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The Globalization Of Extreme Right Terrorism

By George Michael

The past several years have witnessed a resurgence of right-wing political violence throughout the Western world. Sporadic episodes, including mass shootings, have elevated the threat of racial violence from the extreme right to the extent that is now assessed as a potentially greater hazard than jihadi terrorism.

Numerous governmental authorities have recently expressed grave concern over this issue. For instance, at a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee in February 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray stated that his agency had “elevated to the top-level priority racially motivated violent extremism so it’s on the same footing in terms of our national threat banding as ISIS and homegrown violent extremism.” According to the 2020 Homeland Threat Assessment by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “White Supremacist Extremists” “remain[ed] the most persistent and lethal threat” in the country, accounting for approximately 40% of all terrorist attacks and plots recorded in 2019.

The next year, the U.S. State Department classified the Russian Imperial Movement as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” entity, the first time an extreme right group attained such status. In April 2020, the United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres, expressed fear that the COVID-19 crisis might provide an opportunity for right-wing extremists and others to promote division, social unrest, and violence. In February 2021, the Canadian government labeled the Proud Boys—a self-described “civic nationalist” group based in the United States—as a terrorist entity. And finally, Joe Biden went so far as to claim that he decided to run for president after witnessing the havoc wreaked at the United the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.

Although the far right takes different forms in different countries, there has been a convergence of these extremist movements over the past two decades. As Jeffrey Kaplan and Leonard Weinberg observed in their study The Emergence of a Euro-American Radical Right, scattered elements of extremists in the West communicating through chat rooms and other Internet media, found solace in the slogan “white power” and sought to develop a new pan-Aryan identity based on race and civilization that transcends national borders. More and more, white nationalists see themselves as a white tribe under attack by a “rising tide of color” across the globe. The fate of white farmers in South Africa after apartheid is seen as a harbinger of the future if they do not act soon.

Initially when their study was released in 1998, the convergence that Kaplan and Weinberg discussed was primarily rhetorical; for example, extreme rightists railed against a Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG), which they believed sought to destroy the white race. But numerous episodes of violence over the past several years now seem to suggest that this convergence is taking concrete form, as aspiring terrorist organizations have established cells in numerous countries and mass shooters draw inspiration from those who came before them, seeking to rack up higher body counts on a perverse scoreboard in what has been described as the “gamification of terrorism.”

This essay examines the current trend of the internationalization of right-wing violence. First, the so-called accelerationist strategy, which underpins the logic behind much right-wing terrorism, is discussed. Next, notable mass shootings carried out by individuals informed by extreme right worldviews are examined. Over the past few years, there have been efforts to create truly global terror networks—including the Base and Atomwaffen Division—spanning a number of countries. These networks are surveyed in the third section. Finally, the conclusion speculates on what impact recent crises might have on this increasingly globally-oriented extreme right.

The Accelerationist Strategy

Sweeping demographic changes in the United States in which it is projected that over half of the population will be non-white by mid-century, makes a racially exclusionist party unfeasible at the national level. Similar trends are in force in Western Europe as well. For these and other reasons, some elements of the far right have decided that a strategy of revolution and terrorism is the only viable alternative to effect their political and social goals. But the only hope in obtaining a critical mass for a viable revolutionary movement presupposes an acute crisis that will make the white masses more amenable to a radical platform. Based on this reasoning, it is best to accelerate the crisis while whites still comprise a sizeable segment of the population.

Accelerationism is based on the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s notion of “worse is better.” The more chaotic conditions became in the capitalist nations, he averred, the greater likelihood that his Bolshevik party could succeed in their revolutionary goals. Analogously, right-wing accelerationists believe that governments in the West are incorrigibly corrupt. Therefore, the best course of action is to accelerate their demise by sowing chaos and creating political tension. Accelerationists dismiss strategies to seize power through the ballot box. In fact, they maintain that the best electoral strategy is to vote for the most extreme candidates—left or right—in order to intensify points of political and social conflict within Western countries. To that end, they see violence as the most effective strategy for heightening these contradictions.

The archetypical blueprint for the white nationalist revolution is The Turner Diaries, a novel written by the late William L. Pierce, a former university physics professor and founder of the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi style organization. Published in 1978, the novel tells the story of a cellular revolutionary group—the Organization—which conducts a terrorist campaign against the U.S. government that is controlled by Jewish cabal working from behind the scenes. Set in the late 1990s, a struggle of apocalyptic proportions ensues as American society implodes under the weight of racial strife. After achieving victory in America, the Organization foments a global revolution. The book closes with a millennial tone. Out of the ashes of devastation, the countries of the West experience a civilizational renewal and are once again masters of their own destinies.

Some of those in the extreme right subculture have taken up The Turner Diaries call for violent resistance. Founded in the summer of 1983, a clandestine groups which came to be known as the Order, carried out a crime spree and a terrorist campaign primarily in the Pacific Northwest, which included counterfeiting, armored car heists, bank robberies, and four homicides. By the end of 1984, however, virtually all members were captured and its leader—Robert Jay Mathews—was killed after a team of FBI agents launched pyrotechnic devices which set off a fire that engulfed the structure into which he had barricaded himself. Although the Order’s campaign galvanized the extreme right subculture and steered it into more revolutionary direction, it also demonstrated the futility of confronting the U.S. government directly with a traditional terrorist group with members and a hierarchical structure. Consequently, more amorphous types of revolutionary grouplets have emerged since then.

First popularized by Louis Beam in an essay in the early 1980s, “leaderless resistance” proposed that the traditional hierarchical organizational structure for terrorist groups was untenable under current conditions insofar as the U.S. government was too powerful and would not permit any potentially serious opposition. Beam reasoned that in a technologically advanced society, the government, through means such as electronic surveillance, could penetrate the structure and reveal its chain of command. From there, the organization can be effectively neutralized from within by infiltrators and agents provocateurs. Beam argued that it became the responsibility of the individual to acquire the necessary skills and information to carry out what needed to be done. Lone wolves, or small cells, would take action when and where they saw fit. His essay was disseminated through computer networks of which Beam was a pioneer in implementing during the 1980s.

Since then, the concept has been revised by other extreme right theoreticians.
In the late 1990s, Alex Curtis, a young man who operated the Nationalist Observer web site out of San Diego, was the most vociferous advocate of the one-man approach to leaderless resistance. Like Beam, Curtis reasoned the far right could be too easily infiltrated to mount any kind of organized campaign of resistance. Moreover, those organizations that suggest such actions—even in an abstract—way could be slapped with a civil suit for “vicarious liability,” in which they are blamed for influencing the violent actions of others.

Thus, Curtis instructed his readers and listeners that they must act entirely alone. He envisaged a two-tiered resistance organizational structure with an above ground propaganda arm and a second tier of lone wolves. Essentially, Curtis saw leaderless resistance as a means by which to provoke a strategy of tension that would polarize the population along racial lines. He welcomed measures such as hate crime laws because he believed that they were selectively used against whites and would thus engender hostility among them. Although random hate crimes would appear to have little tactical value, Curtis saw them as a means by which to foment a revolutionary atmosphere. At the time when Curtis advanced his revolutionary strategy it still seemed far-fetched and nihilistic. But a decade later, numerous mass shootings have demonstrated the deadly potential of seemingly random violence to cause havoc and inspire others.


About the Author

George Michael received his Ph.D. from George Mason University’s School of Public Policy.  He is a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University in Massachusetts.  Previously, he was an associate professor of nuclear counter-proliferation and deterrence theory at the Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama.  He teaches courses in terrorism, homeland security, and organized crime. He is the author of seven books: Confronting Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in the USA (Routledge, 2003), The Enemy of my Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right (University Press of Kansas, 2006), Willis Carto and the American Far Right (University Press of Florida, 2008), Theology of Hate: A History of the World Church of the Creator (University Press of Florida, 2009), Lone Wolf Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance (Vanderbilt University Press, 2012), Extremism in America (editor) (University Press of Florida, 2014), and Preparing for Contact: When Humans and Extraterrestrials Finally Meet, (RVP Press, 2014). In addition, his articles have been published in numerous academic journals. He has lectured on C-SPAN2’s BookTV segment on six occasions and once on C-SPAN3’s Lecture in History program.



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