Three types dominate extremist movements: crazies, cynics and creeps. The true crazies are always at the bottom of the heap. Cynical propagandists stoke their righteous fury, without which the extremist movement would collapse. Creeps rise to the top, in extremist movements as elsewhere. They are cynical, too, of course. They know how to manipulate their base. But they must show signs of authentic craziness as well or their grip on leadership would weaken and others would take their place.
Crazies, cynics and creeps. Of the three, the cynics are the easiest to understand. They live in the conspiratorial world of clickbait journalism where charlatans churn out fantasies for sites as various as the Telegraph and the Canary. Asking if they believe their propaganda is like asking a lawyer if she believes her client is innocent. It helps, but it is beside the point. What matters is not whether they are sincere, but whether they can fake sincerity like any other salesman or woman with a product to market.
Cynics now manipulate the fate of nations. But once they were dismissed. From the fall of the Berlin Wall until 2016, polite society believed it could safely allow the extremes to fester. The far left would never take over the Labour party. The nationalist right would never take over the US Republicans or British Conservatives. If they did, sensible voters would reject them. Hillary Clinton would always beat Donald Trump. The British would always prefer the European devil…