The Slippery Definition of Extremist
Americans are once again hearing of the perils of extremism. But the definition of this offense is slippier than a politician’s campaign promise. The definition of extremism has continually been amended to permit government policies that few sober people previously advocated.
Prior to 2000, anyone who asserted that the Census Bureau was deeply involved with the roundup of Japanese-Americans for internment camps in 1942 was considered an extremist. The Census Bureau spent 60 years denying its role but finally admitted its culpability ten years ago after academics uncovered undeniable proof. Regardless of the Census Bureau’s past abuses or perennial deceit, only extremists believe that their answers to this year’s census could ever be used against them.
Prior to September 2001, anyone who suggested that the U.S. government lead a crusade to “rid the world of evil”would have been labeled both an extremist and a loon. But when George W. Bush promised exactly that three days after 9/11, the media cheered and his approval ratings soared.
Prior to November 2001, anyone who suggested that the president had the power to suspend the right of habeas corpus and perpetually detain anyone he accused of serious wrongdoing would have been considered an extremist. But Bush’s executive decree on enemy combatants made this the law — or at least the policy — of the land.
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