Blurred Lines: What Is Extremism?

The Michigan Journal of Law Reform Symposium, Alt-Association: The Role of Law in Combating Extremism (“the Symposium”), attempted to address the question of defining extremism. The Symposium aimed to provide a platform for filtering through the participants’ pre-conceived notions around extremism in order to challenge misconceptions about those labeled “extremist.” This word has been used time and time again in conversation, research, and even this paper without a concreate definition behind it. At the start of the Symposium, participants were asked to define extremism in their own words. The definitions produced were eye opening. For example, extremism was thought to be “ideas outside the established acceptable norms,” “an unwillingness to listen to an opposing point of view,” and “violence backed by ideology.” These definitions reflect a lot of our individual thoughts and how we live our everyday lives.

Through this exercise and throughout the day, it became clear that, assuming the law should regulate extremism, the road to implementation is complicated not only because of the protections under the First Amendment, but also the effects of mislabeling individuals or groups as “extremist.” In the end, progress can only come by being intentional with the language being used.