BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In 2009, a coordinated attack by the conservative echo chamber pummeled the Department of Homeland Security for issuing a report on the growing threat of rightwing extremism in the United States. Enraged conservatives called for the resignation of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and for the study – titled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment -- to be deep-sixed.
Although Napolitano did not resign, the report, which found that “Right-wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning,” was subsequently withdrawn.
Last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the nation’s premier organizations tracking hate groups, the number of extremist groups had grown from 824 in 2010 to 1,274 in 2011. The SPLC report, published in March of 2012, found that the “dramatic expansion of the radical right was driven by fears related to economic dislocation, the country’s changing racial makeup, and the prospect of four more years under our first black president.”
In November of last year, The Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point produced a study of what it is calling far-right organizations. Released last week, the study found that “since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from individuals and groups who self-identify with the far-right of American politics.”
And, as expected, conservatives are once again up in arms.
Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right (.pdf file), written by Dr. Arie Perlinger, director of the West Point Center, “concentrates on those individuals and groups who have actually perpetuated violence and is not a comprehensive analysis of the political causes with which some far-right extremists identify,” and attempts to address “three core questions”:
(1) “What are the main current characteristics of the violence produced by the far right?”
(2) “What type of far-right groups are more prone than others to engage in violence? How are characteristics of particular far-right groups correlated with their tendency to engage in violence?”
(3) “What are the social and political factors associated with the level of far-right violence? Are there political or social conditions that foster or discourage violence?”
The Center’s report identifies “three major ideological movements within the American violent far right: a racist/white supremacy movement, an anti-federalist movement and a fundamentalist movement.”
“The racist movement is comprised of white supremacy groups such as the KKK, neo-Nazi groups … and Skinhead groups [and they] …. are interested in preserving or restoring what they perceive as the appropriate and natural racial and cultural hierarchy, by enforcing social and political control over non-Aryans/nonwhites such as African Americans, Jews, and various immigrant communities,” the report points out.
The anti-federalist movement “is interested in undermining the influence, legitimacy and effective sovereignty of the federal government and its proxy organizations.”
“… the fundamentalist stream, which includes mainly Christian Identity groups such as the Aryan Nations, fuse religious fundamentalism with traditional white supremacy and racial tendencies, thus promoting ideas of nativism, exclusionism, and racial superiority through a unique interpretation of religious texts that focuses on division of humanity according to primordial attributes.”
“Findings indicate that…it is not only feelings of deprivation that motivate those involved in far right violence, but also the sense of empowerment that emerges when the political system is perceived to be increasingly permissive to far right ideas,” the study reads.
Since the turn of the century, rightwing motivated attacks have risen: “Although in the 1990s the average number of attacks per year was 70.1, the average number of attacks per year in the first 11 years of the twenty-first century was 307.5, a rise of more than 400%.”
The National Review’s John Fund called the study an example of the federal government’s obsession with “alleged home-grown threats from the ‘far right.’"
The Washington Times’ Rowan Scarborough wrote that the report “draws a link between the mainstream conservative movement and the violent ‘far right,’ and describes liberals as ‘future oriented’ and conservatives as living in the past.”
“While liberal worldviews are future-or progressive-oriented, conservative perspectives are more past-oriented, and in general, are interested in preserving the status quo.” the report states. “The far right represents a more extreme version of conservatism, as its political vision is usually justified by the aspiration to restore or preserve values and practices that are part of the idealized historical heritage of the nation or ethnic community.”
The report adds: “While far-right groups’ ideology is designed to exclude minorities and foreigners, the liberal-democratic system is designed to emphasize civil rights, minority rights and the balance of power.”
Atlas Shrugs’ Pamela Geller, a major player within the Islamophobia Industry, wrote that instead of focusing on “increasing threats and acts of war from jihadists both here and aboard,” the West Point report was wrongly focused on “Americans who believe in individual rights.”
Conservatives are not the only ones dissatisfied with the West Point report. Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, Esq., founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), provided a scathing criticism of the Center’s report in a recent post at AlterNet. Weinstein, who characterized the report as “flimsy” and “high-minded dithering about domestic terrorist groups,” believes the West Point Center has focused on the wrong reactionary targets.
He argued that the report was a waste of taxpayers money in that it “obsesses on skinheads and the most extreme fundamentalist Bible-wavers …. [while] ignor[ing] the daily, relentless assault on freedom committed by those with stars on their chests and stripes on their shoulders.”
Weinstein is referring to members of the military who are “given little choice in whether or not to take part in Christian events, and even many commanders [who are] … making participation in religious ceremonies outright mandatory!”
According to Weinstein, “The skinheads, the sheet-wearers, and the cross-burners are easy to spot. But the more devastating injury, as MRFF has shown repeatedly, is the stark and severe NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT (his caps, italics & bold) wrought by those in suits, in vestments, and--most disgracefully of all--in the uniform of our nation's armed forces.”
Devin Burghart, vice president at the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, who's been tracking anti-immigrant activity for nearly two decades, told me in an email that while the section of the Center’s report “outlining the landscape of what the report calls the ‘American Violent Far Right’ is a generally well-written piece of academic work on the American far-right,” it ignores the “multitude of seismic changes that have significantly altered the size, shape, and character of the current far right.”
Burghart pointed out that while “We’ve yet to see the same sort of response to this report by the far right as we’ve seen to similar reports from the DHS in recent years …. Just give it time.”
Given the tone and reaction of the far right over the current debate over a handful of sensible gun control measures, one can expect an escalation of rightwing extremist activity in the near future.