A new study from a think tank connected to the West Point Military Academy highlights the threat of violent far-right movements in the United States, leading to the conclusion that, while diverse in in their causes, they are similar in their use of violence to achieve their aims.
West Point’s Combatting Terrorism Center was founded in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and has primarily focused its research on international terrorist threats. Titled “Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right,” this new report instead looks as the risk that domestic groups pose to the U.S. Breaking down these groups into three categories — the Racist/White Supremacy Movement, the Anti-Federalist Movement, and the Christian Fundamentalist Movement — allows the study to examine the background ideologies and methods of each subset thoroughly, opposed to lumping them all together as most studies have.
Each of the groupings in the study represent competing ideological views, with none of them likely to cooperate in achieving their aims. The chances that each of these groups will use violence also varies. What they share, however, is a use of violence against their chosen targets — be it minority races or abortion clinics — to draw attention to and emphasize their given ideology. After charting out the various instances of violence carried out by each of the categories, the paper offers up several policy recommendations on responding to their actions:
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.
The study is already coming under attack by Republicans for not properly defining what constitutes a member of the “far right.”
A Republican congressional staffer who served in the military told The Washington Times: “If [the Defense Department] is looking for places to cut spending, this junk study is ground zero. “Shouldn’t the Combating Terrorism Center be combating radical Islam around the globe instead of perpetuating the left’s myth that right-wingers are terrorists?” the staffer said. “The $64,000 dollar question is when will the Combating Terrorism Center publish their study on real left-wing terrorists like the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, and the Weather Underground?”
This pushback is unsurprising, given the unwelcome response a 2009 report on the same topic received. Titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” the Department of Homeland Security-commissioned report drew attention to the fact that right-wing groups have proved more of a threat than Islamic extremists during a similar period. Secretary Janet Napolitano withdrew that report under harsh criticism from conservatives at the time, but there is no sign that the CTC will pull this study any time soon.