A surge in right wing populism, rooted by the effects of globalization has energized a series of extreme right political movements across the world. Many such groups have resorted to acts of terrorism violence to express their objectives. Some have even committed mass shooting events such as the recent tragic events in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Unfortunately, the United States has not been an exception to this trend. According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, right wing inspired terrorist acts in the U.S. have grown from six percent to 35 percent from 2010 to 2016. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) also reported that between 2016 and 2017, right wing inspired violence had also quadrupled in the U.S. – a terrifying trend. This blog will attempt to address this threat of far-right terror groups in the U.S.
The threat from far-right terrorism in U.S. is not a monolithic one. While it is true that far-right terrorism is very vibrant and structurally diverse, the groups do still fall under two categories: White supremacist and anti-government extremists.
White Supremacists and Anti-Government Extremists
White supremacist groups aim to restore what they perceive as the appropriate racial hierarchy by enforcing control over non-white communities. Their ideological roots are derived on ideas of nativism and xenophobia. White supremacist groups include organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian Identity movement and the alt-right. They also include neo-Nazis groups such as the National Alliance and racist skinhead terror groups like the Hammerskin Nation and prison gangs such as Aryan Nations.
Like the jihadi militants, white supremacist groups comprise religious dimensions in their doctrine. Christian ideology and fundamentalist interpretation of religious texts are frequently used as justification for attacks. In fact, jihadi groups and white supremacist groups are much alike: both have a strong devotion to their cause, are compelled to remake the global order and have a belligerent response to their perceived sense of victimization. Yet, ironically, they are usually considered enemies at opposites of the political spectrum.
The anti-government extremists, who are often collectively termed as the “patriot” movement, primarily consist of individuals that align with the tax protest movement, the sovereign citizen movement, and the militia movement. The anti-government movement’s ideology is based on the goal that there is a need to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. Federal Government.
Many of these groups are strongly convinced that the U.S. political system has been usurped by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order”. Though the anti-government movement traced their origins to the 1960s, it was only after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City in 1995 by Timothy McVeigh – an anti-government extremist, that it was recognized as a major domestic terrorist threat.
It is a common misconception that anti-government extremists are also mostly white supremacists, but this is not the case. Though there is overlap between the two spheres, the main anti-government extremist movements focus their anger at the government and contain members of different races, thus precluding any connection with the white supremacist.
Far-right terrorism in the U.S. has traditionally being committed by small groups, or lone wolf actors. Unlike the jihadi threat, far-right militant attacks are not intended to inflict large casualties but to stir up an atmosphere of panic and fear among the local populace. As such, their attacks while frequent tend to be limited in magnitude and scope. Since the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, most far-right terror groups eschew large scale mass casualty attacks and have resorted to low level acts of violence. The majority of the far-right terror groups use acts of vandalism as a weapon. Nevertheless, far-right skinheads and the neo-Nazis tend to be more violent. They are more inclined to use small arms in striking terror.
Although far-right terror groups in the U.S have not indicated plans to carry out major mass casualty attacks, the risk of a larger attack cannot be discounted. A rise in the number of successful low-profile attacks could eventually lead groups or individuals to have the confidence to execute a larger mass casualty attack. Moreover, the far-right terrorism groups have always been innovators in the terrorism sphere.
Back in the late 1980s, far-right militants were the first to pioneer two of the most consequential trends in global terrorism: establishing their networks in cyberspace and being the first practitioners in using lone wolf attacks against civilian targets. These groups clearly have shown the potential to innovate and expand as well as invent new attack strategies to inflict larger casualties. Thus, it is likely that the United States will be facing a continuous rise in the level of far-right terrorism for the near distant future.
Weimeng Yeo is a Director within the Model Development team at Risk Management Solutions (RMS), and is a key member of the team responsible for the development of RMS' terrorism modeling solutions. Prior to his tenure at RMS, Weimeng worked at the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Colby College in Maine and a Master's degree in International Affairs from Georgetown University in Washington DC at the School of Foreign Service.