Rising far-right extremism

The influence of right-wing populism and extremism has ballooned in recent years in countries as diverse as Brazil

Syed Mohammad Ali August 30, 2019
The writer is a development anthropologist. He can be reached at [email protected]

Despite years of enthusiastic claims regarding the redundancy of national boundaries being ushered in by the accelerating pace of globalisation, we see a surge in right-wing extremism today. This xenophobic extremism rides on the back of growing populism, which many consider to be fueled by growing disgruntlement with globalisation and the disparities caused by it.

Xenophobic ethno-nationalist movements, Islamist terrorism and right-wing violent extremism are some of the varied manifestations of the inadequacies of globalisation. The influence of right-wing populism and extremism has ballooned in recent years in countries as diverse as Hungary, Italy, Brazil, and India. Even the most powerful nation in the world has not been spared from the scourge of the far-right.

“White-lash” against Obama is one factor often cited to explain Trump’s electoral success. The matter did not end with the election of President Trump, though. Soon thereafter (in August 2017), hundreds of far-right extremists descended on Charlottesville in Virginia. This “Unite the Right” gathering was the largest and most violent public assembly of white supremacists within the US in decades.

Besides the growth of a pervasive and emboldened white supremacist mindset, there have been overt acts of violence motivated by white supremacists, such as the shooting rampages in Parkland, Pittsburg, Poway, and most recently in El Paso, Texas. The University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database has noted that right-wing-inspired terrorist acts in the US grew from 6% to 35% of the total from 2010 to 2016. The Center for Strategic and International Studies further highlighted that right-wing-inspired violence has quadrupled in 2016-17. Far-right terrorism consisting of anti-government, white supremacist, and anti-abortion violence is now responsible for more deaths in the US (107) than terrorism by Islamists (104) since 9/11, according to data collected by the New America Foundation.

White supremacist groups use religious evocations in support of their cause. White supremist influence is not confined to national borders either. Consider, for instance, the impact of evangelicals in the US who have supported legislation of the death penalty for homosexuality in countries like Uganda.

The far-right in the US today is clearly not monolithic. White supremacist groups include hate-groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Christian right, racist groups like the Hammerskin Nation and even prison gangs like the Aryan Nation.

As American society and politics have become increasing polarised, the far-right groups with more militant aspirations have managed to establish a dedicated base of followers using online platforms, within which many lone-wolf attackers have also been active participants. The future risk of far-right violence has been heightened by the prevailing political climate in the US. Public speeches and rhetorical statements by prominent political leaders seem to invigorate such groups. Even passive endorsement of far-right views by political leaders, or far-right media personalities, can embolden radical-minded individuals affiliated with such hate groups, to take matters into their own hands.

Given the current political climate, the overall influence of far-right groups keeps growing, despite their corrosive impact on the multicultural fabric of this nation of migrants. Moreover, the present US administration is criticised for resisting calls to invest more federal enforcement resources to investigate the threats of violence posed by far-right groups. A bipartisan group of former National Security Council members has called for making domestic terrorism as high a priority as countering international terrorism has become since 9/11. Yet, it is suspected that the threshold to initiate an investigation is much higher for subjects of white supremacy investigations than it is for a Muslim in the US, even today.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2019.

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