How should movements deal with their lunatic fringe?

In the recent sexism thread, there was a bit of a side-debate on whether people should call themselves “feminists” if they believe in equality of the sexes, but not in the man-hating vitriol that the term has come to connote. If the “mainstream” feminists want to “take back” (i.e. redefine) the term, do they have an obligation to actively reject the Dworkins-Steinams types? More broadly, how should any movement deal with the inevitable lunatic fringe?

In my opinion, if a group wants to direct its public image, it better be ready to disown the loonies. It is unfair to try to take advantage of the energy of the fringe, and then try to play to the middle by claiming that the movement unassociated with the fringe. If you want to shape your identity, you have to first clean house.

And just how would one do that? Not only do the lunatic fringes have the energy to get their message across more effectively a lot of the times, which could be rationalized as somehow the middle group not trying hard enough, but more importantly, the fringe groups are outlandish or violent enough that the media will concentrate on them since it sells copy, thus making any “disowning” attempts harder.

Organizationally, I don’t think there are many fringe groups that are affiliated organizationally with moderates, so that avenue seems to be blocked too. But in cases where it is not, I would support that as a means to distance oneself from fringe elements. Only in cases where their fringiness is directly related to the purpose of the organization, for instance*, if there were a lot of actual Communists in folk music, I would not bar them from joining a random folk music group as long as they didn’t demonstrate or set up Red China booths at every festival, and even then I would take pause.

*Totally made up example, not real in any sense.

It also depends on what your messsage is. If it’s some sort of populist message, eliminating the lunatic fringe will appear as a form of elitism.

While we’re here, can someone please explain to me why Gloria Steinem keeps being mentioned as a lunatic? Because I’m sincerely baffled. If I’m ignorant, please enlighten me.

It’s not just the left that has their crazies. The fundamentalist mormon church (not the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints) and what’s his face that runs to promote his goofy church are prime examples of fringe lunatics on the religious right.

Actually, when I saw the thread title, I assumed it would be about either Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists or Christians and Christian fundamentalists. Religious cases are rather difficult, because – and I’ll take Christianity, since I’m a Christian, to use as my example – the core beliefs of many of Christianity’s loonies are the same as every other Christian. Hence, we end up with some line like: “While we still recognize ____ as our brothers and sisters in Christ, we strongly oppose them on issues A, B, and C.” Maintaining that line (and making it clear) is often impossible – one either ends up ragging on them, which is uncharitable and unacceptable, or appearing to agree with them, which is disingenuous and self-condemning. Phelps, of God Hates Fags fame, is a bit of a special case, since his core beliefs are not the same as those of other Christians, but that’s a whole topic in and of itself (heresy).

For non-religious organizations, it’s a lot more simple; disown the lunatic fringe altogether. Actively arguing against a position with which you disagree, obligation or not, should not be a burden.

Religious cases are made even more difficult by the diversity of views, so group X may acknowledge the slightly more fundamentalist group Y, which in turn acknowledges the extremist group Z, which Group X would like to disown, but can’t easily do - because Y acknowledges Z.

In my experience, they just keep fairly quiet about it.

How do you “clean house” if there’s a gallimaufry of independant organisations all claiming, usually with at least a small amount of credibility, to be a part of some “movement” or other.

What right does the Women’s Liberation “Movement” have to declare some other similarly named group as “disowned”. (I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that there is such a thing as a Womens’ Lib Mov or Org).

The answer is, they have a perfect right to do so.

But so has the upstart group a similar right to declare the self declared “authentic” and “original” group as inauthentic or heretical.

Every group, orthodox or heretical, has the right to expect to be taken seriously by the world at large.

Every group also has the right to feel offended when they are laughed at by people who refuse to take them seriously and shoot unkind words or vapors in their direction.

In the market place of ideas that’s exactly how it should be. We are all free to decide for ourselves, on an individual basis, the extent to which we should pay people who are part of a multifarious movement any attention.

Yeah, exactly. Steinem has made a few arch comments that are mildly disparaging to men and that come across as sexist if read in anything but a charitable light. The overwhelming body of her work, however, advocates gender equity. Lumping her in with Dworkin is absurd. If you want someone to lump in with Dworkin, try Mary Daly: both of them are (or, in one case, was) a total crackpot manhater.


For the Republican Party, this may present an unusual challenge. A great many of their loonies hold seats in Congress.

Perhaps the best response to the fringe is simply * to not respond at all.*
Make a single public response denouncing their behaviour and disassociating yourself from them. After that, never comment on it again. The media loves conflict, and refusing to generate any more on your end while going about your business in a respectable manner will quickly bore them. The fringe will get bored since they generally thrive on conflict also.

The LDS might be a good example of an effective way of dealing with it, which is to never shirk an opportunity to disassociate oneself from the loons. I was in SLC aroung the time Big Love premiered, and the paper was full of reminders that polygamists get excommunicated. I doubt you can ever do this 100%, but I think the message has gotten across.

It strongly helps that the LDS are what I will call a ‘card carrying’ organization; there’s a centrailized organization that gets to decide if you’re one of them or not. This centralized organization has at least the option of firmly and definitively rejecting the spin-off groups, as the LDS have done.

‘Feminism’ is not a card-carrying organization, though, so there’s no valid definitive way to say that somebody isn’t one of them, if they are not entirely diametry opposite to all of the category’s defining critera. So, a given specific feminism-based subgroup can try to reject other feminists from being associated with it as a subgroup, but they can’t speak for the category as a whole. (I imagine it’s also difficult to distance yourself from somebody when you and they both claim to be of the same category, leading to lots of confusion and frustration.)

So, if at all possible, keep your club exclusive. Or maybe hire hitmen to deal with the outliers (assuming they’re not members of this message board, of course).

Movements need to concentrate on getting their message across. Of course, there are different groups within each movement. But most of the groups can harmonize their messages.

In the case of a murderous, criminal “lunatic fringe”–public statements of disavowal should be made. But movements should waste as little time as possible on infighting. As much as their enemies might love to see it.

Also–how do you define “lunatic fringe”?

Edited to add: Gloria Steinem?

So our feminist pope should consult with her council of feminist elders and excommunicate the extremist feminists from the worldwide organization of feminists?

They kicked out the loons, but the loons still call themselves Mormons, and I think it would be easy for people to get confused if the fact of the expulsion didn’t keep getting broadcast.

You can’t expel anyone from feminism, true, but you can’t do that for Islam either. I know moderates might think repeating “all men aren’t rapists” or “suicide bombing is bad” might get boring, but if you don’t do it, then people tend to think the loudmouths represent the majority.

I agree wholeheartedly.

Thirded. The problem with not responding is that quite often it’s taken as surrendering the argument to the fringe, and not entirely without justification either. Not every German in the 30’s was a Nazi nor every resident of Salem Mass. in 1693 a witch-killer, but the dignified silence of right-minded folk sure didn’t solve the problem, and by the time they realized the situation was out of control, it was too late.

I’m not saying that every movement/religion should respond to every goad by the likes of Ann Coulter or the Freepers–or the radical left for that matter–but the answer probably lies somewhere between silence and kneejerk reactionism.

The good citizens of Vilnia, Lithuania, erected a statue to Frank Zappa. I’d settle for that.

The lunatics get all the press, it’s not good press, but at least it’s something. The world is sick of ‘raising awareness’ rallies for legitimate issues, but sure as hell will tune in at 9 to see why some freak wears watermelons on his head. If you’re an advocate of organic food and you have a website, you better get a custom made shirt with said address on him quick before the Channel 5 cameras stop rolling.