The cabal of militant right-wing extremists who stormed the U.S. Capitol and the roving gangs of anarchists who have turned downtown Portland into a perpetual battleground are supposedly opposites, but that is only by the measure of the conventional political spectrum.

Cast aside that left/right line and think of American politics as circles emanating from a center. At the center are the people who are fully connected to the social order, folks with good education, economic security and a significant voice in how our society works. The politics of those people are determined largely by whether they want to bring others into that circle of privilege or shut them out.

Pulling away from the center are those who want to be more engaged, want to derive more benefits from society, want better education, better jobs and fewer roadblocks to their success. They do not want to destroy the social order, they want to transform it and make it more inclusive. Black Lives Matter activists fall into this cohort, just like the civil rights champions of the 1960s once did.

Much further out on the political fringes are people who are disconnected from society by choice or circumstance. They seethe with resentments, they subscribe to conspiracy theories, they are mesmerized by crackpot ideologies, and they escape their personal failings and disappointments by joining together with other like-minded misfits. 

It is in this outer ring where the violent radicals of all political stripes reside. Some of them latch on to causes of the left and think burning buildings in Portland or trashing businesses in Seattle is a justifiable expression of their self-indulgent rage. Others take up right-wing ideologies that cross the border into white nationalism, anti-Semitism and neo-fascism. Because they claim to be patriots fighting for liberty, they believe that gives them license to take destructive action, even to the point of invading the heart of American democracy to threaten and hunt down the elected representatives of the people. Yes, the left-wing anarchist punks who infest Northwest cities and the right-wing Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, Three Percenters and militias see themselves as antagonists, but they are equally estranged from the American center. There is much to repair and improve in our society, but the extremists – right and left – do not want to fix things, they want to burn it all down and, in that, they are mirror images of each other. 

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