As more details emerge about Anders Behring Breivik, the alleged perpetrator of Friday’s vicious terrorist attacks in Norway, I can’t help but notice how eerily similar some of his rhetoric is to some of the ideas floating around on the American Right, and not just the underground far-right. The wild claims that President Obama was somehow leading or abetting a Marxist/Islamist alliance to destroy Christian America were not just found on extremist neo-Nazi websites, but could be seen on Tea Party signs and heard on right-wing talk radio.
Of course, none of this means that Tea Party members or avid listeners of right-wing radio host Michael Savage are going to go out and kill people. However, ideas have consequences, and it is important to be wary of certain ideas that threaten to dehumanize people. Before left-wingers start to gloat, it is also important to remember that the Left has also had its share of violent terrorists as well, and that the language of class war, taken too far, can also lead to violence.
Politics has always involved strong language, and I would not want to see a “speech police” developed to quiet firebrands, including those who develop the conspiracy theories that often fuel (even if unintentionally) extremist violence. But the fact that so many people believe tales about a Marxist plot to take over the world, when Marxism as an organized, active ideology is perhaps at its weakest point in over a century, is just one example of how conspiracy theories can take one’s mind off of understanding the world from the standpoint of reality. Once we understand the world as it is, then hopefully we can change it for the better. As Pope Leo XIII advised: “There is nothing more useful than to look at the world as it really is — and at the same time look elsewhere for a remedy to its troubles.”