Far-Right Extremism: The New Wave of Terrorism?

Capitol Hill protesters
Teargas released into Capitol Hill protesters on January 6th, 2021. Picture by Shannon Stapleton

Although the threat of radicalization among Muslims living in the West continues to be a major concern for domestic security, a new wave of radicalization has gained particular traction in American territory for the past couple of years. The rise of right-wing terrorism has brought special attention and concern to white supremacists and anti-establishment extremists who are utilizing social media platforms to plot attacks against government officials as well as racial and religious minorities in the United States. Among the most recent examples of these attacks are the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, two shootings in California by the so-called Boogaloo movement, the attempted kidnap of Michigan governor, the arrest of Harry H. Rogers who is a member of the modern Ku Klux Klan for driving a vehicle into a group of peaceful protesters and most recently the attacks on the Capitol on January 6th, among many others.  According to a brief by the Center for Strategic and International Studies the number of attacks from right-wing extremists since 2014 has been greater than attacks from Islamic extremists.

Extremists from all sides of the political spectrum have flooded social media with influential disinformation campaigns, conspiracy theories and incitements to violence.  For instance, far-left individuals are fundamentally opposed to a centralized government and a capitalistic economy. One of the most prominent far-left groups is Antifa, which stands for “anti-fascism”. Antifa is a modern hybrid of anarchist and communist ideals and their most active role has been one of counteracting far-right protests. For example, in 2016 Antifa confronted a group of neo-Nazi individuals holding a rally in Sacramento, CA where five people were injured. Far-left actors have also utilized recent events such as the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement to advance their agenda and promote violence and vandalizing private property in cities throughout the country.

Nevertheless, Far-right extremism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators such as far-left individuals and even Islamic radicals residing in the West. Since the far-right movement is fundamentally broad in nature and purpose, there are three main classifications for right-wing terrorist individuals: white supremacists, anti-government extremists and incels. The reason for categorization being that there are some substantial differences between these groups such as ideology, tactics, targets and the level of threat they represent to domestic security.

The first category, White Supremacists are classified as those who believe they are genetically superior to other cultures and therefore should exert dominance based on that premise. The root of their grievances stems from the Great Replacement conspiracy. This theory claims that whites are now being eradicated by ethnic and racial minorities. In order to prevent this, followers of this conspiracy believe they must overthrow the current state of Western governments and create radical social change to bring back a white dominated ethnostate. Examples of organizations with these characteristics are the Nationalist Socialist Movement, the American Nazi Party, Vanguard America and most recently the Atomwaffen Division (AWD) which is a U.S based neo-Nazi organization with branches all throughout the world. It is these groups in particular that represent the biggest threat to National Security given that some organizations are training their members in hand-to-hand combat, firearms and the continued use of neo-Nazi propaganda.

Secondly, Anti-government extremists share the White Supremacists’ view that the current state of the government is flawed, however is not entirely motivated by ethnocentrism. These groups believe that the government is a threat to their individual freedoms and more specifically, their gun ownership rights. For example, the Three Percenters is a modern militia group that advocates for gun rights and abides by the “III% ideology”. Anti-government extremists utilize social media platforms to organize and recruit. Amongst the most prominent groups are “Thicc Boog Line”, “PATRIOT Wave” and “Boogaloo Nation”, the latter being the major advocate for the “boogaloo movement” which calls for an upcoming civil war. In August of 2017, a 23-year-old named Jerry Varnell attempted to denotated a bomb outside of an Oklahoma bank, bringing resemblance to the 1995 Oklahoma bombing and proving just how far anti-establishment extremists are willing to go.

Lastly, Incels or involuntary celibates are those who deliberately conduct acts of violence directed towards women. Incels particularly identify with the writings of Elliot Rodgers, who after killing six and injuring fourteen people in California, published his 133-page manifesto titled “My Twisted World”. Amongst the most notable social media groups are the “Men’s Rights Activists” and “Men Going Their Own Way”.  These groups believe in social expectations regarding how women owe men sex and companionship, given that genetically it is their duty to do so. Rodgers’ manifesto has had such a powerful impact within the Incel community, that in 2018 a man by the name of Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd and killed around ten people.

It is clear that there is a rising trend in right-wing extremism and all levels of U.S society play a key role in countering terrorism. After the attacks of 9/11, the American population has focused on the threat international terrorism poses on National Security, however it seems as if American society has neglected to recognize the signs of extremism on their very own territory. In the words of Alejandro Mayorkas “At this point in time, domestic violent extremism is our greatest threat in the homeland right now”. Far-right networks are utilizing social media platforms to not only spread their message, but also actively recruit members who share their grievances. Terrorism feeds off disinformation, conspiracies and hatred. It is of the utmost importance that Politicians engage in more civil discourse and less incendiary language, which only serves to fuel identity politics. More importantly however, it is up to the American population to be more alert of disinformation and recognize the signs of radicalization sooner rather than later.


For more information on the topic please visit the following resources:

  • “The Escalating Terrorism Problem in the United States” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies https://www.csis.org/analysis/escalating-terrorism-problem-united-states
  • “Countering Radicalization in America” by the U.S Institute of Peace: https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/SR262%20-%20Countering_Radicalization_in_America.pdf
  • “Far Right Extremism’s History in America” by NPR: https://www.npr.org/2021/01/17/957779088/far-right-extremisms-history-in-america


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Author: Michelle Parra

Michelle Parra is a rising senior at Penn State pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in Crime, Law & Psychology and a Legal Studies certificate. She is particularly passionate about domestic and international politics and how they interact with the legal field. She has acquired extensive experience with public policy analysis, research design as well as legal research and writing given her last experience as an intern at the Erie County Courthouse. After completing her undergraduate studies at Penn State, Michelle is seeking to hold a position as a legal analyst and researcher and later attend Law School.

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