Words Matter in Battling Terrorism and Extremism

By Sherry Harowitz

The spring issue of Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center magazine, has a cover story titled “Rage on the Right” that discusses the threat of domestic violence presented by racist and radical anti-government groups. 

When Security Management linked to the article online, a reader took issue with the way the author lumped the “tea party” movement into the mix of dangerous groups. The reader also objected to calling these groups the radical right.
I, too, was struck by a sentence in the feature where the author wrote: “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, [emphasis added] but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism.”
My concern was with the phrasing “cannot fairly be considered extremist groups.” This wording reminded me of the old joke where the politician says, “I won’t call my opponent a scoundrel.” Of course, he just did. The word for that tactic is apophasis—the artful mention of something by denying that it will be mentioned.

(Read the rest of "I Would Never Call My Opponent a Scoundrel," the Editor's Note from the May 2010 issue of Security Management here.)

♦ Photo of St. Paul, Minnesota, Tea Party Protest by Fibonacci Blue/Flickr


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