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Hard Right Styles, Frames, & Narratives
Out past the Republicans are a whole series of social and political movements sometimes called the Hard Right. This category includes everyone from the most zealous members of the Christian Right, through members of the armed militias and patriot groups like the John Birch Society, to the Ultra Right neo-Nazis and race hate groups. These are very different movements and it is not fair to lump them together as identical or even cooperative. Yet there are some commonalities in the styles, frames, and narratives they use.
When sociologists look at social movements, they look at how organizers mobilize and recruit people using different tools such as a particular rhetorical style. The term frame refers to a frame of reference that highlights particular aspects of reality to explain and move forward an ideological goal. A narrative is simply a story with a plot, a hero, a villain, and a moral or political lesson.
Hard Right is not going to simply vanish, so understanding how they
mobilize support for their ideologies is useful. The basic building
blocks for Hard Right styles, frames, and narratives are listed
below. Different organizations put different emphasis on different
elements in the list but in any Hard Right campaign, it should be
possible to identity several specific texts and subtexts from this
DARWINISM: as in rugged individualism; the mythopoetic wet dream
of libertarians. People who need government laws and regulations
to protect them are (in Arnold-speak) girlymena mascu-
linist worldview. Rugged individualism values individual liberty
over any collective or community obligation. The strong rise and
the weak fall; its the law of nature. Optimism trumps systemic
oppression and institutional hierarchies. Search the Internet for
Horatio Alger to see a historic narrative cast from
this moldy myth of bootstrapping yourself from rags to riches while
riding the rails with the Little Engine that Could.
DARWINISM: laissez faire
(or neoliberalism) should really be called market fundamentalism,
says linguist George Lakoff. According to the economic theology
of market fundamentalism, capitalisms unseen hand strokes
the engine of production and wealth. Neoliberal capitalism is often
seen by Rightists as synonymous with (or at least a necessary element
of) liberty and democracy.
DARWINISM: the influence of Calvinism is felt in a series of ideas
that were planted by Puritan settlers in the colonial period and
grew into the public consciousness. This popularized version of
the theology (which is bad enough) has nurtured several beliefs.
Only certain people blessed by God go to heaven. People are born
bad (in sin) and if they refuse to behave properly through love,
then a slap upside the head in the form of punishment, shame, and
discipline will set them straight. The undeserving poor, the weak,
the sick, the disabled, have been damned by God, so wasting tax
dollars on them is pointless. Material success is evidence of Gods
is a form of binary thinking
that divides the world into good versus evil with no middle ground
tolerated. There is no acknowledgment of complexity, nuance, or
ambiguity in debates. Calls for pluralism, coexistence, toleration,
pragmatism, compromise, or mediation are met with hostility. Dualism
(or Manicheaism) generates demonization and scape- goating. When
Samuel P. Huntington writes about a clash of civilizations,
he employs a form of dualism that demonizes Islam.
The word APOCALYPSE refers to the idea that a huge approaching confrontation or transformation will dramatically change society. This can have positive outcomes; and, in a sense, all social change organizers are somewhat apocalyptic. Apocalyptic (or millennialist or millenarian) social movements on the Right, however, often combine their apocalypticism with dualistic demonization and scapegoating in a way that promotes hatred and violence directed at an Other. Some in the Christian Right employ apocalyptic frames and narratives drawn from the Bibles book of Revelations to justify hostility toward the sin of gay marriage or support for the most aggressive policies of the Israeli government toward Palestinians.
is a particular narrative form of apocalyptic scapegoating that
frames demonized individuals as part of a vast, insidious, omniscient,
timeless plot against the common good. At the same time, conspiracism
valorizes the conspiracy-mongering scape- goater as a hero for sounding
the alarm, even as people go running off in the wrong direction
chasing individual villains rather than confronting structural barriers
to equality and justice. Conspiracism should not be confused with
power structure research or investigative journalism that exposes
actual conspiracies. Conspiracism across the Hard Right is a masculinist
narrative that engenders confrontation. Conspira- cism is also used
by the Bush administration to create fears of a vast terrorist web
and subversive underground apparatus.
is a rhetorical style that
seeks to mobilize the people as a social or political
force and it is generally a response to economic,
social, or cultural stress. Left-wing populism has a long history
of challenging institutional unfairness and prompting substantial
social reforms. Right-wing movements often use populist anti-elitist
rhetoric to claim the current regime as indifferent, corrupt, or
traitorous. Instead of seeking to reform or change institutions,
though, right-wing populism individualizes the problems and proposes
the solution is to, Throw the bums out. The growing
population of angry, alienated people is mobilized into a cross-class
revolt through demagogic framing that portrays hard-working producers
in the middle being squeezed by a conspiracy involving secret elites
above and lazy, sinful, and subversive parasites below. This frame
is called producerism. Arnold Schwarzenegger terminated
his opponents in the 2003 California governors race using
populist producerism as his mantra.
appears as an assertion of
dominancethe relative perceived need for authoritarian enforcement
of top-down total control over social, cultural, and political relations.
Dominance involves political and economic power along with the entitlements
of privilege. The people who hold dominant power need not be the
numerical majority in a population; White control over colonial
India or South Africa are examples. Groups that lack dominance can
still see it as their ultimate goal. The justification for asserting
dominance is frequently based on the self-perceived supremacy of
the group making the assertion and this can be articulated in biological
or cultural terms.
Weve Been Framed
All of these styles, frames, and narratives reinforce each other throughout our society. Linda Kintz notes the linkage between God, the Constitution, and masculinity provides a powerful foundation of emotion. This makes it difficult for Left activists to even find a common language with which to start discussions about progressive social change.
When the Hard Right is strong, it pulls the Republicans further to the right as skillful right-wing political operatives try to find some way to capture the energy and steer it into the voting booth. Learning how right-wing frames are assembled is the first step in learning how to reframe the debate and challenge the political Right.
Chip Berlet is an analyst at Political Research Associates. This article was adapted from Mapping the Political Right in Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, edited by Abby Ferber.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.