What's Wrong with
Centrist-Extremist Theory?

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Two social science models used by the U.S. 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.

 


Major Study

Repression and Ideology:

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

How a d iscredited 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 .


Centrist/Extremist Theory:

Harms Civil Liberties

  • Implies that Radical Ideas lead to Violent Activity
    • Justification for Widespread Surveillance & Infiltration
  • Violent Extremism & Homegrown Terrorism Bill
  • Biased Lieberman Committee Hearings on Terrorism
  • Demonization of Muslims & Arabs
    • "Leaderless Jihad" Theories

Marginalizes Dissent

  • Implies that Ideas Outside the Center are not Legitimate
  • Narrows the Boundaries of Civic Political Debate
Undermines Progressive Organizing
  • Rhetoric of Centrist Democrats Demonizing and Smearing Critics as "Wingnuts:"
  • Encourages a Backlash
  • Fuels Mobilization against Progressive Ideas
  • Makes Organizing Harder for Progressive Activists

Background on Social Movement Theories

 

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