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In the United States, “Right-Wing” is used to describe the Republican Party, and more generally it refers to people who identify with conservative economic values. Of course, the term “conservative” in politics is used to describe individuals who are more traditional and resistant to radical change. This doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t want change, however. It just means that conservatives, or Right-Wingers, support a more gradual or cautious progression of change. “Left-Wing”, on the other hand, is a term seldom heard. Naturally, if Right-Wing is synonymous with conservative Republicans, then Left-Wing refers to Democrats with liberal views. “Liberal” is a political term that generally refers to individuals who are more open and accepting of radical change.


In short, the Right wants less central government authority over economics whereas the Left desires increased central government authority in order to affect more societal change.

A highly simplistic, hypothetical scenario illustrating the difference between liberal and conservative could be a policy proposal to use new materials in the construction of city streets. Let’s say a new technology is developed that could replace asphalt, and it promises to last four times as long at double the price. Sound like a good idea? A Liberal would be more likely to proceed with an aggressive plan to replace all of the city streets with the new technology, because it presents an estimated net gain. A Conservative wouldn’t necessarily oppose this technology, but would rather choose a single street as a beta test before committing to upgrading the rest of the streets. A conservative is more cautious by nature, knowing that other factors that hadn’t been considered could make the new technology less desirable in the long run. For example, the road may become dangerously slick when it rains, or the reduced demand for asphalt causes thousands of asphalt plant workers to lose their jobs. These are all valid concerns that policymakers must consider, and the division between these two political ideologies forces the Left- and Right-Wings to compromise for a balance in policymaking.

This great debate is partly what makes our country incredible, and the two-party system has existed and persisted since the Hamiltonian Federalists and Jeffersonian Anti-Federalists were at odds in 1796. If we were to shift our focus to other countries and eras, we will see that the meaning of Right-Wing and Left-Wing is not concrete. The first known use of the term “Right-Wing” was in the late 18th century during the French Revolution, when conservative royalists sat on the right side of the parliamentary president. Their choice of seating represented their support of the continued reign of the monarch. The Left-Wing in France sat on the left-hand side, and they supported the revolution to form a new French republic.


Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson

In 1924, the far-left National Socialist Freedom Party only received 3% of the German vote in their federal elections. This Left-Wing group, led by Adolph Hitler, eventually learned to capitalize on the nationalism that had been growing in popularity and became the NAZI party, which was a hybrid ideology. The NAZIs were at the extreme left economically, very similar to present-day American Democratic Socialists, as they advocated for sweeping government control and profit-sharing. However, often times in present-day, the NAZIs are often referred to as Right-Wing.  This is a misnomer. The NAZIs were extreme authoritarians, far left on the economic line. The confusion sets in when historians consider the NAZI party’s opponents, the communists. The NAZIs initially appealed to Germans with an alternative to the far-left policies of the then-popular communists, thus being right of their opponent on the economic line, but the NAZIs were still far left from an absolutist perspective. As Hitler took power, he reneged on many of his promises including a Keynesian-based economy, and became further left as time progressed.

Transitioning forward again to 2016 in the United States, the Right-Wing is known to be more religious, pro-life, pro-capital punishment, pro-family, anti-federalist, anti-entitlements, etc. The Left-Wing is known to be more secular, pro-choice, federalist, pro-entitlements, anti-capital punishment, etc. But why is this the case? And more importantly, why is the term “Right-Wing Extremist” becoming so popular?

newsweek cover

About a week ago, Newsweek published an article titled “Right-Wing Extremists Are a Bigger Threat to America than ISIS”. A bigger threat… really? According to the cover story’s sources, Right-Wing extremists have killed 48 Americans since 2002 compared to 45 perpetrated by Islamists. Of important note is that the preceding year was omitted, from which the 9/11 terror attacks would increase this number from 45 to 3,022. So who exactly do these experts consider to be Right-Wing extremists? One of Newsweek’s sources, an associate professor from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, includes the following groups of people under this umbrella term: racists, anti-federalists, and fundamentalists.

I’ll accept anti-federalists, since this is a strong position of the American right. If a conservative conducts an attack in order to advance actual agendas of the Right-Wing, then call them what they are and nail them to the wall. But I draw the line there. My argument is that racists and fundamentalists are NOT inherently Right-Wing and it’s unfair to law-abiding, rational Conservatives like myself. I’m not one to be offended, and I absolutely detest today’s PC culture, but if ever there were a just cause of offense then this would be it. Calling abortion-clinic bombers and sovereign citizens “Right-Wing Extremists” is the equivalent of calling ISIS terrorists “Muslim Extremists” – a pejorative label that the Left-Wing vehemently opposes.

According to the article, the sub-group of “Right-Wing Extremists” called fundamentalist includes both patriot/militia groups and sovereign citizens. If the militia group subscribes to Right-Wing political ideology, then I concede that they may be considered Right-Wing, but sovereign citizens are a different animal. These individuals believe themselves above the law. Sovereign citizens do not accept the United States government as legitimate, and even go to great lengths to create their own drivers licenses, evade taxes, and  even live off the grid. Sovereign citizens are also a growing threat to law enforcement, with increasing rates of hostile traffic stops. Understanding the American brand of Right-Wing conservatism, these individuals would not fit the description. They do NOT want the status quo, and they do NOT support the United States government – key tenets of Right-Wing politics! But what’s more irritating than the inclusion of sovereign citizens and militias in the Right-Wing is the inclusion of racists and radical Christians.

“The fundamentalists are primarily Christian identity groups that believe the biblical war of good vs. evil is between descendants of Anglo-Saxon nations and all other ethnic groups.”

These Christian extremists are called Right-Wing because they hate people of other faiths. When did hatred of another religious group become a conservative value? At this point, we may as well call ISIS a Right-Wing extremist group, too, since they seek the destruction of non-believers including moderate Muslims who refuse to join them. However, according to standard economic theories one could label ISIS as a Left-Wing extremist group, since they seek the establishment of a global caliphate with supreme authority of the economy (and every other aspect of life). I think we should cease calling terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City), Dylan Roof (Charleston), and Robert Deer (Colorado Springs) “Right-Wing Extremists”. Doing so legitimizes their agenda by recognizing a political platform upon which their hate was purportedly constructed, and it disparages folks like myself on the right who are conservative Americans with love in our hearts and high hopes for a fair and just future in these United States. Let us call these people what they are: racist mass-murderers, psycho-killers, and anti-abortion terrorists. I suggest we stop using the term “Right-Wing Extremists”, and then maybe folks on the right can start saying “Muslim Extremist” a little less often. Is that a fair compromise?


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Chris Fox is a Project Coordinator at USC’s Sol Price School of Public Policy, where he recently graduated with an MPA. Prior to that, he was a research fellow at the DHS Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), where his focus was on homegrown violent extremism. He also holds a BA in Psychology and an AAS in Information Systems Management. Chris served for seven years as a TACP, is a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continues to serve as a JTAC Instructor in the Texas Air National Guard.