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A Right-winger, With Issues

As someone who has spent quite a bit of time researching and writing about the fever swamps of paleoconservativism, I have to take issue my colleague Jon Chait's dismissal of Ben Smith's contention that Holocaust Museum-shooter James Von Brunn's conspiratorial anti-war, anti-"neocon" and anti-Semitic beliefs -- as well as the new revelations that The Weekly Standard offices might have been a target of his violent rage -- "complicates any view of the racist shooter in contemporary left-right terms."

Jon correctly identifies Brunn as essentially being "pretty clearly a violent and more extreme adherent of [Pat] Buchanan's basic worldview," that is, a racist, nativist, isolationist paranoid about the power of global elites (Jews). But where Jon is wrong, at least in my estimation, is his implication that these views are uniquely characteristic of the far right. They might have once been, but certainly are not anymore. Since 9/11, and to a lesser degree before that, similar views about Israel, the Middle East and "neocons" have been popularized by commentators on the fringe (and not-so-fringe) left. Indeed, they may even be more popular on the left than on the right (witness all the liberals who praised Ron Paul, an even more extreme version of Buchanan, during the 2008 presidential race, as being the "only" Republican willing to speak the truth). What makes Buchanan a stand-out figure is that he's such a lone voice on the right today (why does he find a home on the liberal MSNBC and not on Fox News? Partly, I think, because so many of the station's liberal hosts agree with him on matters of foreign affairs). All in all, I'd argue that the "fringe" right which subscribes to these views is no larger a component of contemporary conservativism than is the "fringe" left that subscribes to them a component of contemporary liberalism.  

To be sure, Von Brunn is most certainly a "right-winger," albeit an extreme one, as his ideology conforms to an American political tradition that was marginalized from the mainstream conservative movement in the 1950's by William F. Buckley Jr. and others grouped around National Review. And Von Brunn's racism and nativsm, not shared by the fringe left which subscribes to his foreign policy views, confirm his classification as a man of the Right. But the newfound affinity for conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism among some elements of the left -- and the fact that von Brunn might have been planning to shoot up the flagship publication of neoconservatism and not, say, the offices of Mother Jones -- absolutley "complicates" the narrative that many liberals are cynically trying to construct around this tragedy.

--James Kirchick

Jonathan Chait Responds:  "More on Von Brunn"

Damon Linker Responds:  "Who's Right? What's Left?"

Jonathan Chait Responds: "Liberal Fascism Reductio Ad Absurdum"