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Who are these people?

People join right-wing populist-style groups for a variety of reasons: political, cultural, economic, religious, and social, often in complex and idiosyncratic blends.

For populist activists in the Christian Right, Diamond lists the basic priorities:

    Average people active in the Christian Right genuinely feel that the country is going to hell in a hand basket, which is true. The problem is that through a long process of ideological formation most have arrived at a distorted view of their own best interests. They look at [what for them is a] stagnant economy and see "illegal aliens," not runaway capitalism, which they generally support. They look at teenage delinquency and then blame teachers' unions instead of the consumer culture that trains young people to shop and not think.

    What people in the Christian Right want is pretty basic. They want laws to outlaw abortion which they consider a form of infanticide. They want to change the tax code to encourage married mothers to stay home and raise good kids. They want queers to get back in the closet and pretend not to exist. They want high quality schools; they think the public schools are failing not for lack of resources but because kids can't pray or read Genesis in biology class.187

    [T]here is nothing particularly "radical" about most politically active evangelical Christians. To be "radical" is to seize the roots of a problem and to advocate and work for profound social change. The Christian Right, on the contrary, supports existing conditions that effectively maintain inequality between rich and poor, white and black, men and women. The Christian Right supports capitalism in all its forms and effects and seeks to uphold traditional hierarchies between the genders and, less overtly, between races. 188

Based primarily on anecdotal evidence, it may be that persons in the Christian Right are motivated primarily by cultural/religious concerns, while persons in Regressive Populist formations such as the Patriot movement, are primarily motivated by economic/social concerns. A Washington Post survey of Promise Keepers attending the Stand in the Gap rally in Washington showed they had above average income levels.189 A study by Deborah Kaplan found members of a Patriot group in California had good reasons to fear downward mobility:

    Many of the adherents...did suffer reversals, and as a direct result of corporate restructuring strategies. As many as 49.3 percent, compared to 28.0 percent in a national news survey, said they had been "personally affected" by business downsizing....190

While there is little reliable data for the US, Hans-Georg Betz, in his study "Radical Right-wing Populism in Western Europe," noted one common theme among the contemporary right-wing populist movements in Europe was xenophobia and racist scapegoating of immigrants and asylum-seekers.191 Betz argues that generally the right wing populists in Europe distanced themselves from open affiliation with the violent far right such as neonazis, avoided obvious and overt racism, and presented themselves as willing to make "a fundamental transformation of the exiting socioeconomic and sociopolitical system," while still remaining within reformism and claiming to represent "democratic alternatives to the prevailing system." Betz, however, did not examine the other side of the equation, where revolutionary right movements (including fascists) interact with right wing populist groups through recruitment, and make regressive populist demands seem more reasonable by comparison.

Betz's review of voting demographics in Europe reveals right-wing populist parties attract disproportionate numbers of men, persons employed in the private sector, and younger voters. In terms of social base, two versions of right wing populism emerge: one centered around "get the government off my back" economic libertarianism coupled with a rejection of mainstream political parties (more attractive to the upper middle class and small entrepreneurs); the other based on xenophobia and ethnocentric nationalism (more attractive to the lower middle class and wage workers); although there is an attraction across many sectors.192 This is similar to the main themes of right-wing populism in the US.

These different constituencies can unite behind candidates that attack the current regime since both constituencies identify an intrusive and incompetent government as the cause of their grievances. Anecdotal evidence suggests a similar constituency for xenophobic right wing populists in the US. One 1995 Harris poll found that while 42% of citizens had a great deal of confidence in small businesses, the figure was only 19% for big businesses, and 8% for the federal government. The same poll found 60% favored restricting government-provided social services to "illegal immigrants."193

While some concerns of the xenophobic right are clearly economic, others are clearly social and cultural, as reporters Susan Ladd and Stan Swofford of the News & Record, in Greensboro, NC wrote:

    Some observers [of the Patriot movement] have attributed the movement to a backlash by angry white men who feel particularly disenfranchised by the social reforms of the `60s.

    The Patriot movement is `made up mainly of alienated white men who yearn for their lost dominance,' says Ted Arrington, chairman of the political science department at UNC-Charlotte, who has studied the literature of some local Patriot organizations. `The working guy hasn't seen his lot improved in a long time. He feels betrayed. The American Dream doesn't include him. It's a myth so far as he is concerned. Something's gone wrong.'194

How much overlap exists between the Christian Right and Patriot Right is debated, but there is little solid data. What is clear, however, is that some issues, rhetoric, and conspiracy theories cross-pollinate both constituencies.

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