June 23, 2019


Politics Shape The Debate Over What To Call Far-Right Extremism (Hannah Allam, 6/23/19, NPR)

In the back of a nondescript building at the University of Maryland, a team of researchers combs through the files of homegrown extremists who have plotted attacks in the name of far-right causes.

In each case, researchers are hunting for the motivation, the ideology, that inspired the violence. That means digging into the many elements that make up the far right, as researcher Michael Jensen explained on a recent afternoon.

"White supremacist, white nationalist, white extremist, sovereign citizen, anti-government, Patriot [movement], neo-Nazis, skinhead. What else?" Jensen asked two of his colleagues, Elizabeth Yates and Patrick James.

"I've seen 'anti-federalist' recently," Yates said.

"We also deal with a lot of just specifically anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant," James added. "Kind of xenophobic cases."

That list, rattled off on the spot, is nowhere near exhaustive, but it shows the complexities of trying to better understand far-right violence, which federal authorities say is the deadliest and most active form of domestic extremism. The labels the researchers use to code attacks are part of a wider debate over what to call the far-right threat -- and how politics plays into that debate.

The analysis produced by the university's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START Center for short, gets picked up by policymakers, academics and journalists. So, the research team says, the more precise the wording, the better, when it comes to helping public understanding of an evolving threat that defies simple labels.

"It's difficult to put people in these neat buckets and say there's the white supremacist over there and there's the anti-government ones over there," Jensen said. "It doesn't work that neatly."

But while academic researchers are pushing for more precision in describing white nationalism and other far-right extremism, the Trump administration seems to be moving in the opposite direction, with some officials adopting more generic terms such as "ethno-violence" or "racially motivated extremism." Unless they're being questioned by Congress, security officials rarely mention "white nationalist" or "white supremacist" violence. Those terms are missing from federal agencies' websites, too.

"I'm appalled that the leadership, at least some people, feel that they can't use those terms," said Mary McCord, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw terrorism-related cases at the Justice Department. "These acts of violence we've seen recently -- Tree of Life synagogue [in Pittsburgh], the recent events in California, international events like in Christchurch in New Zealand. I mean, these are white supremacists."

It's perfectly reasonable to object to using the term "white" in the definition for the same reason as you don't use "Islamic."  The moonbats ought not get to co-opt the rest of their cohort.  

Posted by at June 23, 2019 7:47 AM