😡 Hate Goes Mainstream
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Why Violent Far-Right Extremism Has Grown
Violent far-right networks built on an intoxicating mixture of hatred, grievance and anger have grown tremendously over the past decade. Meanwhile, until just recently, the American law enforcement establishment has continued to focus on the threat posed by ISIS or Al-Qae'da - organizations that generally targeted innocent civilians living in the Middle East and South Asia far more than Americans in the United States.
I witnessed this disparate emphasis first hand over the last decade as a civil rights advisor at the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.
We poured billions into securing airport infrastructure years after 9/11, while devoting next to nothing towards combating groups that killed more law enforcement officers than any other: domestic far-right and anti-government organizations. Rather than being lauded as prescient or thoughtful, my colleagues that warned of this policy gap were summarily fired.
Year after year, the entire machinery of the national security apparatus would mobilize if a business donated to a non-profit with the most tenuous of connections to foreign terrorists, while no enforcement action was taken for companies selling merchandise literally proclaiming adherence to Hitler.
One was a form of expression was protected by the First Amendment, the other was proof of ties to foreign terrorist organizations resulting in warrantless surveillance and investigation by federal law enforcement. The only meaningful difference aside from ideology between violent far-right groups and ISIS/Al-Qae'da was that one was American and the other decidedly foreign - and thus scary in a way that Timothy McVeigh, Dylann Roof or the Las Vegas shooter were not.
Today we are paying the cost for this subconsciously xenophobic blindness: both in lives and the health of our democratic institutions.
Buttressed by underlying privilege and left alone for decades, violent far-right groups have now blossomed into a powerhouse that demands and receives approval from huge parts of the American political establishment (including until recently, the President of the United States himself) for all but the most egregious acts. Hell, United States Congresswoman Majorie Taylor Greene, who has publicly said some pretty vile things about Jews and people of color and is a QAnon supporter, got a standing ovation from her own party yesterday.
This kind of institutional support of violent far-right groups has been growing.
When Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two protestors at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin last year, his lawyers as well as numerous elected officials and Tucker Carlson - all claimed his murders were an act of self-defense. If Rittenhouse had instead said "For ISIS!" before killing those protestors - its unlikely any of his defenders would have rallied to his side, even if he had a legitimate claim to self-defense.
Witnessed in the public eye, this double standard for acts of "terrorism" (however we choose to define that term) has served to:
Embolden and accelerate the radicalization of violent far-right and white supremacist groups throughout the country.
And also broaden their appeal.
These efforts to mainstream the violent far-right is the real danger to the United States. Because law enforcement have chosen to largely ignore these groups until recently (and in some cases actively cooperated with them) the leaders of these movements felt comfortable openly recruiting adherents in the United States in a way ISIS and Al-Qa'eda could only have dreamed of. In fact, they now copy ISIS recruitment tactics wholesale such as using Youtube to appeal to a younger generation (this neo-nazi vegan cooking show is a prime example) with none of the enforcement consequences ISIS suffered.
Get this, to broaden their appeal even further, some violent right-wing groups are ditching overt racism for a twisted version of multiculturalism. How progressive!
Since early June, Alexander Reid Ross, a professor of geography at Portland State University has tracked both the rise and broadening appeal of violent far-right groups in the United States. In just the last six months, he's tracked over 600 incidents of violence, including loss of life, undertaken by violent far-right groups. This number doesn't even include the insurrection that took place on January 6.
Here's a sample of stories from the map:
In Washington's Olympic Peninsula, a multi-racial family was harassed and terrorized, then trapped at their campsite by white supremacists until they had to call 911 for help.
At a protest in Utah, several dozen members of "Utah Citizens Alarm" showed up to harass, beat up and disrupt a peaceful protest chanting "White people rule!"
In New York City, a woman flying a pro-law enforcement "Thin Blue Line" flag grabbed a 14 year old protestor by the neck causing him to choke. The irony in this particular story is that violent far-right groups tend to have the least actual respect for law enforcement. These groups are routinely cited by law enforcement as being the greatest law enforcement threat nationwide. Their actions take more lives of police officers than any other ideological group.
Beyond their growing number, the map also gives a sense of the broadening breadth of violent far-right adherents: some are armed militia groups self-styled as anti-government “patriots,” such as the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and the Texas Freedom Force. Others associate with labels such as the Boogaloo Bois, an alt-right internet meme calling for a second Civil War that spilled into real life in Hawaiian shirts and bullet-proof vests. Some display overt signs of white supremacy, such as skull masks, Confederate flags, Nazi salutes and nooses. And get this, to broaden their appeal even further, some violent right-wing groups are ditching overt racism for a twisted version of multiculturalism. How progressive!
Here's What We Could Do
Some colleagues have found disturbing trends in how violent far-right propaganda spreads: just like a virus, with eerie similarities to the speed and tenacity of COVID-19. Ignoring threats of violent far-right extremism is like encouraging throngs of people to go mask-less during a pandemic and a surefire recipe for continuing loss of life.
There are a number of approaches to confronting the far-right threat, many of which could be the subject of a book, but here are some of the more popular ideas:
Treat it just like terrorism. Start a new agency like DHS. Spend billions. Securitize everything! Profile people for their identity, including their political views. In other words, treat far-right groups like American Muslims right after 9/11. This was a less than successful policy at curbing terrorism and resulted in much more harm than good. Stay away.
Invest in uncovering and responding to the grievances underlying far-right extremism. This is a better approach, but it risks lending credence to far-right behavior that is violent and harmful and not just an expression of an unpalatable opinion.
Treat far-right extremism, especially the violent kind, as a societal problem. Germany now allocates billions towards tackling violent extremism as a societal problem. We should too. It starts with cleaning up the government - firing any law enforcement, government or military personnel with ties to violent far-right extremism and screening candidates for these ties, just as we would for ties to any other nefarious groups. Following in Germany's footsteps, we should also stiffen punishments for extremist violence - people should pay at least the same price for violent offenses as they do for minor drug possession. Beyond Germany's plan - we can invest resources in mental and physical health counseling, encourage limits on the ability of private social media companies to facilitate the spread of disinformation and fund involvement of at-risk young adults in productive enterprises, such as sports and youth leagues.
🎧 Coming Up on the UnfairNation Podcast
Tristan Guyette - on unpaid internships (along with a surprise guest co-host!)
Isabel Wilkerson - on the origin of the modern caste system.
Friend and colleague Dulce Vasquez is running for Los Angeles City Council for District 9. Check out her campaign here, and donate!
Speaking: ASU's Center for the Future of Equality Launch Event :)
Going: to Phoenix, AZ
Deep poverty and inequality didn't stop this daughter of coal miners from securing a free ride to college and graduating at the top of her class - even as she survived a suicide bombing at her school that killed 40 of her fellow students a few days before her final exam.
Her story of resilience and courage is an inspiration: