WGBH Roundtable; How Dangerous Are Extremists in the U.S.?
WGBH roundtable discusses how dangerous are the extremists in the United States. All moderator tonight is Leonard Fein assistant professor of political science at MIT and now Professor fine. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Our participants tonight are Gordon Hall an expert and writer on extremist movements in America and James drone ier reporter on the Boston Herald who has done substantial work in this area. I think gentlemen to begin we might try to define just what it is we mean by an extremist movement. I would think for example that the member of the John Birch Society which most of us are quite likely to think of as an extremist movement would hardly regard himself as an extremist on the other hand a member of the Americans for Democratic Action which some people on the right have called an extremist movement would similarly be unlikely to think of himself as an extremist is an extremist just somebody whom we happen
to oppose or is there something more substantial involved in the terror we are going to confine underground to political extremists. Indeed we are. While I think my own thinking is that the politically extreme person basically is a hater and one who is not afraid of violence to implement the hatred and they cluster together in front groups of varying degrees and varying causes on the extreme left and on the extreme right. But I think basically that's their motivation. I'm sure Gordon Hall has some other ideas on that so I'll turn it over to you Mr Hall. Well it's difficult to put your finger precisely on what an extremist movement is all about but I would suggest first and foremost that however they may approach a problem their solution tends to be an extremist one not one that is allied
by weighing the evidence on both sides but normally just tearing into a problem and whipping it up by the roots and turning everything upside down their solutions are extreme and I also feel that irrational usually and irrational and emotional. But more than that I think the extremist movements regardless of what description you give them tend to be the kinds of movements that do not observe the rules of normal political behavior as we understand that behavior in America. We're talking of course about American extremists too because what would be considered. Extreme in the United States might be a necessity in a totalitarian country. What we're saying then I imagine is that extremism is defined at least in part by where you are and when you're there what may have been extreme in America a hundred years ago might no longer be extreme today. At the same time we've already injected the note that extremism occurs at both the right and the left I wonder just whether we might not spend a minute
thinking about whether it would be possible to have an extremist the center walking smack down the middle of the road in refusing to consider anything left or right. Pretty dull boy pretty dull boy but hardly an extremist. I think the middle of the road is the most misunderstood position in the United States. I think that the middle of the road is a the most difficult area to be in rather than the safest and the easiest to to walk on because the middle of the road and I would define the middle of the road as the broad political middle of genuine liberals and genuine conservatives is that Ariel recognizing that there may be not only two sides to a question but three four five even perhaps six sides to a question were the extremists on either side usually recognizes that there is just one solution to the problem and perhaps only one point of view that the approximate of the two. Well that's substantial progress in a very few minutes. We've now defined an extremist as somebody who has a very simplistic explanation for what's going
on in the world and who refuses to consider any alternatives to his own simplistic solution. Why don't we get down to cases. What in America today are the outstanding examples of extremist organizations. Mr. Drone Hello. Oh well I think there is something. I think there are something like fifteen hundred such organizations that are generally bracketed in that area around about the huge percentage in this present time of our evolution is the right wing. And I suppose presently in the United States the most talked about and the most influential extreme group is the John Birch Society and we have a course right here in Belmont its headquarters so I suppose it is of particular note to people in Boston what the John Birch Society is and what it does but there are many others as Mr. Holmes you say influential Mr. HALL Would you care to
expound on that. Some of us I suppose tend to think the John Birch Society is simply a collection of people off at the fringe who don't really matter very much. Well before I go I missed the whole stats on that. I say influential because I mean they are the most influential in that peripheral area of the extreme right and I have a theory that they are rapidly becoming an umbrella group for many of the other anti groups that have played a riff or write a terrifically in this country in the past year. They do not profess anti-Catholicism are anti Negro are anti Semitism are anti anything they are just anti communist but they taken to the fore. It's been my experience many of the people who are blatantly anti-Catholic anti-Semitic they run for instance Westbrook Pegler column runs in the American opinion and he displays a
very open anti-Semitic slant. I'm sorry to interrupt but that's what I meant. They are the most influential group in the right wing. Well what do you suppose it is most of all that a group of this kind which professes to be soley anti-communist has such a wide appeal for people who are anti Semitic. You know Negro and minority groups generally. For the very simple reason I think they have almost monopolized the symbols of the American middle class the great American middle class which I regard as a triumph of liberal tradition in the United States this business of bridging the gap between the very rich and the very poor and creating the kind of stable middle class which is unknown for example in places like Latin America. I think that the extreme right has more adherence and there are more groups on the extreme right largely because they employ this kind of symbolism. They are constitutionalists they will tell us although they exhibit little or no understanding of the Constitution they offer the rights of the states which they claim is a kind of New England town meeting
concept. They talk in terms of being the great defenders of Christendom. And they offer free enterprise the American way of life and if an individual lacks a clear understanding of the real meaning of these symbols he can very rapidly find himself involved in a movement that he deems to be very patriotic and not extreme as I would describe it so I think it's sort of a natural development of the Birchers would capture more people for example the extreme left wing movements which tend to be in a broad sense the kinds of movements which are opposed to the profit incentive opposed to. Well we have an example. Probably how they have moved in an area he missed a whole mansion. Right presently they have moved in very strong in the school prayer situation. And one of our town's a man named Lee OK and is attempting to what to have for members of the school committee. Recall that the community has a
child which provides one of the few communities in Massachusetts which has a recall provision in its charter. He is attempting to do this because they have voted to sustain basically the Supreme Court decision right here in Cambridge for instance the lady who is threaten to sue the Cambridge School Committee on these grounds is a paid employee of the Birch Society and its Belmont headquarters now. This is bearing out what Mr. Hall said about the defenders of Christendom. This is a vast emotional appeal to many segments of our society that do believe that there is nothing wrong with prayer or Bible reading in the school. But the Birch Society has moved in and made itself this defender but not under the name of the John Birch Society you know in the case of the LEO Kahane you're speaking of. In Middleborough Massachusetts the name of that particular group is the committee to restore daily Bible and Prayer weeding in the public schools which actually is a birch organization
Mr. King is the chapter leader in middle of the John Birch Society now he admits it but the only reason that he does so is because Mr. Downey exposed him in the pages of The Boston Herald. And I might say if I might inject this he's the only the only John Birch Society member I have run across with a sense of humor. The day after I the day after I did the exposé so-called it wasn't it was just a story on what he was up to. I was out in L.A. I had a little Ailment I was out for a day or so and during that period he called the city desk of the Herald. So I wasn't there and I told him I was ill and so he wrote a letter to me and he closed off the letter by saying incidentally I was sorry to hear that you were ill when I called the other day I tried to get you. I hope it wasn't something you wrote. Another point on the Birch Society you were asking about why it seems to have influence and I would agree with Mr Dhoni that it does. I think the Birch Society is the only
movement in the United States even historically that was organized by an individual who spent the major part of his adult life in the mainstream of the American business community. This is a thing that is often overlooked in discussing the Birch Society before Mr Wiles turned to those he spent 35 years in the ranks of the National Association of Manufacturers the associated industries of Massachusetts and all the rest. And he has applied to an extremist movement. What I would call the dynamics of the modern business corporation. So he has set this up with organization and know how an administrative skill. He gives his following something to do virtually every minute of the day forever writing letters to the newspapers to their congressman to a company that they may disapprove of in terms of perhaps using a United Nations symbol on their products or something else. The Birch Society really represents a well organized right wing group where so many of them in the past the General Smith's and the others have been run by relatively young people just floundering around in a sea of
emotion and the birch is wildly floundering and flounder in the sea of emotion also have strict. Organizational procedures I'm guided and this is very important. Another thing they manage to do is Gerald OK Smith and his group they are blatantly and openly anti-Semitic. They are a hate group cell prevent professed and they embrace it. This naturally repels many people right thinking people sensible people but the Birch Society disavows any connection with the anti groups they are not anti-semitic they are not anti-Catholic they are not anti anything they are just as I said anti communist and yet they sponsor people who are they bring in. Well the Boston forum is a front that's another operation of theirs they set up a front they use it and they drop it and they set up another front and this is all spelled out by Mr Welch in his organizational book The Blue Book. And they bring in come back and will comment comes into Boston he's a notorious anti-Catholic. But all the Birch Society
people go he doesn't talk anti-Catholicism in Boston which is heavily Catholic E-Tec talks anti communism but he is on the record as a very loyal and anti Catholic. Similarly they do it with anti Semitic people and but they're also bloody invincibly innocent about all this. And I find that. Singular with that I can understand a rock Well I know he's a Nazi and hates Jewish people and so forth but the Birch Society members they run out from under your fingers when you try to pin them on this anti business and all that been your experience most of all. Absolutely and a concrete example of this would be the opening just about a year ago in Boston. What was then described as the first bookstore of the John Birch Society. They announced in their official appeal that is that they were opening up something called the Joe McCarthy bookstore in South Boston and I was like you know just as just as they have just as they have front organizations they have a technique of opening book stores in
different parts of the country and applying a name that covers a local area for example I also have a bookstore in New England because of the historical meaning and so on. So they open this bookstore lease they announce the opening of it and told about the man who was working very closely with them in fact who would be the manager of the store and proudly announced that this 116 Broadway in Boston was to be. The head man of the store and Mr. Goni sitting across the table from me here did a factual piece in The Boston Herald simply stating that on the record and as a matter of public knowledge spurious liberalists is the number one financial backer of the American Nazi Party. And so the story that the Birch Society Plus a Nazi financier were opening a new book that you and he documented the story all the way. And yet they scream that you are smearing him. Well I agree that they threatened they wrote a letter to the publisher of The Herald and threatened to put him out of business and Mr. Wells signed this and said if they had done a survey of
all the material in the Boston Herald in the past 10 years and apparently there were some terrible things in the Boston Herald over the last 10 years because they were going to destroy the Boston Herald. Well to the everlasting credit of Robert show who stepped down as publisher of The Herald just a few days ago he got up on his hind feet and he belted back at Mr. Welch and I'm absolutely amazed. Yes all very good and yet when all was said and done when the smoke cleared away it was rather interesting in a month or so later they would do their support completely from this bookstore and they expelled the Nazi from the John Birch Society so that this is simply confirming your story Mr. Downey and not in any sense showing that there were any errors in it and yet they scream that they were being smeared unmercifully by the so-called pro-communist person boss Colonel Bucca went on my radio program I believe it was. Within two days after or after the story broke and he was asked point blank is personal goal as a member of the John Birch Society and he replied No we have
withdrawn his membership which is confirmation. Well gentlemen I think that we probably don't want to spend the full hour talking about the John Birch Society but I'll let him live while we're on it. I have this question. I wonder to what degree the John Birch Society something that most of us would be entitle to discount and simply write off as a fringe group which live somewhere out there that we don't have to pay very much attention to or on the other hand is it really an organization that matters to people other than its own members. Does it have any influence in the American political system does it. Does it really stir up trouble. Is it an organization. In other words that we ought to be concerned about. Well my answer to that is yes only because look at North Dakota right now in that congressional election out there they have an independent Republican candidate running
who is quoting Barry Goldwater support he's running as a John Birch Society member. The regular Republican party member is running and he has Goldwater support and poor Mr. Goldwater like him or not. He's sent two telegrams to the regular Party endorsed candidate and endorsing him but the other guy still running around out there courting Barry Goldwater and quoting him as support for his policies. And I think they have an influence and beyond that just this past June the report coming out of the headquarters in Belmont show that the paid employees of the John Birch Society in one year had more than doubled. They had gone up to something like a hundred and one thousand one hundred sixteen from something like 57. I don't have the figures with seven to one hundred and nine hundred nine. Yes a very wealthy organization so you said at the end of its growing and its influence is growing how and also all of the letter writing that Mr. Hall mentioned we have printed and every paper in Boston and every paper in Massachusetts and I assume in the
nation has printed letters from subscribers readers who signed their names and they are just parroting the whole Birch philosophy and they get credit time and time and time and time again at the Herald the editorial department there has attempted to set up some kind of a file so they can identify these people who are on the board of the John Birch Society and that's it use its And and filter out this. Not that they should not have the have the right to express their opinion but it's such a concerted effort and there is nobody else who is doing an anti effort in that area. Mr. HALL. Well on that same point I'm looking at a White Book of the John Birch Society which is a compilation unbound form of many of their monthly members bulletins which laid down the rules and the procedure for the month. I'm looking at one item here would quote join your local PTA at the beginning of the school year and get your conservative friends to do likewise and go to work to take it over and
take it over is on the line so that the message gets through to the membership in the back of the same book there is a quote and I'll just touch on it in part not to spend too much time on this but it begins this way. There has been considerable pressure in various parts of the country to have our chapter leaders supply the names and addresses of members usually to somebody of unquestionable patriotism and for visibly laudable purposes. Let us warn again both our chapter leaders and coordinate is that the names of our members are not to be given to anybody for any purpose. We simply mean what we say etc. Now the point is this that for the most part the candidates running at the local level and this is unknowing and not simply in North Dakota and I familiar with the cases you mention this to Downey but you have people running all over the state of Massachusetts in Brockton in Newton Blaster and so on who are not publicly known as John Birch Society members and who are very reluctant to admit we went through this in Lexington just a few months ago where three candidates were running. And we used to face up to this John Birch Society membership until the Boston
Herald came through with documented exposure of them and then they called a press conference and admitted yes they were running but they hadn't been running as open members of the society usually to have this kind of secrecy which they deny that they are and it makes it rather difficult to know just who is one in the community now if they ran openly as proud John Birch Society members and would get up in public and parrot the line I think it would be different but they don't do it that way. One of those members running an academic to profess some across and thanks a lot to sue because he had been tied into the John Birch Society and he was not part of it he was however. Member of the American opinion speakers bureau and this again is this invincible innocence bit so the American opinion speakers bureau this to him has nothing to do with the John Birch Society and yet the record of the John Birch Society bulletin shows that on November of 961 I believe Mr
Welch writes at long last we have achieved one of our major purposes we have set up our own speakers bureau the American opinion speakers bureau with headquarters in North Brookfield Massachusetts and I call them to check this out because my publisher was a little disturbed that maybe this was not quite correct and of course they don't admit that they are not tied to the John Birch Society but they are a whole creature of it absolutely disavowed disavow disavow believe. Well we've answered that I guess Mr Hall and I by saying yes I do think they're important. Well I think what we've got here a secret society which operates a number of front organizations which obviously has a very very large budget which has influence that most of us I suppose are regarded as pernicious on the normal stream of politics. One other question I think that we ought to address ourselves too. We began talking about it a few minutes earlier. Why is it that an organization like the Birch Society is as successful as it is
in part. Perhaps it's due to Mr Welch and his organizational talent. In part it's due to the kinds of appeals it's making. But let's try to hammer that one down a little bit. What kinds of people would you say gentlemen belong to the John Birch Society. Where do they come from are they is somebody said in California not too long ago a little old ladies in tennis shoes. Or is there something more sinister or different involved here. I don't know what Gordon Hall's thinking on this is but my my feeling is that the people that have gone into the John Birch Society many times have been mulcted into it and initially they might be a little unstable. Many of them have gone in because they feel anti-communism. You know this is a great cloak so if this is anti-communist Well then fine we should join it. Also he Mr Welch keeps saying he's a conservative a conservative of course what he's doing is in effect destroying the legitimate
and good conservative movement in the United States which we need to keep our system going in my opinion. So they go in because it's anti-communist or because it's conservative also. Most of them I think have a beginning anti feeling they are anti-semitic they are anti Negro they are anti Catholic although in this area there is a large percentage of them who are Catholic which I think is a carryover from the McCarthy days and even earlier to the Coghlan days. So that's what I think and they get in there and they have this one anti feeling and they they they get out of the stream up to their ankles and they meet somebody else that was anti something else and in no time at all there in the mainstream up to their to their eyeballs and they're all covered with these anti feelings. That's who I think they are. Mr. HOLLAND I think that while I tend to agree certainly in large measure with what Mr. Drone has said I think however that there's something else to be considered namely history does change even though the John Birch
Society feels that there is an American solution for all problems. And I think for the first time we're faced with the need for. Battling over many many decades rather than in the past where you you go to war for a year or six months whatever it may be and you saw you settle the international dispute with conventional arms and it's all finished right now the burden of the continuing conflict I think is weighing heavily on people's minds and where you have a conflict that may spread out for decades. Learning to live calmly and in a situation of great international danger with continuing crisis is working a hardship on many of our citizens who really believe that every international problem can be solved and largely with any kind of American intervention and the kind of 200 percent Americans who believe this and Senator Fulbright is passed judgment on the floor of the Senate. The people who are softest on communism and he included Senator Goldwater in this. The kinds of
individuals and birches and so on who simply cannot bear the burden of the continuing conflict and I think that has much to do with and furthermore we're faced with it with an outside power that is indeed only 90 miles from our shores and this raises also new psychosis. What are we saying then that there is a certain kind of person who when he confronts a world that's terribly complex not only with respect to international affairs but here at home where the problems are complex and the solutions are no simpler than the problems themselves where life seems to have no permanent standards where things are changing all the time where increasingly any sense of control that people used to have in the smaller and more intimate communities of old slips out of people's hands that this kind of person is really the fodder which is used by extremists to build up their organizations. And if we're saying that I think from your nods here that we all
are. Then this kind of raw material can end up if he happens to stumble onto the 200 percent American theme in the John Birch Society. But he might end up at quite a different end of the spectrum. Or he might end up if he happens to be a Negro in the Black Muslim movement. The problem then is that we've got kind of personality who feels enormously frustrated enormously away from home in the world. And this indicates that possibly the kinds of people who join the John Birch Society aren't very different in terms of their personalities from the kinds of people who join let's say the Communist Party. Would that be a fair stab in personality times I think you know quite common. However again we have to come back to the business of the. The John Birch Society membership embracing in
a sense mainstream symbols things that so many millions of Americans would also subscribe to so that they do not have a sense of guilt in terms of what they are doing because they say that only upholding the American way of life and the Constitution. I don't think that a person deeply disturbed personality wise is apt to turn to the Communist Party in such large numbers because the American Communist Party is talking about how god awful the American system is. The Birch is a saying in effect it's the only system and there's a big difference you know I think in terms of propelling members in in large numbers. Nevertheless by I you define this in terms of. An attempted clarity in my public lectures I say the thing that distinguishes the extreme left from the extreme right in a broad sense is that the extreme left are haters of the United States economic system they are system Hate is an inverse they also people love as they embrace mankind in the common man and no one bleeds quite as
long and loud as do the far left in terms of races religions the unemployed the sharecropper and so on. The extreme right and peace to the extreme right as distinguishing the extreme left are the 500 percent system lovers but in turn they are the people hated and you've got a curious upside down kind of definition here on one side the US economic system hate is people love isn't on the other side US system economic love as a US economic system lovers and people haters and I think it's quite true and somewhere else scattered between the two certainly would be mainstream liberals and conservatives and I think that's a fairly accurate picture of the spectrum today. What we used to have the what was that song the purple people eater now we have read people hate us. I think that the first lady and individually that's what we're really saying clearly frustrated individual unhappy in the 20th century and unable to deal with ambiguity and deadlines and complexity is far more apt I think on the American scene to
turn to the extreme right and to the extreme left whereas in Latin America I think he's much more apt to turn to the extreme left than to military dictatorship I see. Well clearly all of us share to some degree the frustrations that lead to this kind of behavior. There are frequently times I know for myself what I'd like to throw my hands up in despair and say it's just much too big a mess for me. But I suppose that these people are really in some sense examples of this thing going pathological. Some of them are reaching back to the past and saying. I wish the days of old were here again some of them are reaching for the future and saying let's tear away the rubble and create a new utopia. All of them are opting out of the of the normal political process. All of them are saying that through the current mechanisms or through the current mechanisms reformed we're not going to get anywhere. We've got to clean house we've got to throw out the scoundrels all of them have
a conspiracy theory of history. You know somebody is plotting against them there are devils hidden in the cracks of the walls all over the place well and the extreme left in the United States presently and Mr. Hall is more aware of this than I at the present because of his association with Barry Hofmann the young Boston man who made the trip with the Cuban students however. It's my feeling that in the United States today the extreme left the so-called Russian oriented extreme left communist is much more aligned to the to the setup of the United States government and its thinking whereas the communist Chinese group is is the one that wants to tear down the whole system and rebuild isn't that your feeling on it most all. Yes it is not a fact that that's quite true and there has been a shift on the far left which is probably not. Representative of more
than a million five hundred thousand of my fellow citizens there is a shift in terms of them our most revolutionary activity in a way from what they feel is a somewhat stagnant American Communist Party. Ladies and gentlemen you're listening to the Roundtable our topic is how dangerous are extremists in the United States. Our participants are Gordon Hall an expert and writer on extremist movements. And James drone a reporter from The Boston Herald I'm Leonard Fein a political scientist from MIT. We've been talking about the nature of extremism in America and particularly about the John Birch Society. I think gentlemen with your permission that we ought to move from the John Birch Society we've begun to talk about the extreme left in this country and I'd like to continue that. But I'd like to make one observation first if I may. There seems to be a need perhaps in response to the great disorder of the universe today to find symmetry in politics and a good number of people who have talked about the far right have insisted on finding somewhere or other far
left in America. If we're going to talk about the extreme left I think it might benefit us first to see just how large the far left is in comparison perhaps with the far right. Is this as large an organization as well-financed an organization are we dealing with a different order variable here. I think maybe I try to answer that question. Speaking for myself we ought to determine first where the extreme left is in relationship to other traditions and I am often asked this question when I'm out speaking on the subject in public and I define the extreme left in the United States as being in the area beyond the confines of the liberal reform tradition and the extreme left differs greatly from the liberal reform traditions in that it has long since given up and continues to have no faith in reform as an answer
to solving either domestic going to national questions. They want to change the system radically alter it almost totally so that would no longer be recognizable in terms of our own history. They tend to be the kinds of people who believe in some sort of utopia or something of that sort and that which is why I define them as I define them as I did as United States economic system haters no matter how you look at the far left. The dominating characteristic is this distrust and hatred of the profit incentive they feel that this allows for exploitation by landlords. Lava barons and so on and they constantly played this theme in their literature and they are not interested in for example the trade union movement as such they are interested in nationalization of industry collectivizing the funds that kind of approach and I think that they represent a relatively small thrust on the American scene. Probably about 150 organizations of varying sizes and probably
a total enrolled membership and this would also include those unions expelled from the F of L CIO on grounds of being communist dominated and I would agree that these particular unions are mines smelters and so on for a lot of you know about I'd say roughly a million and a half people are still involved in the far left as opposed to those on the far right which probably number currently somewhere in the neighborhood of six six and a half million enrolled. Fall was in terms of dues paying members and I had the distinction for me is always the dues paying member as opposed to perhaps the sympathy of the Birch Society for example has more people parroting the line than they have members I think you'd agree Mr Johnny a lot of the people who do write letters of the Boston Herald in the globe are not necessarily members but they certainly parrot the line. Well from my newspaper's point of view and reporting at the extreme left. In Boston there is
very small activity. Now I step aside from say the United Electrical Workers Union which is the which was thrown out of the CIO some 15 years ago and is does hold contracts a bargaining agent is bargaining agent at a couple of small general electric plants in this area one in Lowell for instance. This is a red LED Union there's no question about it but its membership is mostly burdened by the guys who want better working conditions and are not at all polarized politically in our community is a church that is gives all the indications and all the activities that surround it. Very much may change very heavily red and there is a group that has adopted it cause it saw the Labor Committee and it attaches at the front of it. Nothing like
group name I don't care to mention it because I think it's almost a kind of odd. However those are the two groups in the city of Boston discounting some fuel that may have filtered into the peace movements or might possibly have filtered into the civil rights movement. These are the only two organized groups really that I see on the Boston level that are communist or on the New England level and I think your designation of the church in question is a little bit on the harsh side although I think that consistently they certainly feature the kinds of programs that would give aid and comfort certainly to the communist and pro-communist camp and I think you're essentially correct I think you want to think he so much of a Labor Committee as you were perhaps of something that is known as a people's forum. I think that may have been what you thought you had in mind. There's no question that. And also this is important too and I think that it should be stressed and that is that there is an element of the entire peace thrust on the civil rights laws that should certainly be on
guard because if anybody believes that communist have given up the attempt to move in a muscle in on these groups it's being I think politically naive but I was interested in your remarks professor on the basis of the need for symmetry and I don't know that that's necessarily the case although I think I know what you're driving at. But I do think that in the zeal to to to to hunt down say for example the far right many people assume that there is no far left and vice versa. And I would I would say we need to find the genuine liberal and the genuine conservative who would have an equal concern about totalitarians on either side in the Castro question for example just to take another few seconds. You have people in the United States who are violently anti that. And I feel that Latin American dictatorships of that type of danger to the Organization of American States into the whole Western cause and I would agree. But they
had no harsh words say for the cast to a type of evolution they don't quite see that as a danger and then there are people in the Birch Society for example that have nothing but endless condemnation of the Castro regime. But see nothing wrong with a bet that is and you get into this kind of a bind too. You know I think we ought to distinguish I'm sure that we all do in our own thinking privately between fuzzy political thinking of which there's a good and downright extremism. Yes and my definition of a million and a half I was not including fuzzy thinking if you want to get into one mind a liberal who tends to to occasionally work with communist because they happen to be representing a particular issue at a particular time the number would be considerably larger. Well we've got I think established now at least in terms of organizational membership. The far right is something like four times as large as the far left in America. A lot of
army out there fighting soldiers. One final point of clarification on this a lot of people take great comfort from these figures saying well what you're really saying that is somewhere between say seven and a half to eight million of our fellow citizens who are involved in these goes and we have a hundred and eighty some odd million people therefore there is no danger but this is something would be that everybody else is politically active in a sensible way and in a broad middle path and a vital center. And you would have it and I don't think that this is this is necessarily true at all I think that that's part of the middle aren't thinking in many countries allied to the single purpose individual or single purpose organization that works day and night for its cause can be numerically small and have a distinct advantage over. Groups with and many many kinds of interest as you gentlemen may know there's been a great deal of research done in the social sciences since the Second World War on authoritarianism on prejudice
on latent fascism on latent communism on the appeals of communism and the appeals of fascism in all of these studies indicate there are in fact large numbers surprisingly large numbers of people in America who appeared to be. Very prone to joining these kinds of organizations who would be swept off their feet in a time of crisis by leaders representing these various views who are in no way committed to what we think of as the democratic ethic the democratic tradition. I wouldn't make an estimate as to how many such people there are but there are there are numbered in the tens of millions. And they have no commitment whatsoever to what we think of as democracy. Now I wonder since our time is beginning to run a little bit short I would like to ask you how come as a political scientist the breakdown in the late 30s.
How has the figures shifted since then would you would your studies show and the those dedicated to the cause of the extreme right and the extreme left. Well there are no figures simply because in the late 30s and 30s there wasn't much survey research being done in this country. My impression would I suppose conform with yours that the shift because of the shift in world circumstances has been from the far left to the far right. This I think is sort of something on which we we all have the same impression. I wonder since we've talked about the Birch Society we've talked a little bit about the far left whether we might not turn our attention to one increasingly important group that a good number of people have classified as an extremist organisation that is the Black Muslim movement in this country. Should we classify it as an extremist organization. How important is it how large is it. How much influence does it have on the civil rights movement and on the political process in general.
Mr. Hall I think it's a slightly overrated organization although a year ago I think that I would have been one of those it would have. Made assumptions that it is just as important and significant on the American scene as many national magazines would have us believe I've seen figures ranging somewhere from 75 to one hundred twenty five thousand. My own estimate at this time is that the Muslims would be lucky if they could muster 15000 Goleman this nationally and I base this on think is in the Boston area just a very quick rundown. Boston is supposed to be one of the main centers for the Muslim strength Boston Chicago Detroit and New York. They held a rally in Boston and July in 1981 and they imported Muslims from New York New Jersey Pennsylvania and Connecticut and all over New England and they could not even filibuster Divina and even allowed white people into come in to hear them for the first time in this area and they still had roughly somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five
thousand people with all sorts of chartered buses parked outside the Muslim movement is an extremist movement and I said to your question in fact I consider today without any question a black hate group. And my favorite definition of it is that the kook Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils and the Governor Wallace Barnett thrust in the south has properly labeled Jim Crow and I think it is then the Muslims must also be labeled quote Jim. It is the sort of thing in reverse and I think it's true they are essentially anti-Christian. They are anti-white and there's a good deal of anti-Semitism mixed up in this movement and the white man is the devil and no matter how you look at the literature and examine their printed published record you'll see that it's it's harshly and deviating a lot anti-white. They do have a they do have an anti-Semitic influence and I can only tell you with the incident that happened in Danvers when they were trying to get a man who had laid out a series of houses and
constructed them they were negro Fellow came and asked to see one of the houses and he was refused and the civil rights groups by shock and Jerry Brown and all those people went to back now these fellows both happen to be Jewish and they went to bat for him and went all the way through the courts without fee and fought his case and won for him and he got his house and he turned out to be as anti-Semitic as Gerald L.K. Smith. So and he was a black Muslim. So it's there then if what I was suggesting before was correct. The kind of Negro who joins the Black Muslim movement. If he were a white would be joining the White Citizens Council. Yeah I'd have white who joins the White Citizens Council if he were a nigger would be joining the Black Muslims I think that's right. Yes and Justin and I connection I am looking just at a headline here from the Catholic pilot here in Boston of Saturday October 5th and the headline is as a matter of fact Black Muslims birches depict same symptoms priest decline
and he points out that they are matching symptoms of social deterioration and I think it's a rather interesting insight. You asked a question earlier about their impact on the civil rights movement and I think Mr. Joni who was in Washington at the time of the great August 28 who actually I think he would support me on this Malcolm X one of the Black Muslim leaders in the United States stated that their value would be a failure they would not get as many as 75000 whites in Negros to come to Washington. Recording you then I know if they work to get 75000 people any figure above that would result in in Whites attacking negroes and an outbreak of bloodshed and violence. He was wrong on both counts. Some two hundred and seventy two hundred eight thousand people showed in an orderly demonstration. The Muslims were not represented despite the fact that they said that so few people would come and it was an all day affair and as you know there was no violence so the Muslims a very poor analyst of the American scene especially in the civil rights and they do not have any
serious influence in my judgment on the constructive side of this question. Well the thing that scared me a little bit Malcolm X the night before the rally held court in effect in the lobby of the Statler Hotel in Washington and spout of these phrases and when it came to the point and said. If there are over 75000 people then there is going to be violence and then he said you know violence doesn't come from the participants it comes from the spectators. Its a reaction to some action by the spectators. And I want a way from him saying Why you dog that's what you're going to do tomorrow some of your people are going to be along that line of my to do something and create the incident would cause which would have wrecked the whole effect. Well my feeling coincides with Mr. Holmes because nothing did happen and I think that was a major effort and if they could have mustered people to do something if they had the membership that they claim they would have done something so I tend to believe that they do not have that force or that impact that they claim and of course they came to
Boston and claimed that the launch was a failure it was an entirely a Kennedy plot. The Kennedy selected the civil rights leaders to run a so-called responsible Negro leaders and he said a responsible Negro leader is one I was responsible to a white man. I don't mean to minimize the Muslims entirely because I'm aware that there is or there are large numbers of Negroes still in the United States who feel almost wholly alienated from the American cultural scene because of lack of opportunity lack of education and so on and very very low income negroes that would find perhaps the Muslim appeal to be an attractive one and they have they have mobilized X number of us of public term to use in relationship to the Muslims where they have mobilize X number of Negro nationalist into the into the cause I mean to minimize I just think that they have a great day that's the point I want to make I don't think they're nearly as strong as they would have us believe.
Well what we've been saying all along has been that any extremist movement at any point in history exploits the temper of the times the crises of the times the John Birch Society exists now it couldn't have existed 50 years ago in America that wasn't the foundation for it. What extremist movements did exist 50 years ago had different. Programs there while he's in his home and for the same reason of course we have the Black Muslims today exploiting the current civil rights fervor and I think in all fairness we have to point to the comments on the Black Muslims that people like James Baldwin have made the appeals that that the Black Muslim movement has for the nonviolent the non extreme negro simply because of his deep frustration about the snail's pace progress of the civil rights movement in this country. I don't think we can simply write them off as a fringe group that that has no relation to what they are their own worst enemies and that they're swimming against the whole tide of history and they are talking about separateness at a time when the civil
rights you describe it as it's now space I think that on balance it's a lot better than that. My own feeling is that we have made large gains in this area and that the pace is accelerating all the time and we're certainly going to have a kind of first class citizenship. You know in the I think the fairly near future perhaps a decade. So they've got black Muslims are swimming against the tide of this kind of history. I think that maybe 15 or 20 years ago would have been that time rather than today. This raises a question that I very much want to turn to in the last few minutes of the program. You say that the Black Muslims are swimming against the tide of history yet I assume that some people might say it's those who swim against the tide of history that change history. It's those who swim against the tide of history that create new movements new goals new institutions that if we have democracy today it's because certain people several hundred years ago insisted on swimming against the tide of their particular history. Perhaps the extremist movement is we
when we disagree with it we regard it as something evil perhaps the extremist movement has a function the function is to change the rules of the game to move us towards a new thing to show us new alternatives. Indeed a good number of people have suggested that in America today the. Political controversy tends to be minimized at the center of the road is where everybody's crowding that. Politics is a pretty dead affair. Perhaps these people are expanding the confines of politics but let's keep it at the first question. Isn't there some value to those who change the tide of history. I think there's some real value to those who change the tide of history but I think that this applies much more to the static and not to the fluid society I think that when the society is rigid and hidebound and changes next to impossible and opportunities are denied all kinds of groups all along the line I think yes then you certainly need extremist. What were we talking about Hungary Spain or some other country like that I should think certainly yes we would be perhaps advocating extremist
policies but we've consolidated our own of evolution we are a kind of a free society that is certainly open at both ends and I think the extreme the solution should be rejected on the grounds that it's out of touch with the realities of our own cultural scene. Well I'm so young that I think swimming against the tide was an unfortunate phrase because. It's my phrase and I'll stand by. Well I don't think I'm swimming against the tide and from swimming against the tide has come great change but usually the people who have been swimming against the tide have had broad support from the masses of people which has affected the change now. This is not true at all of the Muslims they are swimming against the tide. True but they are not anchored in any massive support in the element of the community that they wish to bring change to. So they are in effect yes now certainly Roosevelt in many respects limited to use the same phase one against the tide and I think it was at a time when the society was considerably more rigid than it is now that needed swimming against certainly didn't then
change change and fast change right and it might have gone had had to come about any president I think Eisenhower Kennedy Truman would have acted perhaps not maybe not as successfully but certainly pretty much the same way. Whatever did happen of that chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage. Well there are those who would claim and I'm not sure that I'm not among them that the social problems in America today are that many of them are largely unsolved that we have 25 percent of the people in America living below subsistence level what the Department of Commerce calls a subsistence level and that the two party system isn't providing adequate answers because both parties increasingly look like one another and so on. You all know the argument. I wonder whether in fighting against extremist movements and certainly we're all inclined to do that at least the three of us here. We shouldn't distinguish between the extremist and the utopian should we. Do we want to write off utopian thinking in the United States do we want to say that there is no
value to the person who makes a claim that tomorrow we can have a really radically better society. Something new and something different and something however you want to phrase it wholesome clean use whatever words you like. Well I will tell you Mr. Downey I will listen to that kind of an extremist as long as he isn't impugning as he goes along everybody else's motives in fact we began with some definitions of extremist I'll call him an extra one I would say the thing that distinguishes in my mind an extremist. A reasonably fair minded person whether he's liberal or conservative or anything else is that when you're trying to bring about change you're not impugning everybody else's motives. Well the logical left in the United States talks about and I have documented we don't have time to go into a radical left in the United States talks about John F. Kennedy as being a lackey of Wall Street and an economic bow never worked a day in his life and they misrepresent I think the whole tenor of the Kennedy administration to the point where it is out on cloud nine and if you're going to have an extremist
position and talk about utopia don't impugn everybody else's motives as you do so. Well I think it comes back to our Also our original definition I think that the extremists are haters or utopian might hate a system or a part of a system or some facet of it. But he's not a total hater of the total existing system and that's what I find the extremists out one way or the other. They want to destroy it. It's a violent variant hatred type thing and I will tell you I will take issue with distinguish moderated by saying that I think that while we certainly are an unfinished country to employ I want to max learner's phrases. I think that we have the we certainly have. Solved many of the problems and we are an affluent society Despite pockets here in pockets and I think the moderate liberal conservative middle path if you want to call it that has served this country brilliantly well I will agree with him that I think there are too many in the middle of the road. I would like a little more dissention and a little more dispute.
I did a less trying to be like everyone else and I find for myself a great attraction to those who have the courage if you will or the fanaticism perhaps to stand on the rooftops and to shout very loudly at the rest of us. We're all doing the wrong thing and I think would be horrifying if everybody in this society got up and this guy would absolutely. I thought he was like the lady I saw going through Harvard Square on a bicycle wearing a mink coat. I don't like people like that that's so that's sort of the sort of thing I'm not opposed to he is also having a son and a back and I'm kind of he's a dirty calf and I think the easiest thing in the world to do I think this is one of the myths that being circulated one of the easiest things in the world to do is to stand on the rooftops and shout. First place it doesn't take any brains to shout it doesn't take any sense of history to get up and shout and rather than. Requiring courage I think that it very often may be something else again it's the mark in many respects in a psychological sense of the coward who does all the screaming and
shouting because he can't marshal a modified kind of argument to support his thesis so he just get up and shout I think it's the middle of the road is a far more difficult path and either one of you have made it out to be and I'm talking now however that I got a middle path and I think you'll make the middle of the road much wider than I do I think you go from say the conservative to the liberal and call that the middle of the road I don't not call that I call that I call the middle of the road the massive number who are in the middle of the road who are not over to the left as a liberal are over to the right as a conservative. Well but if we're going to deal with them you would not think us if we're going to deal with ambiguity and complexity then it would seem to me that you that people in the middle of the boat deal with this far more effectively than to want it. I agree gentlemen that the middle of the road is a difficult place. I also think it's a very crowded place. I'm sorry that we didn't get into this topic earlier because we've begun finally to disagree with each other and I think that's healthy. I suppose that's healthy. Welcome to next week. We don't all want to stand in the middle of the road on this program. In any event we've been talking about extremist movements I think we've reached some consensus that we certainly haven't
exhausted all of the extremist movements in America we haven't touched on a good number of them. But I trust that we have at least illuminated some of the issues. And I very much want to thank you for your participation in the program this evening. Good evening. You've been listening to WGBH roundtable discussing how dangerous are the extremists in the United States. Tonight's guests Gordon hall expert and writer on extremist movements and a James drone a reporter for The Boston Herald. Leonard Fein assistant professor of political science at MIT acted as moderator. This program was produced by Carolyn is of the WGBH FM staff next week at this time WGBH roundtable discusses romantic marriage a 20th century illusion. This is the educational radio network.
Tonight at 8:30. Stay tuned for the hilarious to go on show next over WGBH FM. If you know 1.7 Maggette cycles in Boston. This is the BBC. Oh dear. This is what is being stated speaking with a few handy hints when your radio listeners. If at any time during the following hot fire you should hear this song. It means that someone has opened the door and should you hear this. It means the picture we're trying to convey is that someone has entered the room. And. This not only means that he has left but is also the signal for the applause and not for a rather tricky one.
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- WGBH Roundtable - ? How Dangerous are Extremists in the US?? This program discussed the extremists of the left and right. Moderator: Professor Leonard Fein, Assistant Professor of Political Science at MIT Guests: Gordon Hall, expert on extremist movements ( lecturer & writer) James Droney, reporter, Boston Herald Recorded 10/22/1963 Aired 10/23/1963 ERN - The Educational Radio Network Preservation master of 63-0026-10-23-001 made 9/2003
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