Homegrown extremism and right-wing violence in the USA

| Updated: December 25, 2021 20:51:00

Homegrown extremism and right-wing violence in the USA

Domestic extremist incidences in the United States have reached unprecedented highs, fueled by white supremacists, anti-Muslims, anti-Asians, anti-Hispanic and anti-government fanatics. Homegrown terrorism is defined by 'the Prevention of Violent Radicalisation and Homegrown Terrorism Act' of 2007 as "the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any of its possessions to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives." Right-wing extremism in the US is growing fast. The number of terrorist attacks by far-right perpetrators has increased over the past decade, more than quadrupling between 2016 and 2017. The recent pipe bombs in September 2021 and October 2018's synagogue attack in Pittsburgh are symptomatic of this trend.

Homegrown violent extremism in the USA has been motivated by religious, political and psycho-social factors. The Christian religious extremism has particularly grown during the Trump Administration. The rise of anti-Semitism or anti-Muslim views, white supremacy, tight migration law, and arms law are behind factors for politically motivated homegrown terrorism. In 2018, President Trump's words, "I like taking the guns early…… To go to court would have taken a long time," during his TV interview on gun laws at the White House shocked many. According to the FBI, almost 75 per cent of adult Muslims living in the USA thought Muslims faced more discrimination under Trump's leadership.

The number of individual terrorist attacks is increasing compared with organisational attacks. Social and psychological factors are closely connected. According to Colorado State University social psychologist Jennifer Harman, despite affecting an estimated 22 million Americans, legal and health professionals have mainly ignored or dismissed parental alienation as a form of family violence. According to reports, the USA's divorce rate is 14.9 per cent from 1000 marriages in 2019. The broken families' children's isolation and lack of family time turn their puerility toward acts of violence. Since 2000, America has fought many wars, and after having seen long bloodshed and trauma during the war, the military personnel's family life has worsened. Their post-traumatic stress disorder hampered their personal lives and indirectly influenced other family members. Far-right extremist groups easily target broken family's children from military families.

Right-wing violence commonly refers to the use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities whose goals may include racial, ethnic, or religious supremacy; opposition to government authority. The right-wing extremism include racism, discrimination, abortion, media, and journalism. Right-wing extremism is nothing new in the United States. After the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant conducted an aggressive-and ultimately successful-campaign against the Ku Klux Klan and its offshoots (such as the Knights of the White Camellia) from the 1860s to the 1870s. But the roots of current homegrown terrorism in the US lie in the events that took place between 1980 and 2000; the FBI recorded 335 incidents or suspected incidents of terrorism in this country. Many argue that in the USA, the right-wing is not strongly linked with political parties in the United States, such as Republicans or Democrats. But according to Nemeth & Hansen (2021), electoral rivalry encourages politicians to adopt exclusionary, threat-based rhetoric to motivate people, which raises right-wing supporters' feelings of political threat and normalises violence as a legitimate political action.

The past decades have witnessed dramatic changes in the nature of the terrorist threat in the USA. In the 1990s, right-wing extremism overtook left-wing terrorism as the most dangerous domestic terrorist threat. During the past several years, special interest extremism-characterized by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF)-has emerged as a severe terrorist threat. The FBI estimates that ALF/ELF has committed approximately 600 criminal acts in the United States since 1996. The year of 2021 has seen the White supremacy and right-wing extremism seizing and attacking Capitol. A month before the President Elections in the US, right-wing radicals allegedly plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. The Capitol attack of Jan. 6 is a black day for the USA.

Over the past few years, right-wing terrorism has become a lethal threat to the USA's national security. According to The Centre for Investigative Reporting, there were a total of 201 attacks in the United States between 2008 and 2016, with 115 of them carried out by right-wing terrorists. The number of migrants is increasing. The division of labor, economic and racial sectors have changed in the United States due to globalization, but right-wing extremists play the "victim card" for these changes. Feminist scholars believe that the growth of disillusioned middle-class white males leads to an increase in toxic masculinity in society which is the rising popularity of the so-called manosphere to exchange radical beliefs. 


Since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities, the data shows. At the same time, attacks and actions ascribed to far-left views accounted for 66 incidents leading to 19 deaths. To understand racial extremism, there is a  case of James Harris Jackson, who traveled from Maryland to New York in 2017, intending to attack black men to prevent white women from having relationships with black in 2017. Jackson's Youtube channel contained alt-right, neo-Nazi, Holocaust denial, MGTOW, pro-Trump, and white nationalist contents. The USA's history of right-wing extremism has mainly three umbrellas. These are racial (White-Black, Islamophobia), anti-governmental and nativist.

The militia movement has spent much of its history attempting to disassociate itself from racism and white supremacy accusations. Still, in recent years, a significant portion of the movement has voluntarily embraced a specific sort of bigotry: anti-Muslim bigotry. 

After the 9/11 attack in the USA, hate crime and organised crime toward Muslims have increased, including life threats, damaging property, or destruction. Islamophobia is used in national politics also. Anti-Muslim rhetoric was used against former President Barack Obama's Presidential campaign though he was Christian. In 2016, Trump's statement "There's something there that - there's a tremendous hatred there. There's tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us." And in 2017, Trump's banning of travel from citizens of selected Muslim states encouraged a high rate of hate and discrimination toward Muslims of the USA. In 2020, 279 anti-Asian hate crime incidents were reported, compared to 161 in 2019. Recently, Biden administration signed "the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act" to end the increasing number of hate cases in America.

Recently, the United States is facing far-right terrorism, which leads to oppression, political violence, forced assimilation, ethnic cleansing, or genocide perpetrated against groups of people based on their perceived inferiority.

Bruce Hoffman, a professor and counterterrorism specialist at Georgetown University, stated that extremists had exploited social media and the internet in recent years to share theories, along with grievances, tactics, and potential targets. From 2015 to 2020, the use of websites or social media such as Facebook and encrypted chat services by right-wing extremists rose in five of the six years. 

In recent times the white extremist groups have become more threatening. The canceling of Trump's Muslim entrance ban by Biden has increased attacks on immigrants in recent years. In June 2021, the Biden administration took the first national strategy on countering homegrown terrorism that places a strong emphasis on public health-based violence prevention, stressing community-based initiatives that can help avoid early radicalisation. The FBI is giving priority to counter homegrown extremism and right-wing terrorism. There is a thin line between right-wing extremism and far-right extremism.

With time, the trends and shapes of right-wing terrorism are getting changed. Almost 6000 hatred groups are currently spreading hatred by using their communities and social media. Activists of KKK, Oath Takers, Proud Boys and many extremist groups have turned the US into a unsafe and violent place for the minority groups of different types - religious, racial, regional and ethnic.

It poses a simple question to the US political leadership and strategists-- does the country have moral right to teach lessons of democracy or human rightrs or multiculturalism in other countries? Although the US has been practising democracy in its own way and using it as an instrument of its global diplomacy, the time has come to question it from a normative point of view. The failure of the US leadership to eliminate systemic racism, structural violence and widespread right wing extremism in its own society is a huge challenge that the Biden Administration must focus on with utmost priority. 

Ozair Islam is a human rights activist.

[email protected]ail.com

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