A new study has been released by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point that points to increased violent activity from right-wing extremist groups and organizations. The study, Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right, documents violent activity from these groups and attempts to dissect their motivations. The study breaks them down into three factions:
The Racist Movement: “The groups comprising this movement are interested in preserving or restoring what they perceive as the appropriate and natural racial and cultural hierarchy, by enforcing social and political control over non-Aryans/nonwhites such as African Americans, Jews, and various immigrant communities. Therefore, their ideological foundations are based mainly on ideas of racism, segregation, xenophobia, and nativism (rejection of foreign norms and practices). In line with the movement’s ideology, the great majority of attacks perpetrated by the racist groups are aimed against individuals or groups affiliated with a specific minority ethnic group, or identifiable facilities (mosques, synagogues, or schools affiliated with minority communities). However, while the KKK extremists are heavily involved in acts of vandalism, extremists from Skinheads and Neo-Nazi groups are more likely to engage in attacks against people, including mass casualty attacks.”
The Anti-Federalist Movement: “The anti-federalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government. They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights. Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government. Extremists in the anti-federalist movement direct most their violence against the federal government and its proxies in law enforcement.”
The Fundamentalist Movement: “Lastly, the fundamentalist stream, which includes mainly Christian Identity groups such as the Aryan Nations, fuse religious fundamentalism with traditional white supremacy and racial tendencies, thus promoting ideas of nativism, exclusionism, and racial superiority through a unique interpretation of religious texts that focuses on division of humanity according to primordial attributes. More specifically, these groups maintain that a correct interpretation of the holy texts reveals that it is not the people of Israel but the Anglo-Saxons who are the chosen people and therefore assert their natural superior status. Moreover, the war between the forces of light and darkness, as portrayed in the Bible, will be (or has already been) manifested through a racial war between the white Anglo-Saxon nation and various non-Anglo-Saxon ethnic groups. Operationally, violence carried out by extremists associated with Identity groups focuses on minorities and Identity members have a higher tendency to engage in mass casualty attacks in comparison to other movements.”
Gosh, those don’t sound like anyone I’ve ever seen or heard, except for the loudest voices in the Republican Party and their Tea Party cohorts. And that is the one thing they all have in common: they identify almost exclusively with the right-wing of the American political spectrum, and their affinity for violence is clear, even if their chosen ideologies differ. With this in mind, the study puts forth a recommendation that highlights the complexity of fending off possible attacks from them:
While many still tend to ignore the fact that the American far right is an accumulation of different actors, and place most of its components in the same analytical category, the current study has illustrated that these different components are not merely driven by competing ideological tenets, but are also significantly idiosyncratic in the ways they manifest their ideology in the operational, often violent, realm. This illustrates that ideology and behavior are linked and nurture each other in the organizational frameworks of the American violent far right.
From a theoretical perspective, this constitutes a further indication of the perception among some parts of the academic community that terrorism is an instrument of symbolic discourse which is shared by violent groups and their adversaries. Target selection is thus not based just on operational considerations, but is one component, among others, which allows violent groups to shape their message using violent practices—timing, weapons used and target locations, are only a small measure of the other components which contribute to the shape of the symbolic message conveyed via the attack. In this context, policy implications are clear. If the numerous far right groups are driven by different ideological sentiments, and are thus also engaged in distinguishing tactics, then the response in terms of counterterrorism policies must be flexible and group/movement oriented.
But what are the main factors driving the rage of these groups? In the concluding remarks of the study, the hyped-up, over-the-top, end-of-America-as-we-know-it, let’s-scare-the-shit-out-of-everybody political narrative the right-wing is so famous for holds some blame:
This study also sought to explain how both exogenous and endogenous factors may shape the characteristics of American far right violence, including political, demographic and economic factors. For example, a contentious political climate and ideological political empowerment play important roles in increasing the volume of violence; thus, it is not only feelings of deprivation which motivate those involved in far right violence, but also the sense of empowerment which emerges when the political system is perceived to be increasingly open to far right ideas.
How much time does Fox News spend convincing its audience that the country, of which they are the sole and rightful owners, is slipping away from them, that the government is the enemy, that President Obama is a mad tyrant, etc.? It’s not enough that they disagree with Obama and the Democrats; they have to turn them into the embodiment of the evil – with imagery to match (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc.) – to make their political point.
So, in many ways, this study is more expected than surprising, because if you’re surprised then you haven’t been paying attention.