Far-right terrorism has seen a recent resurgence and it now one of the most discussed forms of terrorism, particularly when discussing the United States (US). Likely linked to recent changes in the modern political landscape, political engagement has had its revival with political protests becoming “more widespread and more frequent” (Economist, 2019), with over 900 protests in 2016 taking place in North America alone (Haig and Schmidt, 2020). In order to address what characterises far-right terrorism and whether it should be considered pro, or anti state, this article will study first the characteristics of far-right extremism and then its role whether it can be deemed pro or anti state. This address will have specific focus on the American far-right landscape, and these groups’ roles specifically on United States soil. With the increase of far-right terrorism, the balance of terrorism research and funding for such has also increased (Koehler, 2019). This has led to the potential “redefinement of the legal definition of terrorism”, further linking the discussion to far-right terrorism’s connection to “hate crimes” (Koehler, 2019). The rise of more right-wing political characters and parties alike have seen an increase in overall political engagement, especially when it comes to the growth of the far-right extremist movement (Chermak, Freilich and Suttmoeller, 2011). This change in far-right extremism is evidence of a shift in political engagement, only leading to further theorisation of the far-right connection to modern government. It is evident that far-right groups play a significant role in grassroots participation but addressing the pro or anti state question is somewhat impossible as far-right extremism does not bend itself to a prescriptive role. The movement’s overall status has swelled in recent years, specifically since the election of Donald Trump to the White House but each group differs in both their specific rhetoric and beliefs, as well as their actions. Not all far-right groups are violent or terroristic, but it is safe to say that all are dangerous.
Characterisation of Far-Right Terrorism
A primary characteristic of far-right extremism and terrorism could be described as momentum, especially given the recent years of far-right prominence. The role of far-right extremist groups has grown exponentially and can be seen to correlate with the rise of Donald Trump and his more conservative Republican advocacies. His time in political campaigns and then in the White House, has seen him observe not only reverence but at times open support for far-right extremist groups. This open encouragement from a political figure has been integral to the far-right’s rise and growing confidence, never before in modern history has a President openly encouraged hate-groups known for their violence and dangerous rhetoric . The momentum characteristic is evident from their actionable growth, when sanctioned or encouraged by the political rhetoric of the US administration, far-right groups are propelled into action, they then achieve further momentum due to the understandable anti-conservative movements that follow their growth (Chermak, Freilich and Suttmoeller, 2011). A sort of symbiotic relationship exists between the far-right movement and leftist movements when it comes to the US grassroots participation, among other things, one inspires the other.
A huge element that is prevalent with far-right extremist/terrorist groups, like most terrorist groups is their ability to re-emerge from failure, or “shapeshift” (Simon Purdue, October 2020). Often retreating, then to re-emerge into the forefront with new leadership, new membership, and a new look, this tactic often being used by groups to avoid detection or “prosecution” (Simon Purdue, October 2020). This tactic enables the number of far-right extremist groups that can be seen in the United States to be consistent, with membership of these groups only growing when the far-right’s rhetoric is seen to be threatened, like the election of President-Elect Joe Biden in early November 2020.
Far-right terrorism and hate crimes hold many connections, with both acting as message crimes to “instill fear and modify behaviour” (Lim, 2009). Far-right terrorism membership has not only increased but become more violent. In 2019 alone, there were 7,103 single-bias incidents of hate-crime reported in the US, with 57.6% of these hate crimes referencing race or ethnicity and 20.1% referencing religion (Uniform Crime Reporting Program – FBI, 2019).
Another characteristic of far-right terrorism is its akin to extreme facism, coined neo-nazism. The role that these groups play have been linked to hate crimes and extreme violence, specifically when clashing with members of groups at the opposite end of the political spectrum (Taylor, 2019). They are also to blame for a further division within communities, often making statements that are hateful and abusive (Battersby and Ball 2019). A large proportion of groups play an active role in anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League has recorded that “in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents in the United States had increased by 57%” (Washington Post, Feb 2020). The activity of these far-right extremists has not only been on the streets, they have also utilised a more modern tool of abuse, social media.
The use of social media and messaging apps like Telegram and Whatsapp is an attempt for these far-right extremist groups to not only spread their messages further but to also access an audience that may not have a natural association with these groups and their messages (Washington Post, Feb 2020). The newer audience for these groups such as, The Base and Feuerkrieg Division, are American college students. With groups such as these focusing campaigning and recruitment efforts on college campuses, the “brazen recruitment” of these students according to Rita Katz at the SITE Intelligence Group has allowed them direct contact information and invitation to train for what these groups see as a “pending race war” (Washington Post, Feb 2020). Reminiscent of the Nazi party in early 1900s Germany, this open forum neo-nazism has only been encouraged by both modern technology and recent political shifts.
Is Far-Right Terrorism Pro- or Anti- State?
Overall, the far-right movement can be described as a movement for the politically disengaged, with those seeking to further their particular world order. Having found no common ground with mainstream political parties or groups, members view their often hateful political engagement much like membership to any other political group, however, the far-right’s actions and rhetoric has a much darker undertone. Primarily membered by the seemingly politically disenfranchised, more often than not, white men these far-right extremists represent a new danger in the US political landscape (Blackbourn, McGarrity and Roach, 2019). With the weapons and capability to enact real harm, growing resentment for the growing liberal and often anti-Trump attitudes in the US, these groups are entirely capable of causing real-life death.
As to the question of whether these groups are pro or anti state, there is little evidence to show that they are pro state, as many of these far-right extremist groups are founded out of disenfranchisement with the current political administration. However, since 2016 we have seen a growing trend of far-right group numbers and memberships.
With new rhetoric from the Republican party’s President Trump, groups such as the Proud Boys and Atomwaffen Division, now operating as the National Socialist Order, have risen to the forefront of political engagement. Often seen involved in violent and hateful protests on the streets in the US, changes can be seen in these groups’ alliances. In previous decades, we would describe extremist movements, whether far-right or far-left as having a level of separation from authority, operating outside the boundaries of modern government and sometimes outside the boundaries of the legal system (Chermak, Freilich and Suttmoeller, 2011). This separation has seen an element of dissipation when it comes to far-right extremist groups not entirely connected to the government but partially sanctioned, specifically in the years since 2016 in the United States.
Essentially without proper data points, analysis and a set data group such as, which far-right extremist groups to include in a study it is impossible to properly define whether far-right terrorist groups are pro or anti state. This is made more difficult by the fact that although most groups agree on a wide range of issues and include similar messages often references fascism, not all groups are alike and not all groups enact their mantras in the same manner. Therefore, we are unable to define far-right terrorist groups pro or anti states as a whole, even when looking specifically at groups within a region or location such as the United States.
Overall, the way that we characterise far-right terrorism has forever shifted. The role of far-right extremism seems to be inherently linked to the political landscape. With its growth both linked to political policy such as, increased or decreased immigration and specific political votes. The growing threat of far-right terrorism in the US shows us that despite its long term presence, far-right terrorism is growing in popularity. Despite the changes in modern politics, increased equal rights, more diverse communities and growing industry, the US is becoming politically fractured as opposed to connected. This fracturing has led to a rise in the role of extremist groups, specifically far-right groups that seek to undermine modern changes seeking members who believe in hateful rhetoric akin to extreme facism.
The role that politics plays in the propulsion of far-right extremism is clear to see, with the increase in far-right violence and hate crime statistics directly correlating with the election of a Republican President that has continued to condone violence and white nationalist sentiment. By and large, a lot more data and analysis is needed on the subject and with far-right terrorism’s recent growth, it is important that the correlating growth in research and funding will better answer our questions on how we characterise these groups and what threat they will continue to present.
Image Credit: Julio Cortez / Associated Press
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Chermak, Steven M., and Joshua D. Freilich, Michael Suttmoeller. “The Organizational Dynamics of Far‐Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Non‐Violent Organizations,” Final Report to Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division, Science and Technology Directorate, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. College Park MD: START, December 2011.
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