The Paranoid Moderates

Yes, there is such a thing. Jesse Walker on anti-extremism hysteria.

• Is this really a time of unusually fierce fear and violent rhetoric?
• Is political paranoia just a fringe phenomenon, or is it also found in the middle of the road?
• What does a conspiracy theory have in common with a can of Four Loko?

From James Wenneker von Brunn, the neo-Nazi who opened fire at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, to Jared Lee Loughner, the “conscious dreaming” enthusiast who opened fire in Tucson in January, we’ve heard ample warnings about extremist paranoia since Barack Obama became president. We’ve heard much less about the paranoia of the political center. But when mainstream commentators treat a small group of unconnected crimes as a grand, malevolent movement, they unwittingly echo the very conspiracy theories they denounce. Both brands of connect-the-dots fantasy reflect the tellers’ anxieties much more than any order actually emerging in the world.

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