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Kathleen Blee: "Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States" | Entgrenzter Rechtsextremismus? |

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Kathleen Blee: "Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States"

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Abstract und Präsentation zum Vertiefungsangebot "Rechtsterrorismus als internationales Problem" im Rahmen der Fachtagung "Entgrenzter Rechtsextremismus? Internationale Perspektiven und Gegenstrategien" der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in München, 09.-10.02.2015.


Right-wing terrorists have attempted and enacted a series of violent attacks within the United States in recent decades. Increasingly, these attacks aim at large-scale and catastrophic violence against civilian populations. These are undertaken by two, sometimes overlapping, types of groups and activists: those that regard the government as the primary enemy and those committed to white supremacism. Both draw on elaborate ideologies that justify and even mandate violence in the pursuit of larger political and racial ends. Established groups of right-wing extremists have become less significant than small groupings and loosely connected networks, due largely to increased federal surveillance of the far right. As well, lone wolf operators enact much right-wing terrorism; they have little or no personal contact with other far-rightists but take their direction – and zeal for violence --- from the Internet. In the past several decades, women have become a significant minority in every aspect of the far-right, including terrorist networks. Moreover, former and current military personnel have been involved in several highly visible terrorist attacks, leading to concern about whether extreme right-wing groups are recruiting military veterans. A pressing question, yet unresolved, is the extent to which U.S. right-wing terrorists have links to their counterparts in Europe or elsewhere.


Last June, the U.S. Attorney General announced that he was renewing a focus on domestic terrorism motivated by antigovernment and racial extremism, responding to a notable increase in right-wing extremist violent attacks and planned attacks. The turning point in right-wing terrorism in the U.S. came in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, both of whom traveled through the conspiratorial world of the far-right, planted a truck bomb outside the U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City and killed 168 people including 19 children in a day care center. The Oklahoma City bombing marked a shift for U.S. extremist-right groups from mainly targeting specific individuals that they regarded as political enemies (such as suspected informers or individual members of anti-racist groups or racial/ethnic minorities) and toward dramatic and catastrophic violence with large numbers of causalities including innocent civilians and bystanders.

Magnitude of Right-Wing Terrorism

Since 1995, U.S. has experienced 107 major acts or arrests for antigovernment and racial extremist terrorism. These increased after the first election of America’s first African American president in 2008. Of these incidents, somewhat less than half (47) were targeted against federal or state government buildings or employees. The remainder (60) were terrorist attacks against groups or institutions associated with racial or ethnic minorities, especially African Americans, Jews, and Muslims, and sexual minorities as well as terrorist violence against abortion providers (Southern Poverty Law Center, Intelligence Report Externer Link:

Types of Terrorism

Antigovernment right-wing terrorism is enacted by a number of patriot, militia, tax-resisting, sovereign-citizen, and other similar groups opposed to actions of the federal and state government especially those involving immigration, land management, and taxation. (Although not all such groups are violent). These groups operate individually or in loose networks. They tend to be highly conspiratorial and nationalistic, even though they oppose the current government. Their terrorist actions range from attempts to blow up tax agencies, invade Army bases that they are convinced are harboring United Nations troops, and assassinate federal and state officials and judges, to waging biological warfare on cities. Many of these are audacious efforts, like the 2010 tax resister who flew a plane into a Texas IRS office. They also routinely involve very large stocks of weaponry, from homemade rockets and pipe bombs to caches of machine guns, grenade launchers, and anti-aircraft missiles.

Right-wing terrorism against race/ethnic and sexual minorities is committed by individuals, small groups, and networks. Many of these identify with neo-Nazi or white supremacist ideologies. Their terrorist actions include violent attacks on random people selected because of their perceived racial or sexual categories and larger-scale attempts at mass assassinations as a 2008 effort to kill 88 African Americans (88 for "Heil Hitler") then behead another 14 (for "14 words" ["We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children"]), including President Obama; the 2011 bomb planted at a Washington Martin Luther King march with 1,5000 marchers; and the many murders of strangers at the JCC in Kansas City and Los Angeles and the Holocaust Museum in DC.


Increasingly, right-wing terrorists aim for large-scale and catastrophic violence and often anticipate that there is a large body of silent supporters who will rise up and adopt violence once they recognize that it can be effective. Thus, terrorists now enact small-scale violence as a trigger for large-scale terrorism, such as the militia members arrested in 2010 who planned to murder a police officer, then set off bombs and missiles to kill other officers attending his funeral and spark a war with the government.

Characteristics of Terrorists

In the past several decades, established groups of right-wing extremists have become less significant than small groupings and loosely connected networks. This is the result of increased federal surveillance of the far right, which has led less extreme members to leave and made remaining groups highly security conscious and careful about meeting in person or making connection that could be traced by government agents. The internet has also stimulated right-wing terrorism by lone wolf operators who have little or no personal contact with other far-rightists but take their direction – and zeal for violence --- from discussions on far-right discussion boards like Stormfront, anti-government and racist web sites, and downloading white power and extremist music from internet vendors including ITunes. In addition, women remain a significant minority in every aspect of the far-right, including terrorist networks.

Ideology of Terrorists

A number of right-wing terrorists adhere to belief systems that justify – and even require – violence. Among the most common in the U.S. today are the Phineas Priesthood (which claims that violence is Godly if used in the service of white supremacism), the related Christian Identity (which regards people of color as pre-Adam, thus not fully human and Jews as the literal descendants of Satan), ZOG (that the U.S. federal government is controlled by Jews, or a Zionist Occupation Government), and the long-standing right-wing belief that a United Nations-direction New World Order is poised to invade (or has already seized control of) the United States.

Role of the Military

A 2009 report from Department of Homeland Security (later withdrawn) warned of the recruitment of returning veterans by far-right extremist groups and the potential of such groups to undertake terrorist violence within the U.S. Indeed, some of the most lethal attacks have involved military veterans, such as the 2012 assault on a Milwaukee Sikh temple by a man recruited into neo-Nazism in the Army and violence by a Georgia group that emerged from an extremist unit of the Army.

Global Networks

The declining nationalism of some parts of the U.S. far right has opened the possibility of participating in global networks of white supremacism and terrorism. There were attempts to participate in a pan-Aryan movement a decade ago and current fledgling attempts to link U.S. racists with pro-white, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim groups and networks in France and Hungary. How successful these are, or might become, is unknown.

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