Traditional Republican Party conservatism is composed of several sectors, including corporate conservatives, moderate conservatives, libertarians, and neoconservatives. In addition, the Political Right includes other sectors such as the Christian Right, the Patriot movement, and the Extreme Right. Critics need to sharpen their focus and examine the details. It is not fair to equate the Ku Klux Klan with the Christian Right. It is fair to criticize anti-democratic aspects of both movements.
The Christian Right, for example, has no qualms about denouncing the Klan and other groups on the Extreme Right that promote naked White supremacy and antisemitism, or that use aggressive intimidation or insurgent violence. A few zealots in the Christian Right use violence to oppose abortion, but Christian Right activists overwhelmingly work for reforms through legislation and support for candidates for public office. Some of these reforms, however, would deny certain civil rights protections to people who step outside heterosexual monogamy. The Christian Right urges women to adopt “traditional” roles that are secondary and submissive to men. Calls to make this country a Christian nation implicitly promote the idea that Jews and other non-Christians are second-class citizens. Much of Christian Right ideology privileges the culture of White northern Europeans at the expense of diversity and a pluralistic model of democracy. So while the ultraconservative Christian Right and the Extreme Right are separate movements, they pull the society in the same direction, even while remaining critical of each other’s groups, leaders, and plans.
Meanwhile, the Patriot movement occupies a middle ground between the Christian Right and the Extreme Right. The Patriot movement represents a type of right-wing populism that periodically surfaces on the U.S. political landscape. Its most visible recent aspect was the armed “citizens militias” that flourished in the mid 1990s. The militia movement now has largely collapsed, but there is still a flourishing Patriot subculture with groups such as the John Birch Society and the website www.freerepublic.com serving as typical examples. People in the Patriot movement see the world through the lens of conspiracy, believing the government to be controlled by secret elites and fearing tyrannical government repression. Many deny the bigoted antisemitic aspect of their conspiracism or the White supremacist lineage of their bogus "constitutionalist" states' rights legal arguments. Some early militia leaders came out of Extreme Right hate groups, and often tried to mask their bigotry to attract a larger audience.
Pat Buchanan is a key figure in this Patriot sector, where his brand of xenophobic nationalism finds an enthusiastic audience. Patriot leaders take fears over the economy, corporate globalization, and downsizing and focus them onto scapegoats, ranging from immigrants and people of color to the United Nations. Many in the militias, for example, blame their slipping social and economic status on an alleged government conspiracy to build a global New World Order. Sometimes people in the Patriot movement try to recruit from progressive groups involved in antiwar or anti-globalization organizing.
Participants in the Christian Right represent a different demographic group. They are often upwardly mobile suburbanites who are members of conservative Protestant evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist churches. These churches are growing rapidly across the country, while moderate or liberal Protestant denominations such as the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ are losing members in record numbers. Not all members of conservative Protestant churches are active in the Christian Right, but it is within these churches that people are recruited and mobilized into social movements and political campaigns.
Those that join Christian Right groups, such as Concerned Women for America, tend to get much of their information about politics and world events not from network television and daily newspapers but through media produced by the Christian Right – including magazines, radio programs, television evangelists, and direct mail. These sources frequently portray a world awash in sin, with liberals, feminists, peaceniks, homosexuals and other subversives undermining a godly America. The Christian Right is the largest social movement in the United States, and the biggest voting bloc in the Republican Party.
Within the Republican Party, the Christian Right competes with more secular, upstart free market libertarianism and button down business conservatism for dominance. Activists from all three ideologies are appointed to federal and state agencies and join debates over public policy, swamping calls for progressive reforms. This can create confusion for proponents of affirmative action or humane welfare policies who find themselves defending their views against three different sets of negative arguments. A local school board can find its comprehensive sex education curriculum under attack from libertarians who claim it is a waste of tax dollars, conservatives who claim it is an inappropriate diversion from the core curriculum, and Christian Right activists who claim it is immoral.
A network of national and state-level conservative think tanks churn out educational and research materials for their activists and sympathetic politicians and journalists. This explains why campaigns over school vouchers, sentencing guidelines, union dues, and faith-based initiatives seem to sweep across the country in waves. The Right’s intellectual infrastructure began to be built in earnest in the late 1970s and matured in the mid 1980s. Examples of national think tanks include the Heritage Foundation for business conservatives, the Cato Institute for libertarians, and the Free Congress Foundation for the Christian Right. Through the synergy of research, publications, and conferences a variety of ideas are debated, slogans sharpened, and campaigns launched. Conservative foundations and corporations have learned to fund strategically, while most centrist and progressive foundations are reluctant to fund movement-building, for instance the type of infrastructure of the type that has been so successful for the Political Right.