A study has been released from the military school West Point attempting to explain America’s far-right wing violence. The paper by Arie Perliger is entitled “Challengers from the Sidelines Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right”. The study acknowledges a drastic rise in violence among those who identify themselves with the far right political and social ideas. This rise began according to the study in 2007. The purpose of this study according to the author is to provide a “conceptual foundation for understanding different far-right groups and then presents the empirical analysis of violent incidents to identify those perpetrating attacks and their associated trends.” To do so it tackles three important 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 main characteristics are completely predictable. The right wing violence revolves around three main subjects: racial purity, religious fundamentalism, anti-federalist. First on race we look primarily towards the KKK, National Alliance and Skinheads groups such as the Hammerskin Nation. They are all under the premise that the reason for America’s troubles is the addition non-Whites into the country. It says 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.” Their ideas are based on the ideas of segregation, racism and xenophobia. As a result of their views their violence to perpetrated “against groups affiliated with a specific minority ethnic group, or identifiable facilities (mosques, synagogues, or schools affiliated with minority communities).” The KKK tends towards demonstrations and vandalism, while Skinheads and Neo-Nazi groups tend towards acts of violence people, including mass casualty attacks.
The study shows the modern anti-federalist movement began in full force in the early to mid-1990s. It of course existed before, but its full force only became actualized in the early to mid-1990s. The main goal of these groups is to undermine the legitimacy and sovereignty of the United States government. It says the anti-federalist rationale is “multifaceted”; it has many views many of which don’t necessarily agree with each other. Some believe that the US government has been infiltrated by foreign bodies that have taken it over with the purpose of carrying out their own interests. Others believe that any government is inherently corrupt and seeks only to trample on the individual freedoms of people. Many of them promote the idea of a government subversion of the world towards a one world government under the idea of a “New World Order” (NWO). Finally, for some, their beliefs manifest themselves in a fundamentalist view of the Constitution. These groups, their violence tends to be focused towards government institutions and its agents like law enforcement. It also sometimes targets organizations it believes to be communist or socialist.
Finally, the religious fundamentalist stripe of right wing extremist movement. These comprise Christian fundamentalist groups that believe they are ordained by the Christian God to have a natural rule over the United States. People who think that the laws and views set down in the Bible are the only laws that should be produced by the government. Often they have the belief that the US government has been taken over by Satanists and Atheists which are the cause for the problems that America is facing. Typically they hold a racist view that other races are cursed by God for whatever reason which is supposed to explain their exploited position domestically and in the international economic system. Most of their violence is carried out against non-governmental organizations due to their Evangelical leaders having strong government connections. (See the presidency of George W. Bush.) The usual targets of their violence are organizations that provide abortions for women. Their belief is that abortion is immoral and see that the defence of the unborn is justifies the use of violence. Typically they carry out vandalism or fire bombings of abortion clinics and assassinations of abortion doctors.
When it comes to the political and social sources of right wing violence, the results fairly typical for what one would expect. Not much is unexpected at all, various court rulings regarding abortion and civil rights seem to be the main catalyst for right wing violence, as well as the election of presidents.
“As can be seen, while there are variations over the years, the overall trend is very clear: from the early 1990s until 2008 there has been a clear increase in the number of attacks. Fourteen of the 21 years covered in this analysis witnessed more attacks than the previous year. 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 study shows that the more competitive a presidential election is the more right wing violence emerges. The less competitive a presidential election is the less violence there is.
“Several possible explanations may be offered: (1) Far-right groups assume that during election years the public is more receptive to political messages, including those conveyed via violent activism; (2) The competitive nature of the political environment during election years encourages engagement in political activism (see also Chenoweth, 2010) and provides more resources and opportunities; (3) The inability of far-right groups to penetrate the political system via legitimate means, as well as the marginality of their ideas, is even more sharply emphasized during electoral years. This further encourages the use of alternative means to promote their ideological agenda. The relatively informal, opportunity based and unorganized nature of far-right violence in the last two decades may make the third explanation more credible. In any case, the findings represent a contrasting perspective to prevalent perceptions regarding the association between political violence and democratic practices. Within the policy and academic realms there is a tendency to assume that democratic processes are an effective mechanism to discourage groups from engaging in violent political activism, since the democratic process provides non-violent alternatives for advancing political agendas. However, the case of the American far-right indicates that under particular conditions the democratic process encourages violence.”
In my personal opinion I feel there is a rise in right wing violence as their social and political beliefs are challenged. The more races become equalized (or merely appear so) right wing violence increases. This is demonstrated in the study showing that violence increased when minorities gained civil rights victories:
1954-55 Brown v. Board of Education (Equality in public education)
1956 The Supreme Court (Rosa Parks Supreme Court Ruling)
1964 Civil Rights Act Title VII (Prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion)
1965 Executive Order 11246 (Affirmative action requirements of government contractors and subcontractors)
1989-1992 Series of Pro-Life Supreme Court Decisions (Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, Rust v. Sullivan, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey)
In addition to this, the next most common cause of right wing violence was when major gun control legislation was passed into law.
1993-4 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (institutes a federal background check on firearms purchases in the United States)
1993-4 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (prevented purchases of specific firearms with specific characteristics)
Not in all cases was there a rise in violence. There were court rulings about restrictions of firearms and civil rights cases that did not lead to an increase in right wing violence. But these were supplementary rulings and adding provisions to existing laws, meaning they had largely already passed the majority of the hostility towards them. Although interestingly there is no correlation between women’s rights and a rise in right wing violence. This would suggest that matters of gender equality, while contentious, were not catalysis for violence.
From this study we can see what issues are contentious enough to inspire the right wing to violence.