Into the Mainstream
By Chip Berlet
Around the country, ideas that originated on the hard right or in the fevered imaginations of conspiracy theorists are finding their way into the mainstream. In a number of cases, these ideas have become commonplace in American minds.
Are black people inherently less intelligent and more prone to criminality than whites? Are Catholics incapable of self-government? Did the Civil Rights Act of 1964 strip Americans of their freedoms? Does a tiny cabal of Jewish families control international banking? Do interracial relationships have the effect of weakening both races? Are there natural ruling elites who should be governing society?
These are the kinds of ideas that are being popularized today.
How do ideas that once were denounced as racist, bigoted, unfair, or just plain mean-spirited get transmitted into mainstream discussions and political debates? Through a wide array of political and social networks. Such networks are a robust part of democracy in action, and include media outlets, think tanks, pressure groups, funders and leaders.
In the 1960s, for example, networks based in churches and on college campuses mobilized people to support civil rights legislation. But it is important to remember that backlash movements also formed to oppose equality. In the 1950s and 1960s, segregationists and white supremacists mobilized to block the demands of the civil rights movement.
Today, there are still political and social networks that seek to undermine full equality for all Americans. Their messages are spread using the standard tools: prejudice, fear, disdain, misinformation, trivialization, patronizing stereotypes, demonization and even scare-mongering conspiracy theories. While many of the groups within these networks describe themselves as mainstream — and many disagree with one another — they all have helped spread bigoted ideas into American life.
What follows are descriptions of a number of these institutions, organized alphabetically, that focus on their roles in spreading bigotry.
Organizations listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center are indicated by an asterisk.
The American Cause
American Enterprise Institute
American Immigration Control Foundation*
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
Castle Rock Foundation
Center for American Unity
Center for the Study of Popular Culture
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Free Congress Foundation
Institute for the Study of Man
Ludwig von Mises Institute
New Century Foundation*
John M. Olin Foundation