Rick Perlstein is a historian and author whose books include Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001), Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014), and, most recently, Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976–1980 (2020). (July 2020)

NYR DAILY

A Brief History of Dangerous Others

White nationalist militia members drawn to the Gettysburg National Military Park by a hoax that an Antifa group would be burning of American flags there, Pennsylvania on July 4, 2020

Wielding the outside agitator trope has always, at bottom, been a way of putting dissidents in their place. The allegation is not even necessarily meant to be believed. It is simply a cover story, intended to shield from responsibility not only the authorities implicated in crimes or abuses of power, but also society as a whole. It is a strategy of shock-doctrine reaction. But now the side of social justice has its opportunity.