| by Beth Daviess and J.M. Berger

a black and white photo of a family with three children and two adults
The Chin Quan Chan Family, c. 1911, from a case file compiled when they sought to re-enter the United States under the Chinese Exclusion Act. 


Was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 extremist? The first paper in the “Lawful Extremism” series considered whether the 1856 Dred Scott decision that denied Black people citizenship and constitutional rights functioned as an extremist ideological text. This paper uses the same framework to examine the Chinese Exclusion era, covering roughly 1870-1943, and the anti-Chinese movement that traveled from the fringes to the mainstream, becoming the driving force behind the enaction of the Act. Focusing on congressional records supporting the enaction of Chinese exclusion, we consider whether they articulate an extremist system of meaning. We then analyze characteristics of the anti-Chinese movement as an extremist ideology in the process of taking power and conclude by considering how the lawful extremism framework can inform analyses of modern anti-immigration movements.

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To Cite: Daviess, Beth, and Berger, J.M. “Lawful Extremism: The Chinese Exclusion Act.” Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Occasional paper. May 2024.


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Beth Daviess is a graduate research assistant at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism where she researches conspiracy theories, soft radicalization pathways, and the intersection of law, policy, and extremism. She has a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School and previously worked as a legal aid attorney. Currently, Beth is pursuing a Masters in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

J.M. Berger is a writer and researcher focused on extremism as a Senior Research Fellow for the Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. He is the author of four critically acclaimed books, including Extremism (2018) and Optimal (2020). Berger is also a research fellow with VOX-Pol and a PhD candidate at Swansea University’s School of Law, where he studies extremist ideologies.

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