I was having a discussion with a fellow Google Plus-er about religious (and anti-religious) extremism, and he suggested that perhaps we could create a new “ism” that explicitly promotes tolerance in its name and its ideals. He then acknowledged that whatever label someone creates, there will be people (almost always extremists) who try to co-opt the label and make it a slur.
One of the main traits of right wing extremists (so-called conservatives are more accurately called regressives in their current US form) is their dependence on symbols to provide meaning to their lives and struggles. Words are of course powerful symbols, along with flags and religious emblems, and regressives necessarily try to redefine words, especially those used by their “adversaries”, so as to support their cause.
A dependence on symbols is a long-standing human trait. It’s been part of humanity for all of recorded history and while some of us have evolved to live more analytically, others remain highly dependent on symbols to navigate the world. Mircea Eliade did some great work on this and his works (such as The Myth of the Eternal Return) are useful in understanding the dynamics of modern political and religious extremism.