groups increased from 600 to 1,000 being recorded in the United States."

What hope do we as a nation have when we may be the most divided we've been since the Civil War? How do we maintain peace, law, order and our Constitutional freedoms within this context? An equally important question is how do we keep our youth from becoming radicalized by the far left, far right, religious or eco-terrorists, gangs or any other person or group seeking to bend young minds to their extremist ideologies?

Dr. O'Brien Smith offers some ideas in the aforementioned publication that involve educating parents and communities on the dangers and realities of radicalization and providing alternatives to young people to find worthwhile group identity.

Our nation needs to magnetize the middle of the political spectrum and draw people in who live on the fringes, and, more importantly, prevent others from being drawn out. The middle area, both left and rights sides, is where dialogue, civil debate, and the exchange and challenging of ideas exists.

Charlottesville was just a glimpse of what we can degenerate into as a nation if we don't unify to protect and properly use our freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and others. It's time to stop reacting, and instead be proactive and intentional as we strive to magnetize the middle.

What happens when the middle fails to galvanize? The extremes become the new normal. Imagine a world where that happens...actually, we don't have to-history is our mirror. Instances such as the rise of Hitler and his rule of the Nazi Party illustrate that when the world turns a blind eye, it loses. We must remain steadfast in our convictions to the ideals of what makes our country great, for our future depends on it.





David Liapis, M.A., is the ALPF President of the Board and a former U.S. Air Force Chief of Public Affairs.

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