Back in 2001, Ernest Wolf wrote an interesting article about Group Helplessness and Narcissistic Rage. Written before the 9/11 attacks, Wolf draws upon the work of Heinz Kohut for insights into the minds of killers who identify with groups and causes.
Some excerpts and comments are below the fold.
Talking about rageful behavior [Kohut] observed that underlying the rage one often finds an uncompromising insistence on the perfection of the idealized other. The infant experiences itself still in a state of limitlessness power and knowledge, a state that we as outsiders deprecatingly call the child’s grandiosity, its grandiose self. If for a variety of reasons this infantile grandiose state of narcissism is prevented from maturing into healthy self-esteem we meet with what looks like an adult but really is a very shakily put together oversensitive and shame-prone narcissist. The fanaticism of the need for revenge and the unending compulsion of having to square the account after an offense are therefore not the attributes of an aggressivity that is integrated with the mature purposes of the ego - on the contrary, such bedevilment indicates that the aggression was mobilized in the service of an archaic grandiose self and that it is deployed within the framework of an archaic perception of reality. The shame-prone individual who is ready to experience setbacks as narcissistic injuries and to respond to them with insatiable rage does not recognize his opponent as a center of independent initiative with whom he happens to be at cross-purposes. Aggression, when employed in the pursuit of maturely experienced causes, are not limitless. However vigorously this aggression is mobilized, its aim is limited and definite: the defeat of the enemy who blocks the way to a cherished goal. As soon as the aim is reached, the rage is gone.
The narcissistically injured on the other hand, cannot rest until he has blotted out a vaguely experienced offender who dared to oppose him, to disagree with him, or to outshine him. ..It can never find rest because it can never wipe out the evidence that has contradicted its conviction it is unique and perfect. This archaic rage goes on and on and on. Furthermore, the enemy who calls forth the archaic rage of the narcissistically vulnerable is seen by him not as an autonomous source of impulsions, but as a flaw in a narcissistically perceived reality.The enemy is experienced as a recalcitrant part of an expanded self over which the narcissistically vulnerable person had expected to exercise full control. The mere fact, in other words, that the other person is independent or different is experienced as offensive by those with intense narcissistic needs.
Thus, not being in full control over self and over a narcissistically experienced world gives the afflicted individual an experience of utter powerlessness. Such powerlessness and the sense of helplessness via-a-vis the world are unbearably traumatic experiences that must be ended by any means whatsoever. The offending other must be wiped out.
And on narcissism in politics:
The political arena allows many individuals to act out narcissistic rage as members of a group. We can understand this better when we remember that individuals who experience themselves as powerless often identify with groups by joining them. Groups that appear to have some power become seductively attractive to the narcissistic individual who is trying to escape the feeling of powerlessness. They experience the group power as their own power and any threat to the group power is experienced as an unbearable threat to their own self which then evokes unlimited rage in defense of self. Common are the hatreds that groups carry for other groups whom, rightly or wrongly, they perceive as threats to their very existence. They kill and destroy without mercy while at the same time enjoying a feeling of righteous triumph over a threatening enemy. Think of the racial assaults and the ethnic hatreds that have resulted in so much cruelty and bloodshed during the 20th century. The most minor infractions of the order established by one group could lead to an extremist massacre of even totally uninvolved and innocent outsiders. A lynching could be precipitated by as little as an assertive look or word that was equated with a threat to the established authority of the group or its leaders. The lynching mob was partially driven by an inner experience of rage in defense of a disorganized and therefore vulnerable self that felt itself challenged into potential fragmentation by the supposed offender
Consider a well-known piece of 9/11 imagery--the terrorist pilot bearing down on one of the Towers as he shouts Allahu akbar (God is Greater). In that image we see the pilot's identification with Godly perfection fused with annihilating, vengeful rage at the challenger to his perfecting tie to Allah. This image underscores the psychological linkage between archaic, omnipotent perfection on the one hand and annihilatory rage (and annihilatory ecstasy) on the other. The Perfect And All-powerful devalues and annihilates all challengers. There is no room for anything that could diminish or cast doubt on the archaic sense of perfection.
On a less grand scale, consider the destructive rampages that sometimes follow sporting events. We might think of these riots as ecstatic, annihilatory rages directed at all comers, including cars on the street, signs, lampposts, windows and, sometimes, human beings. You could even say that, in the mind of a rampaging fan, the law, itself, is devalued and annihilated.
When we think in these terms, it isn't difficult to see why idealization and devaluation are so much a part of political campaigns. Yes, there are real differences between candidates, and the issues matter, but it seems to me that political idealizations and devaluations often take on a life of their own, with issues and facts in a subordinate, supporting role. For many political partisans, facts gain significance only insofar as they support particular idealizations and devaluations, while facts lose significance if they might undermine those idealizations and devaluations (see Bias and Judgment of Political Candidates by Partisans).