Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was purposely designed to legitimise white extremist, alt-right groups with crass anti-immigrant, Muslim, liberal, and women rhetoric. Trump embraced “white grievance” politics, and attracted large numbers of white voters, most frequently men, who believed that they had been the victims of racial discrimination. His cabinet constituted of crème de la crème racist America, among others, Stephen Bannon, whose website Breitbart has been a critical platform for elevating the so-called “alt-right,” and Stephen Miller, who openly supports white extremists.
Trump’s coming to power was, in fact, the culmination of decades-old underground activities of extremist groups.
It started in 1995, with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols driving a truck filled with 7,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and nitromethane fuel into the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The death toll: 168, including 19 children in a day-care centre.
The news media automatically assumed that “Middle Eastern terrorists” had probably executed the attack. But by the end of the day, it became clear that domestic, right-wing terrorists were responsible for the mass murder. And since 1995 white supremacists have continued to carry out attacks in America, killing innocent victims to make a political point. In fact, America today faces several strains of extremism, from ISIS-inspired lone wolves to the digitally-organised alternative right, commonly known as the “alt-right.”
Unlike Europeans, the American far-right girdle religious ideology and fundamentalist interpretations of holy texts as justification for far-right extremism
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading civil rights organisation dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry: “After Oklahoma, it was no longer sufficient for many American right-wing terrorists to strike at a target of political significance — instead, they reached for higher and higher body counts, reasoning that they had to eclipse McVeigh’s attack to win attention.”
Fast forward to October 27, 2018, a 46-year-old white supremacist, Robert Gregory Bowers, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with several semi-automatic weapons shouting “All Jews must die,” and proceeded to kill 11 worshippers, injuring another 6.
On Valentine’s Day this year, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 students and teachers. Cruz was described by the media as expressing “far-right, anti-Semitic, homophobic and xenophobic views in a private Instagram group chat.”
Next investigators found “white supremacist material” in the bedroom of 28-year-old Benjamin Morrow, who was killed while assembling a bomb at his Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, apartment on March 5, 2018. One gallon of acetone was discovered in his room.
On October 26, 2018, 56-year-old Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr., who worked as a pizza delivery driver and lived in a van plastered with pro-Trump decals, was arrested for sending at least 13 bombs via postal mail to prominent Democrats, liberal figures, and the cable news outlet CNN.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Sayoc’s online activity across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube over several years reveal a descent into hyper-partisan and conspiratorial thinking, posting stories from far-right websites like Infowars and Breitbart and sharing photos of himself at Trump rallies. Sayoc had a criminal history including fraud, larceny, and a 2002 charge for making a bomb threat against a Florida-based utility company.”
Following these incidents, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an international Jewish non-governmental organisation based in the United States, warned of: “the serious threat of terror from right-wing extremist groups and individuals.”
The Brookings Institution recently published a book by Thomas J. Main, a professor at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, City University of New York. In the book, The Rise of the Alt-Right, Professor Main says: “The alt-right is far more radical and dangerous than the right-wing extremism of past decades. For it is the underlying ideology of the alt-right, rather than its controversial policy positions, that merits concern.” Main continues, “Alt-Rightism is, in essence, a political ideology rather than a movement, constituency, or interest group opposed to free markets, neoliberalism, democracy, and egalitarianism.”
This assertion is validated by several alt-right publications as well. Extreme white nationalist sites like Counter Current and alt-right talk about “metapolitics,” a concept first coined by Alain de Benoist and Guillaume Faye. It is critical for these groups to change the way people think.
French philosopher Alain de Benoist, leader of the metapolitical school of thought and mind behind the ‘European New Right,’ is frequently quoted by the American alt-right. He has written more than 50 books, including, The Problem of Democracy and Beyond Human Rights. French journalist and writer Guillaume Faye is also a rage among the American extremists. His books Archeofuturism: European Visions of the Post-catastrophic Age; Why We Fight: A Manifesto of the European Resistance; and Convergence of Catastrophes are top-rated among the alt-right.
However, unlike Europeans, the American far-right girdle religious ideology and fundamentalist interpretations of holy texts as justification for far-right extremism. For example, Aryan nations promote the idea of racial superiority through the lens of the sacred text. The group states, “God’s creation of Adam marked the placing of the White Race upon this earth. Not all races descend from Adam. Adam is the father of the White Race only… We believe that the true, literal children of the Bible are the twelve tribes of Israel, now scattered throughout the world and now known as the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Teutonic, Scandinavian, Celtic peoples.”
Investigative journalist David Neiwert, whose book, Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right, says that the ideology of the alt-right is mostly similar to that propagated by the Ku Klux Klan of the past, but agrees with Main that the new radical right-wing groups have benefited from the internet and social media.
Professor Main claims that “this new strain of reactionary thought goes beyond the garden-variety racial prejudice of yore — which certainly was bad enough — to a root-and-branch rejection of American political principles. The alt-right is a form of radical Gnosticism as fundamental in its rejection of the American democratic tradition as the Communist Party line of the 1930s and the most fevered effusions of New Left radicalism of the 1960s were.”
Arie Perliger, Associate Professor at the Department of Social Sciences, US Military Academy at West Point, has a different perspective. In his publication Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right, he concludes that “ideology and behaviour are linked and nurture each other in the organisational frameworks of the American violent far-right.”