Extremism Goes Mainstream

I really try to stay positive.

Take the environment, where there are signs of genuine progress. Despite the mounting effects of climate change, there is much to applaud about the multiple efforts at what I’ll call “eco-responsibility”–for example, in the most recent issue of the Engineering News Record (my husband subscribes), there are stories about efforts to add plastic additives to road construction (thus extending pavement life while re-using plastic waste), new methods of decreasing concrete’s carbon footprint, and a particularly encouraging article about updating the U.S. grid to aid in the transition from fossil to renewable energy.

In a number of areas, serious people are making serious efforts to confront the multiple threats to our various societies that range from problematic to dangerous, and in many of these areas, there is slow but discernible progress.

But. (You knew there was a “but”…) A significant number of humans evidently cannot cope with the world they now inhabit, and are retreating into fantasy, hate and violence.

ProPublica recently explored the extent to which such individuals control today’s Republican Party.

North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt swore an oath to uphold the Constitution after his election in 2016 and again in 2020. But there’s another pledge that Clampitt said he’s upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization.

Dozens of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of them looking like a paramilitary group, wearing camo helmets and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party.

ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town’s public works director.

ProPublica found over 400 members and/or newsletter recipients who used government, military or political campaign email addresses; they included candidates for offices ranging from Congress to sheriff–a list that also included a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California. There were significant numbers of police officers and military veterans.

Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people’s guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories.

By far the most frightening aspect of the revelations is the degree to which these commitments have become mainstream within the GOP.

“Five or six years ago, politicians wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with Oath Keepers, you’d have to go pretty fringe,” said Jared Holt, who monitors the group for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous.”

The article identifies a number of current lawmakers as members. Among them is Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin, whose spokesperson said he was unavailable to comment. The article meticulously categorized the members whose identities were disclosed by the hack: elected officials, GOP party leaders, and (chillingly) poll workers.

In the wake of the hack and the disclosures, several media outlets investigated how enrollees learned about the organization– how it was able to spread so readily. One conclusion: social media, particularly Facebook, is central; it provides a platform for the “patriot” movement. That conclusion would seem to confirm other recent studies showing how social media recruits for the far right more generally. One report found that Facebook was joiners’ most frequently cited source for having first heard about the Oath Keepers.

Mother Jones found that certain right-wing media outlets and figures, notably Alex Jones and Infowars, have played key roles in spreading the extremism. But more “mainstream” outlets and figures were also found to play central roles: Fox and Fox News were prominent.

There have always been extremists, malcontents, and outright lunatics. What is different today–and scary–isn’t just that they have moved the Overton Window and become almost mainstream. It’s that they have effectively taken over one of America’s two major political parties–and made it impossible to govern. Nationally, the GOP simply refuses to participate in legislative activities, preferring to wage culture war. That has driven virtually all sane people to become Democrats or Democratically-leaning independents–but they represent such a broad spectrum of political ideology that it is nearly impossible to unite them behind a single agenda.

Bottom line: Either the fever will break, or the country will.


A quick reminder of site rules to commenters: do not feed the trolls, and do not engage in ad hominem argumentation. Thank you.


  1. Thank You for the positive notes that lead off this piece. Thank You for the reminder re comments. When a quick ‘scroll through’ of comments occurs (which doesn’t happen often), the repetition of what your column states, as well as argumentative comments, is so very tiresome. Yes, I do need to exit your daily posts immediately after finishing reading your content…

  2. I have stated before that I rarely receive any Republican or questionable posts of consequence on my Facebook page. A few days ago I did receive a post from Hawley asking people to respond to his question of trusting Joe Biden; as I worked my way through the required questions to delete or block posts from Hawley (NOT found on other unwanted posts) I remember the few others also required I give a reason for NOT wanting right-wing posts. There was also the the time I commented on someone else’s anti-Trump post that he was “white trash with money”; I was not allowed to comment or click on any icon for 3 days. This raised a question in my mind if Facebook has the same requirements from right-wing FB members to delete or block Democratic posts? I can’t judge Facebook by seeing only one side of what appears to be their political leaning.

    On to what should be and should have been for the past almost two decades is the fact that Democrats have not yet had to fear “Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people’s guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories.” The ridiculousness of these continuing threats of lawlessness by the Democratic party would be obvious to thinking Americans had the far right Republicans not inflamed sitting members in Congress and voters to a deadly surge level such as we are watching on the news at that Rapper festival in Texas. Of course there is Democrat Manchin, again wavering on voting for President Biden’s progressive “Build Back Better” bill. Overlooked and forgotten as they try to stop the investigation of January 6th Insurrection are the blatant facts they they cried out for their own Vice President Mike Pence to be hung and sought House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to kidnap to prevent her elevation to the presidency. Elephants are supposed to be the ones with the long memories; what we have with “Extremism Goes Mainstream” is a group of throwback Republicans to the Civil War and Reconstruction period which are the “good old days” for them.

  3. I was with you until this:

    “It’s that they have effectively taken over one of America’s two major political parties–and made it impossible to govern.”

    If I could sit face to face with you for about 30 minutes, I could snap you out of your attachment to the Democratic Party which also has been taken over. The final nails in the DNC’s coffin were nailed by Bill Clinton in the 90s, but for some reason, POC and lots of others are still clinging to it.

    Some POC are even finding their homes in the GOP which I expect will be a short-lived experiment of ‘selloutville.’

    It’s quite hilarious to watch in my own community as POC navigate their way up the Oligarch pyramid. Each level requires a different point of selling out your soul for money/power.

    It’s the game of, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

    We are heading for a major come to Jesus moment is all I can say. Probably, a few small ones and then bigger ones. 😉

  4. Sheila; the site worked last night but again this morning I can only get the comments from Joan after submitting Post Comment. I clicked off of the blog, returned to you E-mail and clicked on the web site and found my name on the Recent Comments but only Joan’s comments appeared. I scrolled back up to the Post Comment list and my name was gone. Don’t know if this information helps. Thank you

  5. Upon the age of 17, I enlisted in the US Army Reserves, with the 490th Civil Affairs Company, headquartered in Abilene, Texas. I was in my senior year of high school serving as the student body president. It was 1962, not too long after the oath of swearing in was revised by the Congress and approved by President John F. Kennedy. This oath stands today as the standard of commitment and obligation: https://www.army.mil/e2/downloads/rv7/values/posters/enlistment.pdf
    During the Trump administration, I asked a young Marine recruit if the Commander-in-Chief ordered the military to do something contrary to the security interests of our country, would he obey. Without hesitation and a confident smile, he answered: I took an oath to defend the Constitution and I trust my commanders up the line to command accordingly.”

    I believe there is a check and balance built into our total system of government. Extremist can rant all they want to grab a headline, but they do not and cannot influence the levers of power that took an oath first to protect the Constitution.

  6. Sadly, it is not against the law to break the oath all government employees and elected personnel take to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Perhaps the problem is who defines exactly who the domestic enemy is. To the Q believers it is most of the commenters on this blog and anyone who espouses a liberal agenda. To me and many others, it’s them.

  7. This is why it is so critical that the filibuster be abolished, or substantively reformed. The GOP “plan” is NOT to govern. When they are in power, they are fine with doing nothing, other than helping the rich and confirming very conservative judges, of course. When the Dems can pass nothing, the GOP wins. It confirms for the public that government is useless and never does anything positive for them, which breeds apathy and cynicism. The corollary of this is there’s absolutely no point “working” with them. (Aside: Joe Manchin is either really dumb–and I don’t think he is–or completely disingenuous. He always contends that he’ll get on board bipartisan bills, but it’s clear this is just a very pathetic excuse.)

    The concern I often hear is that abolishing the filibuster would mean the GOP would get to pass all sorts of terrible legislation when they get back in power. First, that _should_ be the way democracy works. Let them pass their terrible laws and then we all get to see if the public likes that. (I still have a flicker of optimism in my that whispers to me that the majority of people will not like their governance.) A clear demonstration of how really terrible they are might be beneficial longterm. But second, it’s an especially pointless worry because they really have no interest in passing laws. On the other hand, if the Dems can’t pass good laws to help people when they are in power then they’ll deserve it when they lose the next election. At that point, why would an average voter bother finding the time to go to the polls. According to what they see, voting doesn’t change anything.

    It’s time to respect the will of the people. It’s time for some governing to happen. It’s time to face up to the problems of the USA and the world and actually do something. It’s time for the filibuster to go.

  8. I would agree with the statement, Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “When groups like that become emboldened, it makes them significantly more dangerous.”

    The New GOP is chock full of Social-Cultural Warriors and the Right Wing Reactionary Rambo wannabes, along with bible thumper’s. It may at first uncomfortable for the gated community, three piece suit Republicans. Those Republicans that were looking to be elected or re-elected quickly realized the GOP Base was moving into the Far Right. No moderation would be tolerated.

    The Trumpet IMHO emboldened and enabled groups like the Oath Keepers, etc. These fringe groups were welcomed in.

  9. Sheila, do you know if there is a link anywhere to the list itself of Oath Keeper members and/or supporters? I searched both ProPublica and Distributed Denial of Secrets websites and couldn’t find one. I’m not excited about scrolling through 35,000 names, but would be interested to see if the list might be searchable by state. While Baldwin claims his only connection with the group was a $30 donation in 2010, there may be other Indiana people in positions of power/influence on the list.
    If anyone finds a link to the list, please post.

  10. JoAnn, the same thing happened to me after posting my comment. After closing the blog webpage, I then went back to my email with the link to the blog, clicked it, and was then able to again view all comments.

  11. I think the Indiana politician that ended up on that Oath Keeper list did do an interview for the Indy Star (even a blind squirrel like the Indy Star can find a nut occasionally) and if I remember correctly what he said, is that he was running for some low level office 6 or 8 years ago, and paid a years dues to what looked like a gun rights group back then. He has not had any contact since then.

    I am not making excuses I am just paraphrasing what was reported.

  12. The question is (because it’s the only alternative that has a chance to fix what’s broken) how can the Democrat Party advertise to break the hold that the Republican Party already has on their brand?

    As long as the Murdoch’s business plan with Fox entertainment is successful they will only play the music that keeps the eyeballs that they have. It is a lucrative business. They have found a way to turn many corporations’ marketing budgets into reliable sales from select demographics and, incidentally, Republican Party votes.

    That business success has spawned others copying the business plan like Steve Bannon and Alex Jones.

    Will the fad die as the demographic ages out? I don’t think so because it will be tweaked as necessary to maintain the profits.

    CNN and MSNBC try different competitive approaches with very limited success.

    Is it that the complementary brand is too diverse to brand?

    Or is there any possibility to legislate entertainment to require broader entertainment genres?

    Maybe I’m just not creative enough but I don’t see how.

  13. BTW I have been having website issues lately. I post my offering, it gets swallowed up into a virtual maw, the screen returns with but a single post, not mine. To recover I have to click the link back to yesterday, then click the link there to today, and, voila, success.

  14. ALL–MY son is working on the problem some of you have reported. He recently migrated the site to a different server, which may have given rise to the glitch.

  15. @Peggy … you wrote: “Sadly, it is not against the law to break the oath all government employees and elected personnel take to defend the Constitution …” The oath taken by military personnel is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Violations of that oath are not the jurisdiction of a civil court proceeding. Each branch of the armed services have their own court system to investigate and prosecute in a military court of law. Anyone resistant to having free speech abridged need not enlist. My point being, the likes of Marjory Taylor Green have no sway with military command and never will … especially in regards to compromising the oath.

  16. I wonder what members of the GOP who have left are going to do. I know that the “Lincoln” Republicans are doing ads against members of the GOP who support the former president’s ideology. The question for me remains. Will they form a 3rd party to offset and undermine the Gop that is dominated by Trump?

    Can anyone tell me if Sen. Scott Baldwin lives in a district where he actually has a democratic opponent?

    People on the far right seem to believe that if you fall on hard times and you can’t pull yourself
    up by your own boot straps, too bad. You were predestined to have your life destroyed. Yesterday I spoke with a friend who has left both the GOP and the libetarian party. He and his wife are now losing their retirement savings because she desperately needs to be in a rehab facility. She also needs PT. Their insurance refuses to pay for the length of stay and PT she really needs. They are both in their 60’s. This is how I know our health care system is very broken. It is an example that explains why I support Universal Health Care. The failure of both parties to create laws that allow each citizen free access to health care confirms my belief that they have sold out to the oligarchy and that health care is part of that oligarchy. I am happy I am now retired from nursing and mental health/substance use counseling because I got sick and tired of trying to help people while having my hands tied by insurance companies.

    And in the meantime because of gerrymandering and the electoral college, the far right has more power than it otherwise would. I fear that we are going in the direction of S.Africa where the minority of white people oppressed the majority of people of color for decades.

  17. Robin, Trump does not have an “ideology.” That’s what makes things so difficult for those of us who oppose him. You could be an extremely liberal or extremely conservative…Trump couldn’t care less about the political issues. He only cares about himself and his grievances.

    Baldwin had a Democratic opponent in 2020, but that person only received 37.5% of the vote. That’s outside of being competitive. Baldwin’s state senate district is now redrawn, but I doubt they made it a competitive district. Best bet might be to take him out in the GOP primary, but right now that’s dominated by the crazies.

  18. So, what does a Mike Clampitt do, if/when he sees his 2 oaths in conflict with one another?
    Or will they? It seems that those who have taken the oath to uphold the constitution, as in veterans, for example, have to find a way to twist the initial oath so that they do not experience cognitive dysfunction when contemplating taking the next one, or they find a way to ignore same. But, that is neither here, nor there. Members of Oath keepers have done it.
    I saw a tee shirt recently, saying, essentially, “When the government becomes tyrannical, it is patriotic to rebel.” This makes sense to me, but the issue is in the definition of “tyrannical.” Trump’s rancidity, corrupt way of non-governing was tyrannical to me, (and the history of totalitarianism) but if it serves that person’s presumably bigoted agenda, she might see it as wonderful, if not God-given.
    I’ve been a little off the subject, but yes, “Either the fever will break, or the country will.” If Trump, gets indicted, on any one of the potential, plausible, charges now in the firmament, the fever may intensify. If he then gets convicted, on any of those, it may break, but you can bet that the Fox News and Alex Joneses of the world will try to create chaos out of it

  19. The Oath Keepers should be labeled as what they are – domestic terrorists – and membership alone in any such organization which promotes the overthrow of the government by force and violence should be a felony punishable by imprisonment.

    Robin: I think the Republican Party (hardly deserving to be called a political party since they have no platform or set of governing principles and – other than cutting taxes and appointing judges – have no interest in governing in their single-minded pursuit of power) will go the way of the Whigs unless they rather quickly decide to reject Trumpism, and since that is unlikely, I think their party is headed for the junk heap of history. Liz and the Lincoln Project and a few Republican congressmen and women show some signs of moving to a reformed status for the party, which is almost imperceptibly putting Trump on the sidelines while continuing to embrace Trumpism, a difficult maneuver at best, but a necessary one since Trump is toxic to everything he touches, even his own Trumpism. My guess is that the reformers will fail and that that party falls into the oblivious Whigdom from which it arose in 1854 on the issue of slavery.

    When will this happen? I can’t know because of all the externalities involved, but I believe I have stated the trajectory it is likely to take. Time (and the flow of events) will tell.

  20. I have heard about these militia groups but had no idea there were that many members! OMG!

    There’s your Deep State right there.

  21. Scott Baldwin succeeded Spartz in the Indiana Senate. The 20th DIstrict map has been radically redrawn. Lots of people are going to be completely unaware of what state senate district they are in when the next election is held for those offices four years from now.
    Steve Bannon’s call to arms for his 20,000 “shock troops” to take control of the government clearly has some basis in fact if the membership in Oath Keepers, including current and former law enforcement/military personnel, exceeds 35,000. And that is only one of several vigilante/militia groups currently active. With more guns than people in this country, those shock troops may well be better armed than the national guard or federal law enforcement.
    Are we headed for another civil war or are we already in a cold civil war?

  22. After watching Sixty Minutes tonight about the Missouri Legislators passing a bill to protect their Second Amendment Rights is out of bounds. I hope the Feds sue them for their “States Rights” interpretation. If they have their way, every citizen will have their own gun. We have more violence now with the gun nation everywhere. What happened to civility?

  23. I’m sorry but the Democrats need to stop whining, stop running against Trump – and get something done, instead of being a circular firing squad. And have a coherent message and stay on it. Apart from the presidency, they got whooped in the 2020 general election – after four years of Trump they barely took back the house and the senate. Stop saying stupid shit like ” Defund the police”, sell your Build Back Better plan to the average person and stop looking like a bunch of kids fighting in the sandbox. They had the perfect opportunity to show some normalcy ( which is what most people want, I think ) and pass a bi partisan bill to show that actually government can work – and then totally blew it by all the infighting. Yes, the infrastructure passed but that’s not what people remember now. Tone deaf.

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