Because of the recent July 2011 attack in Norway, right-wing terrorism is once again brought to the forefront of international media attention. This type of terrorism has been around for well over a century in the form of racist groups such as the Klu-Klux-Klan, however it is only relatively recently that this ideology has begun to motivate attacks that have led to significant casualties. Groups and individuals within these movements rarely carry out large-scale attacks and most are content to grumble at rallies or in online chat rooms about their grievances against the multicultural liberal societies in which they live. However, as the 2011 attack in Norway has been a grim reminder, there are members of these movements who are both willing and capable of carrying out violent attacks on a large scale.
History of Right-Wing Terrorism
Right-wing extremist groups have been around for a long time. The Klu-Klux-Klan was formed near the end of the Civil War and has persisted, in varying degrees, to this day. Neo-Nazi, fascist, and ‘skinhead’ groups have also been in existence since soon after WWII, spawning numerous offshoots and sister organizations.
However, it was not until 1980 that such right-wing violence began to be seriously characterized as terrorism. It was then on August 2nd that explosions ripped though a Bologna, Italy railway station, killing 84 and injuring an additional 180 people. Less than a month later on September 26th another bombing occurred at Munich, Germany’s Oktoberfest, killing another 11 people and injuring 200. Finally in that same year on October 3rd a bomb went off in front of a synagogue in Paris, France killing four and injuring fourteen. All of these attacks were carried out by different neo-Fascist terrorist organizations indigenous to the countries that they perpetrated the attacks in. While in the aftermath of these attacks many European governments feared further bombings, violence on a similar scale never materialized.
Fifteen years later on April 19th, 1995 right-wing terrorism was again responsible for another major attack. It was on that morning that Timothy McVeigh parked a truck full of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, fashioned into a bomb, in font of a government building in Oklahoma City and detonated it. The resulting explosion collapsed nearly an entire side of the nine-story building and killed 168 people. What largely seemed to motivate him was a fear of the government revoking Second Amendment rights to firearms, which only intensified after the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas – a 50 day government siege of the Branch Davidian religious compound after allegations of stockpiling firearms – (during which McVeigh traveled to Waco and sold bumper stickers expressing support for the Branch Davidians). It was the tragic results of this standoff that seemed to be the catalyst for McVeigh’s violent actions. Indeed it was the FBI and ATF’s handling of the Branch Davidian incident that caused McVeigh to target the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which housed offices from both agencies.
Finally there are the recent 2011 attacks in Norway, perpetrated by Norwegian Anders Breivik. On July 22nd, 2011 Breivik bombed a government building home to the offices of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and other prominent members of the left-wing Labour Party in Oslo, Norway’s capitol. The attacker then traveled to a nearby island that was host to a camp for young members also of the ruling left-wing party. Once there he proceeded to kill the campers using an automatic rifle and a pistol. In all, his attack killed 87 people that day before he surrendered to authorities and was arrested. The goal of his attacks was made apparent by a manifesto and power point presentation he made before carrying them out. Breivik saw liberal European governments as being infiltrated by people he referred to as Marxists and ‘multiculturalists’. Because of them, Breivik perceived European culture and Christendom as being threatened by Muslim immigration. Therefore he believed that his actions would be a call to arms for other Christians and immigration opponents to rise up and oppose liberal governments and their immigration policies around Europe.
Tactics and Targets of Right-Wing Terrorism
Right wing terrorism is characterized by attacks aimed at liberal-democratic governments and minority groups within them. Groups and individuals within these movements carry out attacks that are generally aimed at two kinds of targets. First many try and achieve some sort of political or social change involving the expulsion or degradation of immigrants and minorities in order to preserve a perceived cultural, racial, or social order. This was the case with all the groups that carried out the European bombings in 1980 and the attacks by Anders Breivik. The groups that perpetrated the Italian, German, and French bombings were neo-Nazi organizations aiming to discourage immigration to their countries or intimidate Jews living within them. Breivik saw liberal governments as allowing Muslim immigration to destroy western European religion and culture, and therefore attacked a government building and a left leaning political party’s youth camp.
Second, they employ terrorism to combat liberal governments that they see as following undesirable liberal policies or infringing upon their perceived rights as a citizen. While the full motivations were hard to glean from his convoluted political views, Timothy McVeigh mostly fell into this category. He thought the United States was in decline and that the government was to blame. He also greatly feared having his right to firearms being taken away, hence his disgust at the government’s treatment of the Branch Davidians, which eventually led to his desire to attack a government target in the hopes of catalyzing some sort of change.
As can be seen from the history, the most deadly right wing terror attacks utilize explosives in the form of improvised bombs and, in some cases, small arms. However, looking at only the major attacks belies the whole story. Dozens of attacks or attempted attacks occur every year but are minor enough to be left out of most mainstream news media reports. A list of dozens of attacks and plots since July 1995 has been compiled recently by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The attacks listed range from militia members and affiliates setting fire to IRS buildings in protest of tax codes to the attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Junior Day parade by neo-Nazis. The full list can be found at SPLCenter.org. This illustrates that while major attacks are the biggest threat from right-wing terrorism, smaller attacks occur with shocking frequency and therefore need to be taken into account as well.
While the small to medium sized attacks are important to address, it is the acts of major violence that are truly concerning, particularly since the perpetrators in a large portion of the events have been individuals and not groups or organizations. One or two men working without any other outside help have carried out the two deadliest right-wing terrorist attacks in the last twenty years. Anders Breivik claims that he was in contact with other ‘cells’ but so far no evidence has come to light to confirm that claim. It looks much more plausible that he acted as a “lone wolf”, in the same way that McVeigh and his accomplice did. This is particularly disturbing in that such lone attackers are extremely difficult to identify and stop before they act. Therefore, these right-wing “lone wolfs” pose the largest danger.
How to Respond to Right-Wing Terrorism
The best policy responses to combat right-wing terrorism are similar to those of other forms of domestic terrorism. Traditional policing and investigating go a long way in dealing with groups that attract extremist elements. Monitoring organizations that have a history or reputation for violence, such as the KKK or neo-Fascists, and then investigating those that may be making plans to carry out attacks reduce the chances of those groups successfully carrying out violent plans.
Individuals are much harder to detect and therefore harder to stop. Promoting vigilance on the part of the general population can help counterterrorist officials to spot an attack before it happens. As the analysis think tank, Startfor, has stated in some of its work on the subject, federal agencies like the FBI alone are not well enough staffed to notice every sign of a potential terrorist plotting an attack. It is therefore up to local police and, even more importantly, citizens to be on the watch for such activities.
It is also important to regulate the kinds of materials that terrorist can use in attacks. Both the Oklahoma City Bombing and Oslo attacks utilized bombs fashioned from ammonium nitrate fertilizer (which is commonly used by farmers and landscapers). It is for this reason that the current U.S. administration has recently undertaken steps to regulate the sale of large quantities of ammonium nitrate. As well, Breivik used “dum-dum” bullets in his attack on the summer camp. These bullets are designed to break apart inside the body and cause massive internal damage. Large quantities of this sort of ammunition should also be regulated to prevent future tragedies.
Looking forward, it is critical to note that anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise in many European countries. Even though some governments have responded to the anti-immigrant atmosphere by adopting more conservative policies, these opinions are still causes for concern. If radicals who share the views of Breivik feel that change has not occurred fast enough or to their liking, more acts of violence may follow. This changing landscape in the West will need to be monitored in order to prevent future tragedies.
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