On Saturday, The Daily Beast's Kelly Weill posted an analysis of President Donald Trump's base, and what their recent behavior, which "experts say resembles a cult or totalitarianism," says about the country's political health.
"Trump has long stoked bigoted grievances among his followers, but the Greenville rally saw him act as a more overt radicalizer than ever before," wrote Weill. "And with a portion of Trump’s fanbase now openly clamoring for the physical removal of several prominent Democrats of color, experts are questioning whether the country can repair the damage — even if Trump loses in 2020."
It is an open question how many people who chanted "Send her back" about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are true believers.
"Some people might be there because they genuinely believe in this ideology," New York University professor Mary Beth Altier was quoted as saying. "Some may be questioning those beliefs. They’re toying with them, and they go because a friend brought them or they think it’d be cool to go. They go and get swept up. People start chanting, are you going to be the only one standing there not chanting?"
Nonetheless, it is clear that at least some of the president's fans will defend whatever behavior he engages in reflexively, as the CNN panel of "Trumpettes" demonstrated vividly. And even worse, Trump's behavior appears to be sparking violence.
"During a March 2016 rally, Trump asked fans to eject protesters, calling on them to 'get ‘em out of here,'" wrote Weill. "Matt Heimbach, a neo-Nazi who was later instrumental in 2017’s deadly white supremacist rally in Charlotteville, complied, assaulting a black protester. In October, a Florida man sent 16 pipe bombs to politicians, news outlets, and public figures who have been critical of Trump. The bomber had attended Trump rallies and described them as 'like a new found drug.' Trump’s election has coincided with a marked spike in hate crimes, and a rise in overt white supremacist action."
Part of the problem, noted Weill, is that in today's media environment, it is possible to entirely filter out people with opposing political viewpoints and build more and more insular networks of like-minded supporters to reinforce one's views.
As Altier warned, deprogramming them will be especially difficult because the very thing that appears to be radicalizing them — Trump's rallies — might also be the only thing containing their radicalization.
"While people saying these things is awful and they may radicalize other people, if we quash their ability to say them, my research shows they may become more violent because they can’t express those grievances," she said. "It's a catch-22."