America has always had a problem with violent extremism and domestic terrorism. Whether it was the Oklahoma City bombing, the Alan Berg assassination, or the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, political violence seems ingrained into American culture. The recent alleged “MAGA bomber” incident and synagogue shooting called attention to one of the oldest forms of extremism: right-wing extremism.
One of the first domestic terrorist groups in American history was technically a right-wing extremist group. I’m of course referring to the Ku Klux Klan. Formed in 1866, the KKK was an instrument of white southern resistance to Reconstruction-era policies that helped African-Americans. Klan members waged a large scale terrorist campaign, but eventually disbanded once their demands were met. The Klan reemerged in the 1920s and ‘60s, in opposition to both immigration and the civil rights movement.
Before 9/11, the worst terrorist attack in American history was by a right-wing extremist. Timothy McVeigh had always been interested in guns growing up, but at age 20, he became interested in anti-government survivalist literature. One of these books was the white nationalist novel, “The Turner Diaries,” which describes the bombing of a federal building. McVeigh was so obsessed with the novel, that he would show it to anyone he met. He later became an infantryman in the army, winning numerous awards during the Gulf War. Eventually, he left the military after flunking out of green beret training. McVeigh became fully radicalized in 1993, after the Waco Siege. He later committed his terror attack in 1995 as revenge for the people killed during the siege. McVeigh’s attack injured 650, killed 168 (including 19 children) and destroyed 300 buildings in the surrounding area.
Terrorism experts have noted that since 9/11, the majority of domestic terror attacks have been by right-wing extremists. The Global Terrorism Database also notes a major surge in domestic terror attacks. A decade ago there were only six. In 2017, that number had increased to 65. 37 of these attacks were tied to attackers who held racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and/or anti-semitic beliefs. The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism also reported that 71 percent of extremist-related deaths in America from 2008 to 2017 were by far-right, white supremacist attackers.
You all may ask, “Well if this well known information, why is nothing being done about it?” To be honest, it seems like it just doesn’t fit the government’s agenda right now. National security strategist P.W. Singer explained this in an interview for the New York Times magazine. Singer said, “We’re actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it’s far-right extremism.” He later describes a meeting he had with Trump administration officials during the first year of his presidency. He wanted to discuss a more varied strategy to counterrorism, focusing on multiple national security threats. He said they ignored him, and only wanted to talk about Islamic extremism. Singer says this was not an isolated incident, as it happened even before the Trump administration. He also states, “we willingly turned the other way on white supremacy, because there were real political costs to talking about white supremacy.”
Singer is not the only person that has discussed the government’s lack of interest in right-wing extremism. In 2008, Daryl Johnson, an intelligence analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, published a report detailing a resurgence in right wing extremism, noting that returning veterans could be recruited by extremists. He also noted the causes in this resurgence were a combination of the 2008 election and the financial crisis. His police-only intelligence report was leaked to conservative media outlets. Conservatives took offense to his claims about veterans, and the use of the term “right-wing extremist.” People called for him to be fired, and his unit was disbanded. Both parties completely ignored his recommendations. By 2010, no DHS intelligence analysts were working on domestic terror threats.
This lack of intelligence is detrimental to law enforcement. Because of the disbandment of the domestic terrorism unit, there are almost no current reports on the far-right. The alt-right in particular are completely non-existent in law enforcement intelligence. In addition to the lack of police intelligence, sometimes police are far-right sympathizers or members of far-right groups. In Portland, police allowed a member of a right-wing militia to help subdue a protester. In North Carolina, there was a police officer who was a member of the Three Percenters militia. In 2017, The Intercept published a leaked FBI counterterrorism policy guide that identified links between law enforcement and right wing-extremists.
I think it’s quite obvious at this point that the U.S. government isn’t woefully ignorant of the right-wing extremist threat. Instead, they seem to actively ignore it, or in some instances, support it. As a student of sociology, we are taught to look at culture, history and societal norms for answers to major social problems. I think there is something ingrained in American culture that makes right-wing extremism seem like an attractive lifestyle. Maybe it’s the centuries of slavery, genocide and racial violence. Or maybe it’s the fetishization of violence, and our near constant state of social unrest. All I know for certain is that people continue to die, and the government continues to turn a blind eye to their suffering.