The evolution of right-wing terrorism in the West

The rise of right-wing terrorism in the West has been ignored in the international efforts against terrorism till recent high-profile attacks. Right-wing terrorist organizations are taking advantage of the global disruption in the supply caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. They are promoting conspiracy theories, racism, and plotting large-scale violence to start a civil war or a race war.

In the western world, there is a broad recognition that right-wing terrorism has been growing as the main terror threat, which is very alarming. Recently, in May 2022, an 18 year old adult carried out an attack and killed eleven African-Americans and two white individuals in Buffalo, New York. The nature of the attack indicates that it was racially motivated. This is not a stand-alone attack but the trail of right-wing terrorism. This creates a new balance in the perceived threat of deadly terrorism. But there is an inherent problem in recognizing the threat and formulation of counter-terrorism policy. People may adopt a ‘double standard’ while dealing with different forms of terrorism. It could be perilous to play one ideology against another selectively.

But ‘terrorism is terrorism’ irrespective of the perpetrators’ caste, color, creed, religion, etc. We shouldn’t create artificial barriers and brand terrorism as good terrorism or acceptable terrorism, or bad terrorism. Terrorism should be declared unlawful and banned, irrespective of its intents and goals because all types of terrorism present established governments with several problems. Terror incorporates two sides: one, a state of fear or anxiety within the individual or group, and two, the tool that induces the state of fear. Thus terror entails the threat or use of symbolic violence to influence the behavior of the targeted populace.

The upsurge of right-wing terrorism has been incubating for some years in the past, and it was under the lens of various intelligence agencies worldwide. In 2009, the US Department of Homeland Security recognized the economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president as the leading causes of fueling the right-wing ideology push. In 2015, many European Union intelligence agencies in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, etc., reported that the threat from right-wing terror violence is increasing, possibly indicating the rise of right-wing extremism.

In the US, the Combating Terrorism Center’s Arie Perliger reckoned that 4,420 violent terror incidents were committed by right-wing extremists between 1990 and 2012, causing 670 fatalities and 3,053 injured persons. After three peaks in 2001, 2004, and 2008, with each wave surpassing the previous one, the general trend is again upwards. In Germany, a right-wing terrorist organization, the National Socialist Underground, was exposed in 2011. It had gone unnoticed for a decade and a half despite killing at least ten people and bombings regularly. In the same year, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a bomb attack in Oslo and a mass shooting in Utøya, Norway. In the US, white supremacist Michael Page shot and killed six people and wounded four others in an attack against a Wisconsin Sikh temple in August 2012.

The steady rise of right-wing extremism fundamentally took place in the shadow of the jihadi terror threat. The jihadi threat to western countries probably has reduced with the elimination of the Islamic State (IS) threat in 2014. The number of motivated jihadi attacks in the West has been declining for some years. Most of these incidents of terrorism were relatively unsophisticated, prepared by lone actors. Perhaps the cause for jihadism seems unable to activate many individuals worldwide. Meanwhile, the number of attacks and plots linked to right-wing extremism in the West has increased.

The refugee crisis in 2015 marked the large-scale migration of refugees to western countries, especially in Europe. This was significant migration after World War II. Many citizens supported these refugees, and many others criticized them as they were apprehensive that inimical elements could also have sneaked in under the garb of refugees. This ideological difference might have led to political Left and Right-wing. The left-wing dimension emphasizes providing aid to refugees but the right-wing calls for the safety and security of EU citizens. This refugee crisis divided the European countries’ political attitudes between left and right ideologies.

In 2019, right-wing extremists in Europe were responsible for several violent attacks. Many perpetrators referred to the attacks in Christchurch (New Zealand) on 15 March 2019, highlighting the worldwide effect of the right-wing terror attacks.

In the US, the Center for Strategic and International Studies observed that in 2020 far-right terrorism has significantly overtaken all other forms of terrorism,  together with networks and individuals stimulated by IS and al-Qaeda. In the UK, in 2021, the number of far-right referrals to the government’s Prevent strategy of counter-terrorism exceeded those for Islamist radicalization for the first time, while the number associated with far-right terrorism has increased significantly. Also, the number of right-wing extremists in France and Germany has been increasing.

Terrorists will be exploiting societal divide and feeble governance to force their ideologies and secure power through violence. In the years to come, regional and intra-state conflicts, demographic pressures, environmental degradation, and the fall of democratic values would worsen the political, economic, and social grievances. All the terrorist organizations have exploited these grievances to radicalize their supporters and secure the safe havens to organize, train, and carry out their nefarious activities. However, the intensity and effects would differ across regions and countries. Probably this may foster the migration from rural to urban areas worldwide, thus further draining the state resources and weakening the global and local Counter-Terrorism efforts. In the future, the terrorism threat will evolve in various shapes and sizes:

  • Global jihadist organizations are likely to be the most significant, most persistent transnational threat as well as a threat in their home regions. They will benefit from a well-articulated ideology, solid organizational structures, and the ability to exploit large areas of ungoverned or poorly governed areas, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
  • Extreme right-wing terrorists promoting various issues such as racism, environmental, and anti-government extremism, may revive and thrive in Europe, Latin America, North America, and perhaps some other regions. Insurgent groups and sectarian conflicts revolving around ethnic-nationalism and communal causes will also continue to foster terrorism. Border connections, most attacks will continue to be perpetrated by local actors against local targets to achieve local objectives.
  • Iran’s and Lebanese Hizballah’s efforts to solidify a Shia axis of resistance might also increase the threat of asymmetric attacks on the US, Israeli, Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East.

Conclusion: Terrorism happens due to a conscious decision by ideologically motivated people to hit back at what their members might perceive as unfair within the framework of the given society or political domain. So the answers to the different types of terrorism must be found within social, political, economic, and psychological domains. The dramatic rise of terrorism and its effect on the world order has created a global crisis. Despite the lessons of the past and warnings of the future, power politics and ideological terrorism continue to prevail. Counter-narrative programs to deconstruct and delegitimize propaganda may be the best way to break down right-wing terror networks and their influence.

About the Author
Colonel Balwan Nagial retired from the Indian Army in 2019 after serving for thirty years. Managed administration, security, project mgt throughout his service. He loves writing and contributing in newspapers and magazines in India. He loves Israeli culture.
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