TerrorismThe Rise of Far-Right Terrorism

Published 14 April 2020

Two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department has added a Russian far-right, white-supremacist group to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organization. It is the first white supremacist group on the list (there are 80 other groups on it). Analysts say that it is high time for world governments to recognize the rapidly growing threat of far-right terrorism.

Far-right violence and terrorism are a growing threat to Western societies. Far-right terrorist attacks increased by 320 percent between 2014 and 2019 according to the 2019 Global Terrorism Index. In 2018 alone, far-right terrorist attacks made up 17.2 percent of all terrorist incidents in the West, compared to Islamic groups which made up 6.28 percent of all attacks.

In January 2019, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism reported that every extremist killing in the United States in 2018 was linked to far-right individuals or organizations. German authorities registered 8,605 right-wing extremist offenses including 363 violent crimes in the first half of 2019. Compared to the first half of 2018, an increase of 900 far-right crimes was recorded during the same period.

The Herzliya, Israel-based International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) says that far-right terrorism is on average five times deadlier than far-left terrorism, with an average of 0.92 deaths per attack compared to far-left terrorism with 0.17 deaths. Nineteen countries across North America, Western Europe and Oceania have been targeted by far-right attackers. This trend in far-right attacks has led some observers to state that far-right domestic terrorism has not been treated seriously enough in the West and that security and intelligence services should pay closer attention to this emerging threat.

In a new study, titled The Virus of Hate: Far-Right Terrorism in Cyberspace, Gabriel Weimann and Natalie Masri define “far-right” as referring to a political ideology that centers on one or more of the following elements: strident nationalism (usually racial or exclusivist in some fashion), fascism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, chauvinism, nativism, and xenophobia. They note that far-right groups are usually strongly authoritarian, but often with populist elements and have historically been anti-communist, although this characteristic has become less prominent since the end of the Cold War. Not all groups or organizations with any one of these characteristics can be considered far right, and not all far-right groups are automatically violent or terroristic. However, terrorist groups with these characteristics and individuals sympathetic to these ideals have been classified as “far-right terrorism.”

Weimann and Masri write that far-right terrorists have a strong inclination to change the established order and favor traditional aptitudes (typically white, heterosexual, and Christian) and advocate the forced establishment of authoritarian order. Far-right attacks are also less predictable as perpetrators are typically unaffiliated with a terrorist group, making them harder to detect.

Far-right extremists have also shown a long-term interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, resulting in several CBRN far-right terrorist plots in Western countries (mostly in the United States), which, fortunately, did not come to fruition.

Another development is the phenomenon of individuals taking part in extreme right-wing terrorist plots without previous contacts to the extremist environment, sometimes described as “Hive Terrorism.”

All the above appear to show a significant terrorist threat posed by extreme right-wing activists and groups.