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Radical Right-Wing Political Parties and Groups

Radical Right-Wing Political Parties and Groups

As a result of the decline of right-wing extremism in the United States in the late 1990s, as well as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, authorities disproportionately shifted their attention from right-wing extremism to Islamist extremism. This happened around 2008. In the decade that followed, there was a surge in right-wing extremist violence in the United States. This trend has not abated today. On the contrary, it has peaked over the past few years, during which far-right criminals were responsible for 98 percent of all extremist murders in the country in 2018. 2019 was the sixth deadliest year in the country since 1970, when there were 42 extremism-related murders. 2018 also saw a record number of hate groups (1,020), including a sharp increase (43 percent) in the number of LGBT hate groups. Although this number decreased slightly (to 940), with the dissolution of two neo-Nazi factions the following year, the activity of these groups, including in terms of hate crimes, increased.

This latest new wave of right-wing extremism stems from the longest (and deadliest) extremist trend in the United States and can be explained by the interaction of several events. While some of these events account for the global rise of right-wing extremism, others are specific to the American context. The most important of these are a long tradition of immigration, nativism and xenophobia (manifested in perceptions of loss of white identity), easy access to firearms, the growing development and reliance on social media platforms to reduce socioeconomic mobility and inequality, the election in 2008 of the first African-American President Barack Obama and the subsequent election in 2016 of President Donald J. Trump. Finally, growing distrust of established institutions and polarization and partisan divisions (resulting in Republicans and Democrats becoming increasingly distant from the political center and exhibiting increasingly negative attitudes toward the other party, thereby contributing to an overall polarization of the political landscape and discourse) have continued to grow since the 1990s, as evidenced by surveys and opinion polls.

A significant portion (nearly a quarter) of right-wing extremist groups are based in California, Texas, and Florida. Of the 940 extremist groups reported in 2019, nearly a third (391) are white supremacists. There are other groups (174) not included in this number that hold to a single issue (such as anti-LGBT or anti-Muslim mandates). In addition, there are 20 anti-immigrant groups nationwide. Five hundred and seventy-six groups espouse anti-government extremist views, with 181 groups receiving military training, making such groups considered "militias."

The right-wing extremist movement could be catalogued by the specter of its supporters' views on race. While on the most extreme side of this spectrum are such overtly neo-Nazi groups as the Atomwaffen Division, whose members openly advocate white supremacy and racial purity and believe in the cleansing power of racial war and extreme violence, other groups and individuals, try to avoid the racist label by talking about "culture" rather than "race," and thus are on the opposite side of this spectrum.

Among the most prominent white nationalist groups are:

1. Violent groups that advocate the offensive of race war and embrace white ethno-nationalism and/or national socialism/neo-Nazism. These groups train heavily armed militias and commit murder, planned acts of terrorism, and other criminal acts. Members of these groups openly believe in white supremacy. The following groups fall into this category: Base, National Socialist Movement (NSD), Hammerskin National, National Socialist Club, and National Socialist Order (NSO), which is the latest (as of July 2020) reshuffle in the Atomwaffen Division (AWD).

  • The Atomwaffen Division (AWD) was founded in 2015 by Devon Arthurs and former U.S. Marine Brandon Russell in the American South as a neo-Nazi terrorist network. Some researchers consider the group part of a right-wing movement, but its members reject that designation, arguing that the group, which has been linked to five murders and is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, does not fall into that extremism-based category. There were reportedly 80 members of the group in 20 cells across the United States, which has spread to Britain, Canada, Germany, the Baltics and other European countries. It draws inspiration from the cult-like beliefs of Charles Manson and the neo-Nazi ideas of James Mason, as well as anti-Semitic, anti-LGBT and apocalyptic thoughts. It aimed to establish a National Socialist government and spread ideas of "total Aryan victory" through a violent "white revolution" and "race war". AWD members organized firearms training sessions. In August 2017, active duty Marine and AWD cell leader Vassilios Pistolis attacked counter-protesters at a United Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Police also suspect several AWD members of several murders that occurred in 2017-2018. These include the January 2018 stabbing of 20-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Blaze Bernstein in California, allegedly for being gay; and the Dec. 22, 2017 killing of his girlfriend's parents in Reston, Virginia, by 17-year-old AWD member Nicholas Giamp because they demanded his daughter break up with Giamp because of his extremist views. AWD was dissolved in March 2020 after several of its members, including its former leader John Cameron Denton, were arrested by the FBI on harassment charges that included anti-Semitic and racist threats against journalists. In September 2020, two of the arrested AWD members pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges. In the absence of legislation to prosecute right-wing extremists as terrorists, an attempt was made in March 2020 to designate AWD as a foreign terrorist organization. Under this pressure, the AWD was disbanded, but later reorganized into the Nationalist-Socialist Order (NSO) in July 2020. The official program of the NSO echoed that of the AWD in its devotion to Adolf Hitler and its total rejection of the current world order and its desire to overthrow "Jewish-controlled" governments around the world (although it does claim to be a U.S.-based organization). Two members of the organization also attempted to establish local AWD chapters in Ukraine (and attempted to join the Ukrainian army for training), where they were arrested and then deported to the US in October 2020. The Sonnenkrieg and Feuerkrieg units, which were considered British branches of the AWD, were banned in February and July 2020, respectively.
  • Base (whose name is derived from the translation of Al Qaeda) is another violent neo-Nazi anarchist network founded in June 2018 by Norman Speer/Roman Wolfe (both aliases; the real people behind the network are believed to be Rinaldo Nazzaro, a U.S. intelligence, security, and military contractor who claimed to be a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, now living in Russia and suspected of being a Russian agent). The base focuses on training its members (in camps across the U.S.) to wage racial warfare. It seeks to recruit current and former members of the military. Unlike AWD/NSO, it is an international network with cells in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia. It distributes manuals on lone wolf attacks, bomb making, counter-surveillance, and guerrilla warfare. In November 2019, the FBI charged one member (Richard Tobin) with organizing vandalism at synagogues in Michigan and Wisconsin two months earlier. In December 2019, two members of the Base attempted to intimidate anti-Far Right podcast host Daniel Harper in Dexter, Michigan. They were arrested in October 2020 by the FBI. In January 2020, Maryland authorities arrested three members of the Base for possession of unregistered weapons and preparation for attacking a rally in support of the Second Amendment in Virginia that same month. That same month, two more Base members were arrested for plotting to kill a couple affiliated with the left-wing Antifa movement in Georgia.
  • Hammerskin Nation is the largest and most organized skinhead network in the United States. It was organized in 1988 (out of the punk music scene skinheads; the group continues to organize annual white music Hammerfest power concerts; with the most recent concerts taking place in California in October 2018 and in Europe in November 2019) and has cells all over the world. Over the years, Hammerskins has been accused of various violent crimes, including murder, assault, arson, vandalism, stalking, and other hate crimes. Becoming a member of Hammerskins is relatively difficult: the vetting and initiation process takes years.

2. On the opposite side of the spectrum are members of the nonviolent alt-right, who promote and carry out their racism under the guise of white ethno-nationalism and focus on the idea of race difference (rather than white supremacy) and call for the separation of races. These groups include the League of the South and the Identity Movement Europe (which was replaced by the American Identity Movement [AIM] in March 2019). These and similar "softer" advocates of right-wing radicalism raise fears about minorities and immigrants and the danger the latter pose to white culture and identity.

In addition to these organizations, the following right-wing radical groups with a formal rejection of violence are also worth highlighting:

  • National Socialist Movement (NSM) - identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the largest neo-Nazi group in the United States, with 61 local chapters and additional chapters overseas. NSM presents itself as America's leading white civil rights organization. Although it officially rejects violence, it has stated its intention to defend itself. To that end, on October 23, 2017, an NSM member attempted to provoke armed violence on an Amtrak train traveling through Nebraska. This activist had reportedly tried to join ISIS the previous year. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2018. In 2016, NSM formed a national far-right alliance (the Aryan Nationalist Alliance) that included the Traditionalist Workers Party and the League of the South (in 2017, the ANA was renamed the Nationalist Front). As of today, the future of the coalition is in question (TWP collapsed in March 2018, and the League of the South has since left the Front).
  • The Nationalist Social Club was founded in December 2019 in Massachusetts and has chapters around the world. The group prepares for physical combat and uses accumulated firearms for use in future confrontations. In July 2020, several NSC members were arrested for disorderly conduct in Rogersville, Tennessee, for attempting to provoke protesters at a BLM rally.
  • The Rise Above Movement was founded in 2017 by Ron Rundo and Ben Daly first as a sports club. It is based in Southern California and traveled to Europe in 2018 to participate in martial arts tournaments organized by neo-Nazis in Germany and Ukraine. Like other alt-right groups, it was founded with the goal of stepping away from online forum activity and engaging in physical training, reviving the "warrior spirit." It was involved in violence at two rallies in California and at a United Right rally in Charlottesville (after which the RAM co-founder and three other members of the group were charged with conspiracy to riot and pleaded guilty).
  • The Traditionalist Workers Party (TWP) emerged in 2015 as the political wing of the Traditional Youth Network, which was founded in 2013 in Indiana by Matthew Parrott and his son-in-law Matthew Heimbach. Heimbach is the most visible member among white supremacists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  • Vanguard America (VA) is another neo-Nazi group that was founded in 2014 in New Mexico and has chapters across the United States. The VA leader is another Marine veteran. It operates primarily online through a website that was suspended in 2017 (hence the subsequent redirection to a new website, Patriotic Front). In 2016-2017, the group posted campaign flyers on U.S. college campuses. The organization participated in a United Right rally in 2017. Alex Fields, the man who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, was photographed wearing a VA uniform during the rally.
  • The Patriot Movement (PM), while not classified as a right-wing movement, falls into this category because it brings together a cohort of non-unified conservative and nationalist movements that include far-right armed militias that harbor racist, xenophobic, extremist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant sentiments. After its emergence in the 1990s (in response to gun control legislation during Bill Clinton's presidency; the movement reached its peak during Obama's presidency). The movement rebounded after Floyd's death and the BLM protests, and in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election.

The ideology of these groups can generally be characterized as an ideology of anti-government conspiracy theories (which include end times eschatology; suspected surveillance; QAnon and 9/11 conspiracy theories; New World Order, etc.) as well as a belief in Americans' right to own guns and a willingness to use military force and support the paramilitary movement.

The summer of 2020 was characterized by a surge of militia groups that ranged from intervening in BLM protests to kidnapping elected officials. According to police, U.S. militia groups (compared to militias around the world) are "latent" (their threats of violence trump actual violent acts). More than 80 paramilitaries have been tracked across the U.S. in recent months, most of them right-wing armed groups. One of the most striking incidents committed by a paramilitary group in the final months leading up to the November 2020 elections was a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in October 2020 and violently overthrow the government. Fourteen suspects who were affiliated with the paramilitary group Wolverine Watchers were arrested.

A survey of active duty military personnel in the United States found an increase in extremism within their ranks, with several recent high-profile violent incidents involving active or former military personnel. There have been a number of recent high-profile incidents involving far-right extremists in which the accused are members of the military or veterans. The FBI has previously found that white supremacists target members of the military for recruitment. A Military Times survey found that more than a third of active-duty service members and more than half of minorities say they have witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological racism in the military.


Compared to Europe, the U.S. has been better at integrating immigrants in general and Muslims in particular. American Muslims are a success story, a well-integrated community that does not face the same problems of discrimination and assimilation as its European counterparts. Nevertheless, the Islamist danger in the country exists.

In 2019, not a single person was killed by American Muslim extremists. There were 30 arrests that year (which is relatively low compared to a peak of 88 arrests or attacks in 2015, but higher than in 2018). Nine of those were related to terrorist plots targeting Maryland pedestrians, a white supremacist rally in California, the Israeli consulate in New York, and tourist attractions in the broader New York area, a Pittsburgh church, and college campuses in Florida. The remaining 21 arrests were mostly related to charges of providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations, in addition to several outright charges such as knowingly providing false information to law enforcement and illegally obtaining firearms with deleted serial numbers. The decline in the number of successful plots by Islamists is partly due to law enforcement getting better at identifying subjects, which, in itself, is partly due to an increase in covert social media monitoring since 2015.

The targets of the 2019 terror plots suggest that Islamist extremists are targeting religious institutions, with anti-Semitism as a key motive. Of the nine people arrested for plotting terrorist attacks related to domestic Islamist extremism, seven (78 percent) were U.S. citizens, a statistic that highlights the homegrown nature of the threat of Islamist extremism in the United States. Although ISIS has been effectively disbanded and no longer has territory in Iraq and Syria, its aggressive rhetoric and propaganda continue to inspire most terrorist plots and criminal activity related to domestic Islamist extremism. On May 21, 2020, the first Islamist terrorist attack in a long time took place. A motorist crashed into the north perimeter gate of Corpus Christi Naval Air Station in Texas, activating barriers that stopped the vehicle. The driver got out and opened fire before being killed. A Naval police officer was wounded. The terrorist, Adam Alsalhi, who was born in Syria, expressed support for ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Regarding profiles of radical Islamists and their individual radicalization in the United States, expert data shows that between 1970 and 2018, the average age of Islamists involved in extremist activities is 29. Of these, 6.7% are women; 42.9% have no college education; 26.2% have low socioeconomic status; 8.4% have a military background; 33.3% have a criminal record; 91% are radicalized online; and 15% are mentally ill.

Nevertheless, there is no understanding of how radicalized Islamists are in the U.S. because there is no "typical profile," and experiences and motivations vary widely. Foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) are interested in recruiting Muslim Americans because the latter "understand" the US. The U.S. Secretary of State has designated the following organizations, which are known to recruit Muslims in the U.S., as FTOs:

  • The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), until its demise in 2017, had more success than al-Qaeda in recruiting on American soil, including American citizens born in the United States;
  • Al-Ashtar Brigades (BAB), a Shia militant group in Bahrain, was FTO-listed in July 2018;
  • Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), a militant jihadist organization in the Maghreb and West Africa (mainly in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, where it is an official al-Qaeda affiliate); it was listed in September 2018;
  • As'ib Akhlal Haq (AAH), an Iraqi Shiite political party and paramilitary group, was listed in January 2020;
  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is an affiliate of the Iranian military, was designated in April 2019 to pressure Iran;
  • Hizbul Mujahideen, a separatist pro-Pakistani paramilitary group in Kashmir (listed in October 2017);
  • Abu Nidal Organization (ONO), or Fatah, was delisted as UTO in 2017.

While other Islamist organizations such as al-Shahaab and the Muslim Brotherhood are not listed as terrorist organizations by the State Department, the latter, for example, sponsors many Muslim-American organizations through which it mobilizes and recruits Muslims in the United States.

Although attacks by foreign terrorist groups have been difficult, if not impossible, since 9/11, there is still a threat from homegrown jihadism. Of those that pose such a threat, the "lone wolf" attacks pose a greater danger in the first place: not only are they more deadly, but they are also more difficult to prevent, and the perpetrators take longer to evade arrest. So while the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) shows that as of 2015, lone wolves accounted for 6 percent of all terrorists in the United States, at the same time, they accounted for 25 percent of all terrorist attacks committed in the United States. Most lone-wolf jihadists in the U.S. were inspired by ISIS. These lone characters were radicalized in their own right, mostly through social media. In general, however, Islamists in the U.S. are mostly radicalized in prisons, mosques, and the Internet. Thus, about 50 percent of current or former ISIS members said they were radicalized solely through social media. There has also been a shift from terrorism perpetrated by specific terrorist groups to lone wolves inspired by a particular ideology but not affiliated with a particular terrorist group. Thus, of the 53 attacks in 2019, only two were attributed to a specific terrorist group. Between 2014 and 2019, 77 people were killed in ISIS-related attacks in the United States, and all of those attacks were committed by lone wolves.

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