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Episode Summary

The U.S. Supreme Court ignored decades of settled precedent about abortion access and women’s health care in a sweeping decision that rolled back the court’s 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is the culmination of decades of anti-abortion activism. But it’s only the beginning of what the radical right has in store for the country.

Clarence Thomas, one of the reactionary justices who joined in the new 6-3 ruling, signaled in a concurring opinion that he aims to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions protecting the rights to contraception, private consensual sex acts, and the right for people to marry someone else of the same sex.

“We have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents,” Thomas wrote. “Accordingly, we should eliminate it from our jurisprudence at the earliest opportunity.”

Since the rise of Donald Trump, many people have become aware of right-wing extremism, but what you might not know is that the radical right is actually far more powerful in the Republican party, especially at the state and local levels of government.

In this episode, we’re focusing on the lesser-known efforts of right-wing extremists with the help of David Neiwert, a senior staff writer at Daily Kos and also the author of a number of books including Red Pill, Blue Pill: How to Counteract the Conspiracy Theories That Are Killing Us and also Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. Neiwert is also a long-time analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The video of our June 24, 2022 livestream conversation is below. The transcript of the edited audio follows.



Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here.

DAVID NEIWERT: Pleasure.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So this Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, and the rulings that we’ve been seeing in the recent Supreme Court terms, they’re part of something a lot bigger that I think a lot of people haven’t paid a lot of attention to. And since Trump came along, there has been some focus on what Joe Biden is now calling “Ultra MAGA.” But the reality is that Ultra MAGA really isn’t that different from the Republicans who have been controlling the Republican Party for the past several decades. Isn’t that right?

NEIWERT: No, that’s right. I mean, Ultra MAGA is the Tea Party, is the Patriot movement. I mean, this has been going on, this radicalization [00:04:00] of the mainstream right. It’s been a three decade long process. And Trump was just its apotheosis. He was just its culmination its realization. But this movement had been building for quite a long time.

And the interesting thing about it was, certainly one of the things about Trump was that he came to represent sort of a unifying figure for a lot of different sectors of the radical right, all of whom have been agitating for the overturning Roe v. Wade, but frequently for entirely different reasons. White nationalists and white supremacists wanted it overturned for entirely different reasons than Christian nationalists, but they all wanted it overturned.

In a lot of regards the Christian nationalist motives are fundamentally misogynist as well, but in the white nationalist neo-Nazi world, there’s a straight up control of women, very deeply misogynist world views. And for Christian nationalists, it was somewhat tempered by the piety with which they wrapped everything, particularly the reliance on Biblical scripture and moral outrage. And let’s be clear, the Federalist Society, which formed this Supreme Court, is deeply tied to the Christian nationalist movement.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well actually, do you mind just give a little overview of what the Federalist Society is for those people who don’t know what that is?

NEIWERT: Sure. Well, the Federalist Society is this organization based in Washington that since really, I think the 1980s has been working to put very arch conservatives on not just the federal court system, including obviously the Supreme Court, they basically promote this idea of Originalism and, for many years they were decrying “activist judges,” which oddly has gone away. (laughs) I don’t know why they don’t talk [00:06:00] about activist judges anymore, do they?

And so, as it was highly influential in Washington, particularly in Republican circles– Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Barrett and Gorsuch are all members of the Federalist Society– and the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo was the guy who was telling Trump who to select. So, basically this is a Federalist Society court and we’re seeing the results.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And you mentioned Leonard Leo. One of the biggest problems for the political left in the United States has been that it has become so utterly convergent with the academic world.

And it basically has drastically inhibited them to understand the way that politics works for average people. Because average people, of course, are not concerned with political theory. They’re not concerned with legal theory. They don’t know anything about substantive due process or legal formalism or originalism.

None of these things mean anything to a normal person.

NEIWERT: Right.

SHEFFIELD: But because they were so caught up in the academic debates about whether Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, they were talking about the merits of originalism and textualism.

NEIWERT: Right.

SHEFFIELD: The reality is those were never real. They never believed in those things. And you can see that in terms of, especially in regards to federalism, like with these recent cases this week, so today’s ruling about abortion saying that it’s a matter that should be left to the states, but then with regard to guns, well, that’s a matter that should be protected nationally.

So these are not a consistent approach to federalism. And certainly the idea that the American founders had any sort of — that their ideas regarding guns have any applicability to automatic weapons is absurd and that they even contemplated is ridiculous.

So, but basically they were so caught up in this conflated, fake academic debate about right wing, [00:08:00] supposed legal beliefs that they weren’t paying attention that it’s all political all the way down.

NEIWERT: Honestly, originalism always struck me as sort of a legal mirror of Christian fundamentalism, which basically asserts that the text of whatever it is you’re reading from– we get the same thing with Patriot movement and the constitutionalists, where they assert a specific meaning as being the only one possible for a specific text. And in the Christian world, you could see the effect that what it actually does is it distorts the the actual meaning of the faith in a way, because what it actually does is it asserts that the person who’s doing the interpreting gets to tell everybody else what to believe.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it’s about politics, ultimately.

NEIWERT: It does. It’s a kind of assertion of power, but it’s power of people’s minds and beliefs. And you see this same thing with originalism that they were able to claim that the founders wanted this and that for say the Second Amendment, which was actually in a lot of ways, almost wholly a concoction.

They basically went searching for evidence to try to support the narrative that they wanted. And ultimately, what this means is that everything they do is very outcome oriented. They’re twisting those words to reach a specific outcome that they want.

And you see this in religion, you see it in the law, you see it in the various facets of life, but the religion and legal ones are the ones we’re having to deal with right now. And yeah, it’s really kind of a cynical form of manipulation of people’s ways of thinking and it’s been very successful.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Just going back to this, the “academicization” of everything on the left, there’s this idea that because right wing [00:10:00] arguments are not very good intellectually or philosophically that therefore they don’t need to be paid attention to as a political matter.

And of course the reality is that their poorness, their low quality, their extreme nature makes them even more necessary to be paid attention to, and to make the public aware of it. But that’s seems to me the opposite of what’s happened both in the Democratic leadership, but also in, in terms of the media and that you’ve experienced that as well, right?

NEIWERT: Yeah. Well, I mean, Matthew, I had been warning about the radicalization of the mainstream right since at least 2008 or ’09, I mean, that was what my book, The Eliminationists, which was published in 2009 was about, and I was, had regularly dismissed for 12, 14 years as an alarmist.

And all I’ve honestly been trying to do is just report what I see. And yeah. And after a while, you just start tuning out the people who call you alarmist, because they’re missing the boat. And honestly, after a while, I just started putting my head down and kept doing the work because I knew what I was writing was accurate. And if people don’t want to listen, that’s on them. (laughs)

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And the thing about it from the media standpoint, we’ve the entire emergence of “Red America,” “Blue America,” it didn’t have to be this way because this was a strategy that was chosen by the Democratic elites, the Democratic leaders and Howard Dean was one of the people when he became chairman of the Democratic National Committee, he started implementing this idea of a 50 state strategy because he didn’t want Republicans to have a free ride anywhere.

And so he started doing that, but people started trying to dismantle that you want to talk about that a little bit.

NEIWERT: Yeah, well, honestly, I felt that the 50 state strategy had a lot to do with the Obama’s election in 2008, because it really did tap into and empower ordinary rural Democrats in ways that– they had, they’d been abandoned [00:12:00] by Democratic party, beginning in the 80s because of their emphasis finding the largest numbers of votes in the areas where the largest number of votes are available. Very logical, but in terms of the long term, it has really toxic consequences and those toxic consequences are that you basically turn over all of these rural areas to the rule of not just Republicans, but as we can see now, the extreme right.

I’m from Idaho. My family, my wife’s family is from Montana. And we still have family back there. I can tell you that it’s just miserable in these rural areas now for anybody who is not just a diehard Republican, but a die hard Trumpian with a “Fuck Joe Biden” flag.

I mean, the seep of Patriot movement extremism to the rural Republican party has been so powerful, that I don’t think it’s possible to explain to people because most people are resistant to actually understanding that’s a lot of what’s happened.

SHEFFIELD: Idaho is a really great example of that because you’ve got the guy who is the governor named Brad Little, who is certainly not by any stretch of the matter a moderate Republican. This guy is a right wing Republican, but it wasn’t enough for a lot of people in the state.

And so he was challenged this year by his own Lieutenant governor, whose name is Janice McGeachin. And she is a completely insane person. She literally tried to unilaterally repeal a number of his executive orders while he was on a trip outside the state. She did this repeatedly.

She’s famous for making a campaign ad featuring herself holding a gun and a Bible. It was like the Christian equivalent of an Islamic terrorist holding up a gun and a Quran.

NEIWERT: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And so that’s what the Republican right wants to be. And a lot of people in the apolitical center, they just see [00:14:00] this stuff and to them, they just dismiss it as, ‘Well, McGeachin is a lunatic. She’s crazy. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have to pay attention to her. She’s just dumb.’ That’s not the story of the past 50 years, is it?

NEIWERT: No. Well, Jan went to my high school.

SHEFFIELD: Oh, wow.

NEIWERT: She graduated from my high school.

SHEFFIELD: Was she is crazy back then?

NEIWERT: Seven years. No, I didn’t know her. She was she graduated in 81. I was in 74.

But yeah, after that ad, her nickname was “McGlock and Bible,” but fortunately she lost. I mean, that was the thing is that Jan was very closely tied in, not just with the Patriots and the Ammon Bundy types who had really been running rampant in the state for the previous year and a half.

But she laid in the campaign, spoke to the “Groypers,” the white nationalist gathering in Florida. And when the word of that got out, I think that pretty much killed her chances. I think, I mean, she lost pretty badly to Little. And so I thought that was a good sign.

Nonetheless, the fact that she had such a viable campaign interest for such a long time was really a troubling sign. And in fact, there were a number of, there are still a number of very far right extremists within the Idaho legislature. And there are still a lot of people there who supported her.

And look next door in Wyoming, what’s happened to Liz Cheney. I’ve never supported Liz Cheney for anything in my life, but I definitely am sympathetic to her now. And I think she’s done a job with the January 6th committee, but she sort of represents the last of the sane Republicans.

SHEFFIELD: The thing about this whole dynamic is that right wing extremist movements, they have the kind of passion and dedication to keep persisting at this stuff for decades and decades, no matter how much they lose,

NEIWERT: They never give up.

SHEFFIELD: Whereas when you look at Twitter, whenever there’s some [00:16:00] court decision, you see all these people saying, ‘Oh, that’s it, I’m leaving America. This is over. We became a fascist country yesterday, et cetera.’

And they’re not understanding that this is a thing that took a long time to happen. And it can be reversed. Because the reality is that most people support abortion rights, and most people support the ability of people to marry someone of your own sex. These are things that have majority support. But what we need is an infrastructure of democracy. What we need is the development of that kind of passion and dedication for policies that benefit everyone.

And right now the Democratic party leadership that’s out there, well, they’re all in their eighties basically, and in their minds, it seems like a lot of them have this sort of fictionalized version of the Republican party where there’s people like Nelson Rockefeller out there that have power.

And they don’t.

NEIWERT: It’s like they walked way too many episodes of The West Wing. That’s all I can say. (laughs) it’s like, yeah, it’s a “TV-ized” version. And it’s a mythical version of the bipartisanship of a bygone era, right? Which did exist. I mean, there’s no question that the whole atmosphere of cooperative bipartisanship that, I grew up with in the seventies and eighties, one of my mentors in Idaho was Senator Frank Church. And he definitely worked across the aisles. I mean, one of his closest allies in dealing with CIA was the Republican Senator from Rhode Island, John Chafee. But the Chafee Republicans don’t exist anymore. But I think the Joe Bidens of the world want to believe they do.

SHEFFIELD: Well, the Chafee Republicans exist in the voters.

NEIWERT: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: But they don’t exist among the politicians. And there’s this phrase, and it has become a bit hackneyed, but this idea that the center cannot hold from that poem by William Butler Yeats.

NEIWERT: Yeah. [00:18:00] Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And and that’s true because when you have this sort of compromising first mentality, it makes it so that if your goal is to have compromise and to have bipartisanship, then you will, by definition, go with whatever side pushes the hardest.

NEIWERT: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: That position is what will prevail. And so that’s the concern that a lot of people who are, well, not in their eighties have with the Democratic leadership. That they’ve fetishized bipartisanship for a long time.

And to be fair, they’ve learned to some degree, some of them have about why the filibuster needs to be eliminated, but at the same time you still have people like Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema, but not just them. Sometimes you hear other people like Chris Coons talk about how the filibuster is good and you have Diane Feinstein–

NEIWERT: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Has talked about the filibuster and why it’s good. And of course the reality is that, the filibuster has some value, but when it’s abused and taken far beyond what it was originally intended to be, institutions that are abused are not worth veneration.

NEIWERT: Right. When they made it possible for senators to invoke the filibuster routinely, without having to actually stand up and give the speeches, which is something that happened in the late eighties and early nineties. Totally transformed it into a cynical tool for cynical manipulators.

Yeah. And that’s what it has become. I mean, the, just look at the charts. So the use of the filibuster prior to 1980 and then how it just skyrocketed beginning in the nineties and the Gingrich Congress and all those folks and then, once Obama won election, its use became perfunctory.

It used to be a rare exception. And also, I mean, I remember because I was working with Church that it was rare to have [00:20:00] 60 plus votes to pass legislation in the Senate. It was not a minority ruled body as it is now. Because once you have, once you require those 60 votes, instead of the 50, 50, it’s no longer a majority rule.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

NEIWERT: It’s to be majority rule.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And and the reality is that California just by itself has 40 million people. Just the structure of the Senate itself, has only two senators.

NEIWERT: Yeah. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And Democrats, they should have realized that this is what was happening and that the Senate was being abused, and so talking about, admitting other states or splitting up California. I mean, as somebody who lives in California, California is such a big state with so many concerns and so many different people–

NEIWERT: It’s its own nation.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it is. But even as it is, it’s so big that people don’t really fully pay attention to state politics at all. If you asked the average Californian who the governor is, they, a lot of them wouldn’t even know that. And if you asked them who the lieutenant governor is, well, they would certainly wouldn’t know that.

Splitting up California into other states or admitting Puerto Rico or Guam, there’s any number of things that they could have done– and should have done. I mean, these rules of the Senate seat allocation, they weren’t secret.

And the reality is that North Dakota, South Dakota, that was supposed to originally just be Dakota.

NEIWERT: Right.

SHEFFIELD: But Republicans actually created those two states in order to give themselves more senators.

NEIWERT: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: That literally happened.

NEIWERT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And so these are the rules of the game, but Democratic party leaders seem to be so timid. They also venerate institutions that fundamentally are against them and are harmful to their beliefs. But they don’t seem to understand that, which is weird because when you look at when the United States works in other countries, to help them try to establish some representative form of government, we never go for anything close to the American system [00:22:00] of this. We don’t do that.

And a huge part of that is especially in regards to the filibuster. So one thing about the filibuster not only does it function to stop legislation and that by definition favors right wing viewpoints, but it also has protected the Republican party from having its radicalism exposed to the public.

So in other words, these moments with the Supreme Court that we’re seeing now, this is really the first time that a lot of people have had a direct insight into the radicalism of the Republican party.

NEIWERT: Right.

SHEFFIELD: But the Republican party has had extremely radical ideas for a long time long before Trump.

Like the idea of getting rid of the Affordable Healthcare Act, they were pushing this long before Trump came along. Before he even thought about running for president. And they were willing to directly remove healthcare from 15 million people, just take it away from them like that.

But they were always protected from it by the filibuster, because Mitch McConnell was able to use it, basically he protected the Republican party using the filibuster by saying, ‘We can’t pass this, insane vote here, that’ll destroy us with the voters. So we’re not gonna do it.’

And so basically they didn’t, the public never knew fully what Republicans wanted. And what Republicans want is to basically repeal the New Deal, to repeal the sexual revolution, and to repeal the Great Society.

NEIWERT: Civil rights movement as, as well.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And so like this has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

NEIWERT: No, that’s right. That’s right. This is about returning America to the rule we had in 1905 , where we were basically ruled by oligarchs in a society that turned citizens into functionally indentured servants.

I think it’s hard for people to understand or to remember that in 1905, you did not have weekends. You did not have [00:24:00] vacations. You were required to work between 60 and 80 hours a week, for which you got a mere pitance of the pay. And frequently you were required to work in systems where you wound up actually owing the company you worked for money at the end of the day, for working for them.

SHEFFIELD: And there were no workplace protection safety regulations there.

NEIWERT: People died all the time in workplace fires and accidents. And the value of human life in these workplaces was– so we’ve forgotten all this. We’ve forgotten was what life was like under the rule of oligarchs. And we’re turning our country back over to these oligarchs again, because they’re the ones who have been financing all of this radicalization of the extremist right.

It’s oligarchs who’ve transformed what used to be a competitive free market media system, where there really was competition, an open competition of ideas and a much more democratic approach to a much more open approach to journalism. Once corporations began snapping up media properties in the 1980s and transforming them, once media became entirely corporate owned, it totally transformed the shape and nature of the discourse in this country in ways that we can now see the consequences.

We’ve had one channel for the last 20 years, Fox News, has devotes all of its time, 24-7, to encouraging and advising its viewers on how to hate the other half of America that doesn’t watch Fox News– how to hate their neighbors, how and why to hate their neighbors. And then we wonder why we’re a divided nation. Because we’ve been getting, we’ve had people getting coached on why and how to divide their nation.

And it’s all been predicated on false information smears [00:26:00] and wildly distorted conspiracism. It was the foundation of Trump’s presidency and we’ve been getting, we were getting fed, beginning in the 1990s from Fox News and from Rush Limbaugh, and it’s never stopped. We’ve had Fox News playing on our military bases and indoctrinating our people on military bases with false information.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

NEIWERT: I don’t think that should be going on. Look, it used to be when I started out in journalism, the adage was the enemy isn’t left or right, the enemy is bullshit. That’s still true for me.

But the problem is that when you have one party and its support system turning out a gigantic mountain of bullshit on the daily. Yeah, Democrats do bullshit too, and it’s good to call them out on it, but oh my God. I mean the level and wildness of the sort of bullshit we’ve been getting from Republicans for the last 30 years, it just overwhelms us. And I think that’s been part of their tactic is to just flood the field with shit.

SHEFFIELD: And Steve Bannon, Trump’s consigliere literally said that to someone.

NEIWERT: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: And when you look at scholarship about fascism, that is a common tactic, and it’s not just fascism per se, but authoritarianism, that is how it’s predicated. Because if nothing you see is true, then anything can be true.

NEIWERT: Well, and ultimately, one of the things that happens of course is when you unmoor people from their bearings like this, they become fearful. And one of the things that authoritarians do is they they present themselves as the anchor of security, sort of anchor of information and anchor of truth. Because then he becomes the authoritarian leader, and his minions become the font of whatever truth you need to know.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

NEIWERT: That’s how authoritarianism has always worked. And [00:28:00] it doesn’t matter whether it’s left or right.

SHEFFIELD: These are the tactics, yeah.

And a lot of it does go back to religious fundamentalism as well. So, this fake news environment, this disinformation filled environment, until that came along, people who believed all the stories in the Bible were literally true that God made the world in seven days, 6,000 years ago. I mean, these are ideas that are objectively not true. You can actually see that they’re not true.

But in a world in which you’re pumping out all kinds of deliberate lies and false beliefs, basically people don’t have to examine their beliefs, because there is no marketplace of ideas anymore. All there is is: ‘Well, I believe this. And that’s what I believe, and I have the right to believe it.’

And so it basically breaks down the distinction between informed opinion and ludicrous opinion. And it makes everything else possible. And the media certainly played into that a lot in terms of treating beliefs that were objectively false as if they had some sort of equivalency to beliefs that were not.

And this isn’t a matter of saying, ‘I think the tax rate should be X,’ and ‘I think the tax rate should be Y.’ It is a matter of saying, ‘if we cut taxes, we’ll get more revenue.’ You can literally prove that it’s not true. All you have to do is look at history and you can see that it’s not true.

But the American public doesn’t know that Republican elites believe this obviously stupid idea. And they don’t know that the Supreme Court that the Republicans who are on there– Barrett and Thomas– these people are literal biblical fundamentalists who–

NEIWERT: Yeah, yeah.

SHEFFIELD: –don’t believe that evolution is real. If you don’t believe evolution is real, you really should have no contact with public policy, because you believe something so obviously dumb. But at the same time, they’ve coddled these right wing beliefs over the decades, and never really [00:30:00] challenged them. Do you think that’s right?

NEIWERT: Yeah. Well, , if you laugh at them, ‘you’re bigot and against Christians,’ it’s a pretty standard tactic.

SHEFFIELD: And even though of course there’s plenty of Christians that don’t believe this stuff.

NEIWERT: Yeah, that’s correct. Yeah, not only that, a lot of times it’s Christians who are laughing at them.

SHEFFIELD: There has been on the left, this complete disregard for the battle of ideas. ‘They showed they were dumb. So that’s it I’ll, let’s focus on other things.’

NEIWERT: Christopher Rufo and his openness about how they don’t care about the truthfulness of what they’re saying about “critical race theory” and “grooming” and things like that. What they care about is that they are able to get people to believe. And open about this is how we use our tactics. We get people to associate things like learning about Japanese American internment with critical race theory.

Or, if you, God forbid, should learn about the lynching era or the Tulsa massacre, ‘oh, that’s critical race theory.’ It’s just crazy.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and Rufo, for those who don’t know him is this Republican consultant and he literally, and repeatedly just comes out with stuff and says, ‘so we’re gonna say this thing that’s obviously false, and it doesn’t matter that it’s false because this is helpful to us.’

NEIWERT: And just keep pumping it out, just keep pumping it out. That’s what he’s selling.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

NEIWERT: It works.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And that’s the scary part. Yeah. And, but if you’re a journalist and you’re covering the subject of critical race theory in a school board debate, you have an obligation to tell the public that this is where these ideas came from, these are the people who are doing it. Because if you don’t do it, you are failing the audience. And and you’re giving them a distorted picture.

NEIWERT: Well, I can tell you if you’re a reporter on pretty much any modern corporate owned media entity now, you’d have an editor or producer who wouldn’t let you do that.

SHEFFIELD: And why do you think they wouldn’t?

NEIWERT: Because they’re all afraid to be accused of “liberal media bias.” And Fox news whose entire raison d’être was to combat liberal media [00:32:00] bias, which had been a talking point to conservatives all during the eighties and nineties, and particularly Limbaugh in the nineties.

It became a fetish in the newsrooms that I worked. Every single newsroom that I worked in, the bosses were concerned about being accused of liberal media bias, which is why my work on domestic terrorism– which won a National Press Club Award for MSNBC by the way– upon which they promptly showed me to the back of the newsroom. That was my signal to go retire from newsroom work and become a stay at home father, which is what I did for the next five years.

SHEFFIELD: So let’s maybe talk about some of your books then that you have been working on since then. So, your book, I think that is pertinent to this discussion, I mentioned it earlier is called Alt America. Tell us about what that was. And when did it come out?

NEIWERT: That came out in October of 2017, which is some like two months after Charlottesville, but of course it was in process well before Charlottesville. But it’s done very well.

Basically, it’s a history of how we got here, history of the radical right in America and how it’s gained entree into the mainstream, how it’s basically taken control of the Republican party and the title references one of the real features of all of this.

We were just discussing how authoritarianism induces people to believe in their own set of facts and have their own thing. But it ultimately creates an alternative reality for them, which I dubbed “Alt America, where they’ve constructed this whole universe built out of false facts, conspiracy theories, wild conjecture, and grotesque smears.

That’s what they work off of. That’s what this belief system is. And that’s what this world view that they developed is. And, that’s how they’ve operated for, I would say at least since the late nineties, early two thousands, transforming the Republican party into a party that no longer wanted to deal with facts and logic and reason, but was [00:34:00] all about grabbing people on gut-level narratives and seizing power through the most cynical means possible.

And including the election of George Bush in 2000, which shouldn’t have happened. But that was, these things have been going on for quite some time. And the reality is that now we can really see how acute this sort of epistemological dysfunction is that we actually have this whole segment of– I mean, 70% of Republicans, believe that Biden was fraudulently elected and that Trump had the election stolen from him without any evidence whatsoever, just their gut feeling, which he just referenced.

You find people saying this, I mean, that was what Couy Griffin down in New Mexico said when he was having this spew over the counting of the ballots in his county in New Mexico. And he was trying to basically go for what we call the fake elector strategy. And he acknowledged that, ‘Yeah, well, it may not be factual, but I just believe it in my gut. I don’t have any evidence, but I just know it, that this is what happened.’

And this is really widespread among Republican true believers.

SHEFFIELD: Oh yeah. And Rudy Giuliani, after Trump lost the 2020 election and he was scrambling around trying to push this fake elector scheme. And they were saying it in Arizona, ‘Please just do this. We’ve got a lot of about theories, but we don’t have a lot of facts.’ And that shows you how they think.

But this is a mentality that’s been around for a long time. There’s this right wing writer named Stan Evans, whose full name was M Stanton Evans, and he used to joke for decades, he passed away, I believe in like 2013 or so. He used to joke that ‘I didn’t like Nixon until Watergate.’

And that was not as much of a joke as it came out, because in fact that is what happened. So [00:36:00] Richard Nixon, when he was at the bitter end, the reason that he got to that point of having to resign from office was because there were enough Republicans who had coherent belief systems and were willing to be passionate about them and to do something more than just the raw pursuit of power. So they were the reason that. He was shown the door, but by the end, the only people who were sticking to Nixon were the far right lunatics.

NEIWERT: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: And so what Stan Evan said in that regard was actually pretty meaningful and accurate of a description of how the radical right was in terms of how it saw politics back then, and how they see them now.

We’re at this point now where even, so the January 6th committee has been doing these hearings recently and they’ve uncovered all kinds of documents and things like that. But they’ve also featured a lot of testimony from Republican elites talking about how they didn’t believe that Trump had won.

They believed that he’d lost and there was no evidence for it, and that this was in the words of one of them “rubber room stuff.” But that same time, they were still willing to vote for Donald Trump and–

NEIWERT: Oh yeah. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: But here’s the thing though, is that a lot of people on the center to the left spectrum, they’ve noted that these Republicans who don’t believe in Trump’s lies were still vote for them. And it’s just more as: ‘Those guys are dumb,’ but what it really shows is that these people are so fanatically committed to their anti majority viewpoints that they’re willing to elect someone they believe to be crazy.

NEIWERT: Yeah. Well part of it that has to do with how successful the larger narrative arc of the right wing about liberals. I mean, a lot of their appeal is less ‘conservatives are so great.’ No, it’s that ‘those liberals are evil and scary.’ And they’re constantly drumming up fear of [00:38:00] liberalism, fear of scary leftist antifa and BLM.

And it’s all these things that they generate fear around, which of course always induces an authoritarian response, when you generate fear people psychologically respond, they start searching for anchors of security, which authoritarian leaders offer.

But that’s a lot of how the strategy of doing all this is involved in that. But one of the things that happens of course, is that those liberals who are being targeted, they fight back by using facts and logic and reason, which is not what this is about. This is never about facts and logic and reason.

This is about these gut-level narratives. And they don’t actually deal with the very gut-level narratives. They think it’s not worth their time. It’s so obviously a crazy theory that Democrats are involved in this global pedophilia ring that they don’t actually bother to try to kind confront the people who believe this about them to say:

‘Really you believe that I’m part of a global conspiracy theory to suck the blood out of children. This is what you’re telling me?’

I mean, if you can confront the people who are doing this like that, if there are people, especially if there are people who’ve known you, that’s the kind of gut-level narrative that I think liberals need to adopt. To say: ‘Hey wait, we’re not these evil people that you guys are creating. We are not these demons that these nutballs on the right have been concocting for the last 30 years. That’s not who we are. Antifa is a tiny little entity. BLM is not a racist hate organization, which is what these people on the right have been telling you.’

These are the kinds of things that liberals do a really shitty job of confronting. Instead, they tried to confront with logic and reason, when instead they should be going [00:40:00] for, ‘Hey, let’s be decent, basic human beings sort of approach.’ When you’re talking to these people, are you really telling me for instance that this elementary school teacher is conspiring to suck the blood out of children? And they don’t do that!

SHEFFIELD: No, they don’t. They’ve lost interest in debate. They’ve lost interest in getting into the trenches. And they have this unreal assessment of what people will be willing to believe. So they think, as you said, that they think that if you just present the facts, that people will choose the facts, but that’s not human nature. And it never has been unfortunately.

And they also, at the same time, to go back to this fetishization of institutions. They don’t realize that institutions were created. They weren’t handed down from on high, these miraculous things. Barack Obama and other people, they were fond of using this quote from Martin Luther King, about how ‘the moral arc of the universe inexorably bends toward justice.’

NEIWERT: Right. Right.

SHEFFIELD: But then they ignored all the other parts of Martin Luther King talking about how civil rights was all integrated with all of these other causes. And that in fact, on the day that he died, Martin Luther King was actually going to a union protest.

NEIWERT: Yes.

SHEFFIELD: To help some workers–

NEIWERT: Garbage workers.

SHEFFIELD: That’s right. And so they just have this sort of cut rate version of history and they don’t understand how change happened. And they basically think that it’s permanent. I mean, the reality is that there is no moral arc of the universe. There is politics. And politics belongs to the people who work the hardest.

NEIWERT: Well, especially when you have fascist elements. When you enable and allow fascist elements to fester and prosper, because fascist elements are profoundly anti-democratic. And they challenge and attack those democratic institutions in every corner. [00:42:00] And we’ve been in total denial about the existence of these neofascist elements in our society.

We’ve been in total denial about the need to defend our democratic institutions from them. Because they are under attack, these guys are attacking, they’re attacking women’s rights, they’re attacking gay/ lesbian rights. They’re attacking normal minority civil rights.

And ultimately they’re attacking the First Amendment rights of anybody to believe what they want. I mean, when you see Proud Boys walking around with shirts commemorating Augusto Pinochet throwing communists out of helicopters, that’s pretty clear that they just want free speech for me, but none for thee. And not only that, free speech for me, but if you dare counter me, I’m going to throw you out of a freaking helicopter.

That’s what they’re saying. And that’s their belief, because this is functionally, this is undeniably a neofascist moment that America is enduring. And we need to wake up to that reality and confront it and deal with it in a way that works. We have to figure out what works.

SHEFFIELD: And it’s a really uncomfortable realization. To have to realize that’s what’s at stake. So for people who know my work, I started off in Republican politics and conservative media. But I, myself, was isolated from these viewpoints. I did not see them in my daily life and I didn’t interact with them.

But then as I became more aware of them I had the realization that, ‘Oh my God, these people, they are insane. And they hate democracy and they want Christian sharia basically. This is what they want, and this is why they hate Islam so much, because they have all the same ideas as the radical Islamists, but they just want to put a different label on them. They want their label on them.’

And once I had that realization, I walked away from hundreds of thousands of dollars a year that I was making in that environment and started trying to warn people about what was going on, but the Democratic establishment [00:44:00] and a lot of the media establishment around the time, a few months later, Donald Trump came along and they really pushed this narrative that ‘look at what Trump turned the Republicans into. Look at what he did.’

Because. It’s an easier to understand narrative, but it also absolves–

NEIWERT: Absolves them, yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Because they themselves were part of this problem by elevating a lot of these very same people who went on to become his chief enablers, like Rudy Giuliani. I mean, really Giuliani has been a demented drunk for decades. But nobody had the guts to finally say anything about him until just very recently.

NEIWERT: Yeah. Yeah. I know. Well, that’s how it works. And, but you’re 1000% correct, sir. That’s exactly what’s happened. And there are days when I despair for democracy.

Today’s one of them after seeing what the Supreme Court’s done. But I’m not going to stop fighting. and I don’t think anybody else is either.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

NEIWERT: I think there’s a lot of– I just hope Americans awaken to the realization of what’s happening to them in enough time to do something about it. I mean, basically we have this November to, more or less, decide our fate.

SHEFFIELD: There is a paradox though, with some of these court rulings that we’re now seeing overturned, whether it’s Roe versus Wade or Bowers versus Hardwick on sexual private sexual autonomy and Planned Parenthood versus Casey with birth control.

The paradox is that these rulings, they were going along with what the public wanted. You talked about how people have forgotten about how things were, it was literally the case that engaging in any type of sodomy, whether it was same sex or straight was illegal. Even if it was in your own home, and no one else was there or involved with it, it was a crime.

This was an outrageous thing that was the case. And it was an outrageous thing that you couldn’t buy birth control. [00:46:00] And it was an outrageous thing that if you were of African ancestry, you couldn’t attend the same school as other people.

So yes these were things that the public didn’t want at the national level, but they were never fully implemented through the Democratic system, they weren’t voted on by representatives or by the public.

And so, those discussions that were just being had– and this was something actually that Ruth Bader Ginsburg talked about before she died with regard to Roe versus Wade, that she thought that it was too expansive as a decision. And that it should have been more limited and allowed this discussion to happen, because if it had, then it would have had more durability in the same way that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, people are not out there.

There of course are percentages of racist activists who want to get rid of that. But there isn’t any sort of mass movement, like there was against Roe versus Wade, or like there was against same sex marriage. And so these conversations, they were kind of cut off preemptively by an earlier Supreme Court. They should have happened, and now they’re gonna have to happen, basically.

NEIWERT: Yeah. It’s probably so. If we can have them. I mean, my concern is that right now, I think conversation with people on the right is so fraught because right now, if you disagree with them, they get their guns out.

SHEFFIELD: Oh, yeah. Well, I’m not even talking about with them.

I’m saying that there’s a lot of people, you’ve got tens of millions of people in the United States who are not registered to vote ,tens of millions who are registered, but do not vote. And they just don’t care because they don’t think that there’s anything at stake.

Because as far as they’re concerned, they don’t feel like there is anything at stake. And you could argue that’s a fault of neoliberalism for not delivering on healthcare or not delivering on greater worker rights and things like that.

You can certainly make that argument. And I’d be sympathetic to it. But at the same time, [00:48:00] it is also the case that people haven’t tried to talk to them and find out what do they want. And when you don’t talk to the people and try to be responsive to them, then you do have this fake populism, this fascistic simulacrum of populism that Donald Trump is offering. If that’s the only thing that’s offering, some people will go along with it.

NEIWERT: Well, I also would not want to underplay the really powerful role that rightwing media has played in this, that right-wing corporate media has played in changing the discourse, changing the shape of the discourse, so that these perceptions become more widespread.

I mean, what can you do to change people who believe that Donald Trump was cheated out of the presidency? You could say, ‘well, show me your evidence,’ but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Because they become so conditioned to believing that this narrative that’s coming from these authoritarian sources for them, that that’s the only thing that shapes their world.

And those authoritarian sources are having a really powerful effect on how we talk about abortion, how we talk about civil rights, I mean, how can you talk to people who believe that?

One of the things that, that I think is fundamental to the whole abortion rights issue is because I have very conservative Catholic friends and family members who don’t necessarily, who don’t believe abortion is right for them, but some believe that it that’s okay to push on to then encode it in law and others don’t.

And to me, that’s the fundamental argument that a lot of liberals have trouble formulating, is that, well sure, you can believe that abortion is murder, but that’s a religious belief. And there are millions of Americans who don’t share that religious belief, and you don’t have the right to force that religious belief [00:50:00] on those millions who don’t.

I mean, even if you’re sympathetic to that worldview, what gives you the right to force others to obey that? It’s just your personal religious belief and honestly, the way the country was set up, I don’t think you do have that right. But the minority has forced that on us now.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So tell us about what your research you’re working on now with about some of these sheriff movements that you’re working on. Tell us about that as we wrap up here.

NEIWERT: Sure. Well, I think one of the things that we’ve all been, I think, concerned about, those of us who monitor the radical right, has been the way that law enforcement has become radicalized.

Or at least we’ve had a lot of extremism seep into the ranks of law enforcement. We certainly saw it during the four years that I was covering the Proud Boys events on the west coast. We were seeing all kinds of– the police clearly saw the Proud Boys, and Three Percenters, and the militiamen as their allies in these demonstrations.

And that really came to roost the summer of 2020. That really became manifest because it suddenly wasn’t just anti fascist that they were enabling this violence against. It was, people who were protesting police accountability, or police brutality, and demanding police accountability. And so, one of the main fonts of this extremism and radicalization in the ranks of law enforcement has been the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, this ” constitutional sheriff’s movement.”

And this especially affects rural America because they’ve had significant success getting constitutional sheriffs selected all over the country and various rural districts. We’ve got four or five of here in Washington state, including a guy down in Klickitat County who basically thumbed his noses at the state law and allowed people in his county to hunt and shoot cougars and endangered [00:52:00] species.

And another guy down in Oregon. Basically these guys all run their counties like personal fiefdoms. And so it is really a sort of authoritarian system, but now we’re finding that they’re also, I mean, these were examples of how, you can think it’s just this single rural county that has this problem, but these sheriffs actually have a really wide effect on how states and the federal government are able to enforce their laws.

And this guy with Klickitat County was a classic example. But now we’re seeing that there is a guy in Michigan, who Talking Points Memo recently reported, Dar Leaf. He’s one of these constitutional sheriffs in Michigan who has gotten involved in the supposed voting integrity thing.

He tried to take some, Dominion voting machines and seize them, and then have them taken apart and examined. And he’s doing all this with the blessing of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which is also encouraging sheriffs around the country to get involved in the issue of voting integrity, as they call it, and basically try to seize voting machines.

So you can see that it’s not just gonna affect these rural counties. It’s gonna affect maybe the whole country.

SHEFFIELD: And it’s also part of a larger principle that is linked to their extreme religious views as well. Basically this is bubbling up from the bottom in Republican politics, and having much bigger influence, not just in the local level, but also in state parties.

And that’s why you did see a lot of these people trying to work with Trump on his election fraud schemes. And now they’re extending this idea in terms of secretary of state candidates. So you had a number of them that are now saying that they would have no problem with throwing away the votes of the public.

NEIWERT: Right. And now you’re recruiting law enforcement to do it.

SHEFFIELD: That’s right.

NEIWERT: [00:54:00] Encouraging law enforcement to do it. I will say I’ve been spending a lot more time dealing recently with the sustained and concentrated attack on the LGBTQ community from the extreme right. I was present in Coeur d’Alene at their pride event when the I got a lot of photos of Patriot Front guys being arrested out there on that lawn. But I was there all day to observe what was going on, and it wasn’t just Patriot Front that invaded, that was planning to invade that event.

It was all day long there were guys with AR-15s, walking around the fringe of the crowd, white nationalists showing up with banners that say ‘groomers are not welcome in Idaho.’ And yeah, some of the guys of guns actually were walking into the middle of the crowd, they didn’t say anything, just their presence was pretty threatening.

And this event had been really targeted by the radical right for about a month and a half. And we’re seeing it now also with Proud Boys attacking LGBTQ events, particularly the thing going after drag queens. So there was a group of down Arlington, Texas who actually went to a drag queen event, a brunch that was being held there in Arlington that was, in fact, for people 21 and above.

There were no children involved, and yet these guys, these Proud Boys invaded the event anyway and harassed the customers inside. So they’re doing neofascist, Brown Shirt street type things. That was the function that Brown Shirts had and 1920s Germany, and the Proud Boys are replicating that function in American streets today.

Yeah, no, that’s true.

So extremists are really coalescing around a variety of fronts, but I’m particularly concerned about the growing presence of these street thug elements, and the violence that they’re bringing into the political equation. Especially the way they’re attacking school boards and local entities, city councils, that sort of thing.[00:56:00]

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

NEIWERT: These are really, these are the nitty- gritty levels of democracy that, I came up through small town newspapers. And so I know that this is, in a lot of ways, the foundations of democracy is the ability of these local entities to function well, and for democratic values to be sustained through them.

And when they’re under attack, then I think that we really need to pay attention. And so we’re facing a lot of fronts and we need to take them seriously.

SHEFFIELD: And that’s, I think, maybe something that, even if you’re not progressive, so you’re a centrist or moderately conservative, you need to understand that these people will come for you also.

NEIWERT: Yep.

SHEFFIELD: And we’re seeing that at the local level a lot where they’re coming after school boards, who are members who are just doing their jobs, not trying to be political, not trying to be controversial. They’re coming after election officials.

They will come after anyone that they think can be useful to attack.

NEIWERT: They wanted to hang Mike Pence.

SHEFFIELD: That’s right. Yeah. So you can even agree with a lot of what they want, but that won’t be sufficient. And Mike Pence is the great example of that. And on these different state level election officials in Georgia and Arizona. They will come for you and you need to set aside your differences with people on the left and realize that they at least want you to have the ability to advocate for what you believe. Whereas the people on the radical right do not. They want to have a theocratic fascist state. And they do anything to get to that point. You cannot compromise with these people. Fascism cannot be bottled without it exploding on the person doing it.

NEIWERT: Yeah. Well, I just think about, I mean, there is some account recently that ” Gays Against Groomers” that bubbled up on Twitter and, and I’m sure that there are people in the sort of right leaning LGBTQ community who think, ‘Oh yeah, well, I’m all for [00:58:00] gay rights. But you know, we don’t want to have anything to do with these drag queen story hours and kink and pride parades, things like that because that’s really bad.”

And what they don’t understand is I spent a lot of time monitoring people on the extremist right, collecting, listening to what they’re saying, and documenting it. And the past couple of months I’ve come across a whole delu ge of fundamentalist preachers talking about how they want the death penalty for gays, for all gays. And their rationale for it is that they are all pedophiles. Every gay person is either a pedophile already, or they are pedophile in waiting, and this is their belief.

So it doesn’t matter if you go against your fellow gays and say, ‘oh, well, we don’t want to do that,’ And actually join in on the narrative. If you support the narrative that these fascists are pushing. If you indicate support for them in any shape form or fashion, you’re just throwing logs on the fire that they’re going to throw you onto eventually.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, that’s right. It’s a hundred percent right.

Well this has been an informative discussion. I appreciate you taking the time to be here today, David.

So let me just put up on the screen your Twitter profile. So, David Neiwert is at @DavidNeiwert on Twitter. And then you are also at DailyKos.com.

NEIWERT: My pleasure.

SHEFFIELD: So that is the program for today and I wanted to remind everybody that we need your support to keep doing shows like this and to keep producing in depth articles and podcast about right wing radicalism.

So please go to patreon.com/discoverflux, and then if you want to get up with our show archives and past episodes, just go to theoryofchange.show, [01:00:00] and then that will take you to the Flux community website where you will be able to see lots of other good things as well. And please let us know what you’re doing.

If you’ve got a podcast, you’ve got articles or you’re blogging somewhere. We need to join forces here at this critical time as much as we can. So please do let us know what you’re doing and let us know what you’re interested in talking about as well.

My name is Matthew Sheffield and I will see you next time.