Dynamics of Right-Wing Populism

An Introduction

Right-Wing Populism is a blend of the various components listed below:

  • Dualism
    • Demonization
    • Scapegoating
    • Apocalyptic Aggression
  • Populism
    • Producerism
  • Conspiracism
  • Coded Rhetoric and Scripted Violence
  • Propaganda & Deception
  • Authoritarianism
  • White Nationalist Panic
  • Gender Panic
  • Countersubversion Panic


A binary division of the world into competing factions: one good and one evil. Also called Manichaeism.


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The portrayal of individuals and groups as agents of pure evil, perhaps even in league with Satan. A precursor to scapegoating and conspiracism which encourages discrimination and violence against the target. Acts as a form of dehumanization or objectification.

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The social process whereby hostility and aggression of an angry and frustrated group are directed away from a rational explanation of a conflict and projected onto targets demonized by irrational claims of wrongdoing, so that the scapegoat bears the blame for causing the conflict, while the scapegoaters feel a sense of innocence and increased unity. It is scapegoating whether or not the conflict is real or imaginary, the grievances are legitimate or illegitimate, or the target is wholly innocent or partially culpable.

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The belief in an approaching confrontation, cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations. From a Greek root word suggesting unveiling hidden information or revealing secret knowledge about unfolding human events.

In Christianity there are competing apocalyptic prophetic traditions based on demonization or cooperation. The dualist or demonized version involves a final show-down struggle between absolute good and absolute evil. Central to Christianity, the tradition also exists in Judaism, Islam, and other religions and secular belief structures. Believers can be passive or active in anticipation; and optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome.


From Right-Wing Populism in America:

Canovan argues: all forms of populism “involve some kind of exaltation of and appeal to ´the people,´ and all are in one sense or another antielitist.” We take these two elements—celebration of “the people” plus some form of antielitism—as a working definition of populism.

Michael Kazin calls populism a style of organizing. Populist movements can be on the right, the left, or in the center. They can be egalitarian or authoritarian, and can rely on decentralized networks or a charismatic leader. They can advocate new social and political relations or romanticize the past. Especially important for our purposes, populist movements can promote forms of antielitism that target either genuine structures of oppression or scapegoats alleged to be part of a secret conspiracy. And they can define “the people” in ways that are inclusive and challenge traditional hierarchies, or in ways that silence or demonize oppressed groups.

Read Domhoff on the difference between conspiracist populism and progressive power structure research CLICK HERE

US populism drew themes from several historic currents with potentially negative consequences, including:~13

· Anti-elitism-a suspicion of politicians, powerful people, the wealthy, and high culture…sometimes leading to conspiracist allegations about control of the world by secret elites, especially the scapegoating of Jews as sinister and powerful manipulators of the economy or media;

· Anti-intellectualism-a distrust of those pointy headed professors in their Ivory Towers…sometimes undercutting rational debate by discarding logic and factual evidence in favor of following the emotional appeals of demagogues;

· Majoritarianism-the notion that the will of the majority of people has absolute primacy in matters of governance…sacrificing rights for minorities, especially people of color;

· Moralism-evangelical-style campaigns rooted in Protestant revivalism… sometimes leading to authoritarian and theocratic attempts to impose orthodoxy, especially relating to gender.

· Americanism-a form of patriotic nationalism…often promoting ethnocentric, nativist, or xenophobic fears that immigrants bring alien ideas and customs that are toxic to our culture.

· Producerism (See below).

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Producerism is the idea that the “real” Americans are hard-working people who create goods and wealth while fighting against parasites at the top and bottom of society who pick our pocket…sometimes promoting scapegoating and the blurring of issues of class and economic justice, and with a history of assuming proper citizenship is defined by White males.

See a slide show on how producerism works CLICK HERE


A conspiracist theory is a narrative that blames societal or individual problems on a scapegoat. Thus we refer to conspiracism.   While there are real conspiracies throughout history, history is not a conspiracy. Conspiracism is a parody of institutional analysis.

Conspiracism is a form of scapegoating . In Western culture, conspiracist scapegoating is rooted in apocalyptic fears and millennial expectations .

See a slide show of a timeline on various conspiracist movements throughout U.S. history, CLICK HERE

The current wave of anti-government conspiracism has two main historic sources, irrational fears of a freemason conspiracy and irrational fears of a Jewish conspiracy . There are many purveyors of the conspiracist worldview and the belief structure is surprisingly widespread. From the 1960s through the 1990s, conspiracist ideas were promoted largely by two different right-wing institutions, the John Birch Society and the Liberty Lobby . Both groups used a form of right-wing populism in which conspiracist narratives such as producerism are common.

The Liberty Lobby is now defunct, but the John Birch Society continues to operate. The antisemitic version of conspiracist narratives is still circulated by a variety of groups.

See a slide show on how different named scapegoats overlap and create a myriad of conspiracy theories CLICK HERE

In highlighting conspiracist allegation as a form of scapegoating, it is important to remember the following:

· All conspiracist theories start with a grain of truth, which is then transmogrified with hyperbole and filtered through pre-existing myth and prejudice,

· People who believe conspiracist allegations sometimes act on those irrational beliefs, which has concrete consequences in the real world,

· Conspiracist thinking and scapegoating are symptoms, not causes, of underlying societal frictions, and as such are perilous to ignore,

· Scapegoating and conspiracist allegations are tools that can be used by cynical leaders to mobilize a mass following,

· Supremacist and fascist organizers use conspiracist theories as a relatively less-threatening entry point in making contact with potential recruits,

· Even when conspiracist theories do not center on Jews, people of color, or other scapegoated groups, they create an environment where racism, antisemitism, and other forms of prejudice and oppression can flourish.

Johnson’s Five Rules of Conspiracism

George Johnson, author of Architects of Conspiracy, explained that “conspiratorial fantasies are not simply an expression of inchoate fear. There is a shape, an architecture, to the paranoia.” Johnson came up with five rules common to the conspiracist worldview in the United States:

· The conspirators are internationalist in their sympathies.

· [N]othing is ever discarded. Right-wing mail order bookstores still sell the Protocols of the Elders of Zion…[and] Proofs of a Conspiracy.

· Seeming enemies are actually secret friends. Through the lens of the conspiracy theorists, capitalists and Communists work hand in hand.

· The takeover by the international godless government will be ignited by the collapse of the economic system.

· It’s all spelled out in the Bible. For those with a fundamentalist bent, the New World Order or One World Government is none other than the international kingdom of the Antichrist, described in the Book of Revelation.

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Coded Rhetoric

When you hear someone claim that a handful of secret elites manipulate politics and the economy, who do you think they mean? The Trilateral Commission? Dick Cheney and his pals at Halliburton? Jewish Bankers? With a clever use of rhetoric, a speaker can mean all three, yet never mention the “Jewish Bankers.”

Using coded language to avoid an obvious appearance of bigotry has a long tradition.

When politicians talk about “Welfare Queens” many White Americans first envision a Black mother with ten children, even though most welfare recipients are White.

Dan T. Carter writes about how the 1968 third-party presidential campaign of Alabama Governor George Wallace used coded language:

“With an instinctive sense for language, [Wallace] exploited these racial fears through the skillful use of what soon came to be called coded language. He railed against federal, state and local officials for their timid response to Molotov-throwing urban rioters, but he never referred to them explicitly in racial terms.

“He talked about brutal and marauding criminals who transformed America’s urban streets into war zones. But he did not directly mention race.

“He constantly complained of shiftless free-loaders, collecting their welfare checks—paid for by the hard-working American. But he scrupulously avoided using racial language to describe this new parasitic welfare class.

“Even when he dealt with explicit racial issues, he always insisted that his objections to busing or affirmative action had nothing to do with race, but fairness for white as well as black Americans.”

–Dan T. Carter, “George Wallace and the Rightward Turn in Today’s Politics,” The Public Eye Magazine, Winter 2005.
Read the full article

Wallace welded together populism, libertarianism, and a White backlash against the civil rights movement.

To see how Wallace did this, read his statement about integration and the federal government CLICK HERE

The phrase “international bankers” is another example of a coded phrase that has long been used in public discussion. “International bankers” is often used by bigots to suggest Jewish bankers. So has the phrase “money manipulators.” This is complicated by the fact that for some conspiracists, the target is not Jews, but another banking group or family. For example, in the 1960s, the term “internationalists” can refer to Jews or the Rockefeller family, depending upon the author and context. In the early 1960s Phyllis Schlafly wrote about the “Secret Kingmakers” who controlled the Republican Party. She is referring to the Rockefeller wing of the Party, yet some readers who were antisemitic would assume she really meant the global Jewish elites.

See a slide show on how different conspiracist audiences interpret statements in different “coded” ways CLICK HERE

Propaganda & Deception

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Canovan, Populism , pp. 289, 293, 294; Canovan notes that there are “a great many interconnections” among her seven forms of populism, and that “many phenomena—perhaps most—belong in more than one category.” She adds that “given the contradictions” between some of the categories, “none could ever satisfy all the conditions at once.”

Kazin, Populist Persuasion. See also Harrison, Of Passionate Intensity.