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Modern American Extremism and Domestic Terrorism: An Encyclopedia of Extremists and Extremist Groups
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INTRODUCTION An extremist is defined as one who holds extreme or fanatical political or reli- gious views, especially one who resorts to or advocates extreme action. Synonyms of extremist include fanatic, radical, zealot, fundamentalist, hard-liner, militant, and activist. The problem with this definition, or its alternate descriptions, is that extremism is always defined in opposition to a normal state or condition. But what is normalcy? Extremists and extremism are determined by the prevailing social agreement of a particular point in historical time. The extremist, or what is consid- ered extreme, may or may not have been considered so in the past, and it may not hold sway in the future. Any consideration of extremism must be viewed within the historical time frame in which it is situated. Extremism is a hallmark of the American social, cultural, economic, and polit- ical experience. American patriots who took up arms against what they considered a tyrannical British government are generally viewed with great admiration and reverence in the United States. The actions of “patriots” at Lexington and Concord ignited the American Revolution, an act that eventually led to the creation of the United States of America. The selfless sacrifices of these patriots are celebrated, and their actions are marked with days of observance, reenactments, and even sport- ing events, rivaling observances of the most significant events in American history. Yet these American “patriots” were also extremists. At the time of the American Revolution, there was not universal acceptance of the need for a political break from Great Britain. Once the enthusiasm of the initial American victories waned, the colonists discovered how difficult and dangerous military service could be, and many returned home (Ferling 2010). One “extremist” group in contempor- ary times, known as the Three Percenters (III Percenters), takes its name from the claim that no more than 3 percent of American colonists were actively fighting against the British at any one time (TheThreePercenters.org). In today’s parlance, the American colonists fighting against a vastly superior power—the most formi- dable in the world at the time—were “extremists.” They held radical, hard-line, and militant positions. Yet today they are viewed in the context of American hist- ory as eponymous of patriot sacrifice. A line that first appeared in the 1975 novel Harry’s Game by Gerald Seymour quipped that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This line was later repeated by American president Ronald Reagan, who, in a radio address to the American people on terrorism in May 1986, used the quote to illustrate how difficult it is to distinguish those who fight for justice and freedom in opposition to political and social repression from those who use “terror” to accomplish such