People have a very hard time believing the status quo of their existence, or the world around them, can ever change. There's a kind of psychological inability to accept how fragile open societies are. When I was in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, at the start of the war, I would meet with incredibly well-educated, multilingual Kosovar Albanian friends in the cafes. I would tell them that in the countryside there were armed groups of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who I'd met, and they would insist that the Kosovo Liberation Army didn't exist, that it was just a creation of the Serb police to justify repression.People forget that places like Lebanon, Argentina, or even Yugoslavia were once places of peace, order, and stability -- even prosperity, of a sort. But democratic societies aren't that hard to break, provided that you don't pay attention to what your leaders are saying.
You saw the same thing in the cafe society in Sarajevo on the eve of the war in Bosnia. Radovan Karadzic or even Milosevic were buffoonish figures to most Yugoslavs, and were therefore, especially among the educated elite, never taken seriously. There was a kind of blindness caused by their intellectual snobbery, their inability to understand what was happening. I think we have the same experience here. Those of us in New York, Boston, San Francisco or some of these urban pockets don't understand how radically changed our country is, don't understand the appeal of these buffoonish figures to tens of millions of Americans.
I think the vast majority of followers have no idea. There's an earnestness to many of the believers. I had the same experience you did -- I went in there prepared to really dislike these people and most of them just broke my heart. They're well meaning. Unfortunately, they're being manipulated and herded into a movement that's extremely dangerous. If these extreme elements actually manage to achieve power, they will horrify [their followers] in many ways. But that's true with all revolutionary movements.As repellent as it is to believe, most Nazis -- even early members, in some cases, but certainly later on -- were decent enough people. They believed Hitler had a good plan for Germany, and convinced themselves that he didn't really mean what he said sometimes. Most of all, Hitler delivered early on, with stability and then better living standards.
The core of this movement is tiny, but you only need a tiny, disciplined, well-funded and well-organized group, and then you count on the sympathy of 80 million to 100 million evangelicals. And that's enough.
It's why I'm regularly horrified when people say about any leader "well he just says that because X", where X is "the media", "his base", etc.