For years, author Jeff Sharlet has conversed with conservatives and uncovered a worrying trend – many of them are willing to take violent action against those with opposing political views.
And, he’s not referring to groups like the Proud Boys.
The normal family down the street that reminds you of TV’s Clevers or the Brady Bunch may also harbor extremist and violent viewpoints.
Sharlet’s latest book, The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, was written based on his extensive research on the religious right which spanned over 12 years, with interviews conducted across the Midwest and Great Plains.
“I’ve been writing about the right for a long time,” he told the Guardian. “I’m always interested in the margins of things that tell us about what’s happening at the center. An undertow is a metaphor for that, for the force that’s been pulling us to this place for a long time.”
“If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I ever thought another civil war would be possible in the United States, I would have said no. But to think so [now] is to understand that the right in America is as dangerous as it is.”
For instance, he told the Guardian he met what appeared to be a nice, clean-cut conservative family near Eau Claire, Wisconsin that had shockingly radical political views.
“[The father said] he had a ‘Let’s go Brandon’ sticker because he didn’t want to swear around his son,” Sharlet said. “They’re a middle-class dad and mom. They were always gun people, but not a lot of guns. Now they’re up to 36, now they are arming up. The father had always been anti-abortion. But now it was like a dream had moved into his and his wife’s mind. He described, in incredibly violent detail, the process of abortion.”
“Then he described, in incredibly violent detail, the punishment he thought he and others were going to give to abortion doctors. They were ready for executions.”
The current climate is a product of years of struggle against fascism and Donald Trump who deliberately or subconsciously employed “visionary rhetoric” to captivate his supporters.
“The free association that happens at Trump’s rallies, the ways people make connections that make no sense – it has dream logic,” Sharlet said.
“One minute, a scary man is crawling into the window to rape your wife, and then the next minute we’re laughing at windmills, and then the next minute we’re sad for the birds that were killed by windmills. And then, in the next minute, we’re yelling, ‘Lock her up.'”
“This is dream logic, and there’s vanity in it, right?”
“It becomes a spinning whirlpool that pulls more and more people in. These are people for whom reality is not enough.”
The illusion that’s created for Trump and his followers feels interactive and very real to them, Sharlet said, and that’s where the twice-impeached former president gains his power.
“It’s astonishing there hasn’t been more violence,” Sharlet added. “I think we’ve had a shield from that violence for a long time and now that shield … I sound like Jerry Falwell saying the hand of God is being removed from America.”