Kevin Williams on the attack on the Colleyville, Texas synagogue, Ordinary Madness or Political Extremism?

The connection between madness and extremism runs both ways. Madmen are attracted to extremism, and almost every political movement an inch outside the mainstream has a handful of lunatics attached to it — you can see it at a Bernie Sanders speech, and you can see it at the RNC. Gore Vidal spent most of his life advocating some pretty rotten political ideas, but it was at the end of his life, when his mental faculties were failing him, that he slipped into the familiar terrain and tenor of conspiracy, in his case pushing a half-baked story involving Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, FBI director Louis Freeh, and the Catholic organization Opus Dei, whose spooky-sounding Latin name and institutional opacity make it a favorite of conspiracy cranks. Perhaps there was always a seed of madness in Gore Vidal that shaped his radical politics; perhaps his radical politics were a culture in which his madness grew. Which is the seed and which is the soil is difficult to say. The case of the great poet Ezra Pound and his dedication to Italian fascism raises similar questions.

In a world without Islamism, a man such as Malik Faisal Akram might have found some other distant moon to which to hitch his lunacy. Perhaps in some far-away corner of the multiverse, all tremble at the thought of radicalized Presbyterians. If Akram hadn’t spent his life in an environment imbued with antisemitism, he might have instead taken hostages at an elementary school or a post office. It is impossible to say, though we should be mindful of the ways in which the actions of figures such as Representative Ilhan Omar are entrenching antisemitism and the antisemitic conspiracist sensibility here at home.


Rhetoric may not stop extremism, but it will direct and influence it.  If Trump is deemed responsible for Charlottesville then Omar and her gang are responsible for Colleyville.