Far right terrorism on the rise

The western world is witnessing an uptick in far-right terrorism, writes Vishal Makhijani.

Far-right extremist ideology is spreading and intensifying, with far-right terrorism on the rise. New research shows an uptick in incidents and deaths attributable to far-right extremist groups or individuals in North America and Western Europe.

According to the 2018 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) published by the Institute for Economics & Peace, between 2012 and 2017, there were 56 deaths and 73 incidents in North America related to far-right terrorism. This is compared to six deaths and 19 incidents in the decade between 2002 and 2012.

In 2017 alone, North America experienced 31 attacks from far-right terrorist groups or individuals and suffered 16 fatalities. Figures from the US Anti-Defamation League show a 57 per cent rise in anti-Semitic violence between 2016 and 2017. The past three years saw the most number of terror-related incidents perpetrated by far-right and white extremists since the turn of the century: in Western Europe for example, the GTI shows that there have been over 60 acts of terror perpetrated by far-right extremists in the past three years, 28 of which occurred in 2017 alone.

The surge in far-right-related organising, extremism and violence in the West follows the 2016 US presidential election and the electoral success of far-right political parties throughout much of Europe.

As far-right ideologies have moved deeper into the political mainstream, as seen for example in open and public displays such as the Unite the Right Rally in North Carolina in the USA,  there has been a surge in a far-right terrorism and criminal activity.

Common across the platforms of the global far-right movement is fear-mongering around the deepening refugee and migrant crisis caused by wars and conflict particularly in Syria.

Far-right and white nationalist groups have also been utilising digital and social platforms for their recruitment in a fashion similar to those used by other radical extremists.

Online platforms have amplified far-right dissemination substantially throughout North America and Europe, with online Islamophobia and xenophobic sentiments found across 50 different far-right organisations. The online popularity of far-right extremist ideology over recent years has occurred alongside the uptick in far-right terror attacks.

A study of the social media accounts of over 450 radicalised extremists in the United States showed that 90 per cent of extremist profiles in 2016 were radicalised at least partially through digital means. The same dataset contends that of the 479 extremist user profiles examined, 49 experienced social media radicalisation between 2005 and 2010, and 216 user profiles experienced radicalisation between 2011-2016. In 2016, 413 extremists reported social media use, and the community of digitally radicalised extremists is only growing.

Social media too has played a pivotal role in the distribution of content between far-right groups and individuals. Anti-Semitic gunman Robert Bowers killed 11 people in a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2018, and while he had no criminal history prior to this attack, his online profile shows a history of anti-Semitic radicalisation.

The threats posed by far-right terrorism are on the rise in the western world, yet they fail to receive the same attention as radical Islamist terrorism by governments, counter-terrorism initiatives and media outlets in many Western countries. These instances of terrorism and radicalisation not only need to be monitored more closely, but also must be treated as national and international security threats just as any other ideological form of terror would.

Vishal Makhijani

Research Assistant

Vishal Makhijani studies Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Northeastern University with a particular interest in using data to map conflict dispersion and inequality. Vishal’s past experience includes time spent in Boston’s City Hall and the U.S. House of Representatives. As a research assistant at the Institute for Economics and Peace, Vishal was a contributing author and researcher for the 2018 Global Terrorism Index.