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January 31, 2014

Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church
is perceived as being extremist.
Posturing oneself at the dark end
of the spectrum is counter productive.
Every movement has it's Fred Phelps.

An overstatement? Maybe. But not by much.

Consider the Mormons.

A break-away fundamentalist group (FLDS Church) headed by Warren Jeffs came to national attention in 2008 when Texas authorities entered the cult's compound to remove children living there. The group's leader was convicted of accessory to rape and sentenced to life in prison. Jeffs and Phelps have little in common other then their views are extremely radical relative to others of within their respective broader movements.

Consider Seventh Day Adventists.

The extremism of David Koresh compelled him to break away from the broader movement to form his own cult.

Social conservative movements have extremists other than Phelps.

Consider the right-to-life movement.

Nearly five years ago Scott Roeder shot and killed abortion doctor George Tiller. Few in the pro-life movement shed tears over the death of Tiller, though they openly condemned his murder as, pardon the expression, overkill. Roeder's radical extremism did little to advance the pro-life agenda.

Consider the patriot movement.

Most opponents to open-boarder immigration hold Anders Behring Breivik in contempt. Breivik went on a shooting spree in Norway in 2011 to drive home the seriousness of yielding Western culture to Muslim immigrants. His message was contradicted by his method.

• Extremism is relative to the whole

While Phelps would never stoop to the debauchery of Jeffs, murder an opponent like Roeder, or go on a shooting spree like Breivik, he is considered by many to be an extremist relative to the social conservative movement.

Again, every movement has it's Fred Phelps. That is, every movement -- religious, political, social, etc., -- can be expected to have an extreme element.

Islam is the most notorious movement with an massive extremist element. Atheists extremists express themselves through communism and, like all extremists, are disowned by those within the mainstream

• Between the extremes

Extremities necessarily have two ends. As there are those willing to blow things up, protest at funerals of fallen soldiers, and shoot opponents, there are also those who hold nominally to a movement, but do literally nothing. These I call extreme inactivists relative to extreme activists.

With extreme inactivists on the left, extreme activists on the right, and a gradation of activism between, we can visualize a simple graph that illustrates most every social, religious, or political movement.

Visualize extreme activism (and beliefs) on one end with
extreme inactivism (nominal beliefs) at the other end
and a gradation between. 

While Phelps may not be accurately plotted on the most extreme right end of the gradation, he is well within the dark end of the spectrum. Jeffs and Roeder would be even deeper on the dark end while Osama bin Laden would be even deeper still.

Using the above chart you could plot Catholicism. Uncle Fred -- who hasn't been to confession since high school -- is on the light left and Sinn Féin's ‎Gerry Adams is on the dark right. One could also plot Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, anarchists, socialists, Baptists, etc.

• Strategic mislabeling: Is it aspirin or cyanide?

Extreme activists have one thing in common: Their extremism nearly always discredits those in the center. That is why mid-tone activists are anxious to distance themselves from extreme activists, even when they support them in private.

That is why leftists routinely mislabel conservatives as extremists.

A bottle of cyanide tablets mislabeled as aspirin would be accepted. Likewise, a bottle of cyanide tablets mislabeled as aspirin would be avoided.

That is why the Southern Poverty Law Center routinely labels conservative organizations hate groups. Tagging a group as extreme alienates it and dissipates its effectiveness.

Likewise leftists attempt to slime Tea Party activists and gun rights supporters as irrational extreme ideologists. The popular strategy of adding the phobia suffix to demonize those with whom they disagree serves that same purpose. To label one a homophobe or Islamaphobe is to subtly assign that person to dark extremism. A person who is normal becomes viewed as an extremist, just as aspirin would be viewed as cyanide.

That's not to suggest that extreme activism is always wrong. Were that the case, America would still be a colonial possession of Great Britain. It is, rather, to underscore the fact that extreme activism or beliefs are usually rejected by most people.

Perception is reality and those perceived to be extremists are generally dismissed as being irrational.

• Self alienation

In the mid-1960s there was an extreme activist name George Lincoln Rockwell. Rockwell seemed to fancy being photographed wearing Nazi uniforms. There was a message in his method and that message said, "This guy is a nutcase. Stay away from him." And so I did.

There was another activist name Abbie Hoffman whose views were largely contrary to those of Rockwell. But like Rockwell, Hoffman positioned himself on the dark end of the spectrum.

The gauche brashness of Hoffman and the hippie counterculture movement faded because it was repellent. Today their views are expressed by well-coiffured women in pressed pantsuits and men wearing shirts and ties. The counterculture learned long ago to imitate normalcy. They want to brand -- or misbrand -- themselves as the rational center.

I've yet to see a counterculture Democrat begin an article with the phrase, "Marx was right." They've even exchanged the term revolutionary with progressive. In their minds, the two words have the same meaning. The connotation and perception, however, it quite different. They mislabel themselves as aspirin while their philosophy is cultural cyanide.

National Socialists still express themselves with gawdy swastika tattoos, wearing pointy Klanster hats, and beginning articles with "Hitler was right." Cyanide doesn't sell.

The point is not to advocate National Socialism. The point to note that some are infinitely more adept at marketing their brand by appealing to the mid-tone masses of the political spectrum. That requires losing the bandanna and tie-dye t-shirt (or pointy white hat and white robe) and replacing them with a blow dry and tie.

Extreme activism and beliefs are usually counter productive. Those positioned in the dark end of the spectrum repel rather than attract.

• Palatable packaging

In our efforts to influence others it is important that we present ourselves in palatable packaging. Some see such as charlatanism, dipping one's colors, or even outright betrayal of their principles. I see it as good marketing.

Another analogy comes to mind.

When I was little my parent gave me a little red pill at bed time. They said it contained vitamins. I don't know why that little red pill terrorized me, but it did. I suspect other four year olds were equally resistant to taking their vitamins.

Marketers eventually realized they could sell more vitamins if they made them kid friendly. They came up with chewable vitamins to looked like Fred Flintstone and actually tasted good. Sales boomed. Lesson learned.

There is a time and place to preach to the choir. But one can't influence the minds of others with sermon designed for the Sunday faithful.

In a screen shot from MSNBC, Ted Nugent is portrayed as an extremist. 



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