This chapter looks at the political context of terrorism in America. Specifically, it considers government policies on those issues which have provoked terrorism: desegregation, racial equality, the Vietnam war, Puerto Rican independence, Cuba, abortion, etc. In addition, public opinion, organizational memberships, and other indicators are examined to see to what extent terrorists have a constituency—a potential basis of support—for their actions. How many sympathizers are there for violent or extremist groups, and what are their characteristics? These data can be used to test two alternative explanations as to why democratic politics lead to social violence. One view is that citizens resort to violence because their views and interests are ignored by politicians. The other view is that politicians by “pandering” to extremists incite them to violence.
Proponents of the view that violence is a response to being excluded from the political arena argue that if people see the political system as responsive to their concerns they will not resort to violence. The existence of terrorism is therefore an indicator of political alienation. This truism implies that, in order to understand terrorism, we must consider whose opinions and interests are being ignored. Pluralists emphasize that a wide variety of opinions and interests are allowed to organize and compete in the political arena, but in practice certain groups and opinions are excluded from the process. Such exclusion may occur for several reasons. Sometimes political cleavages coincide with ascriptive identities and produce permanent minorities, as in Northern Ireland, and other ethnically divided societies. Blacks in the United States were, until recently, disfranchised in many states, and continue to be underrepresented in terms of voting strength, political