Far-Right Violence in America

If you’re an American and you’ve got some time, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has released a report titled Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right, which is useful for defining many of the key terms used by watchers of the far-right and for giving some of the history of the movements.

The media coverage, from sources like The Washington Times, are filled with scare quotes and misleading quotations. Nothing to really give a sense of the actual findings of the paper. For example, one article claims, “The report says there were 350 “attacks initiated by far-right groups/individuals” in 2011. Details about what makes an attack a “far right” action are not clear in the report …”

Since the report spends its opening chapters talking about what defines the far-right, this seems deliberately obtuse. Consider this section:

If there is one ideological doctrine about which there is almost full consensus regarding its importance for understanding the far-right worldview, it is that of nationalism. [...] In the context of the far-right worldview, nationalism takes an extreme form of full convergence between one polity or territory and one ethnic or national collective.

In other words, the far-right believes that there is a quality that we could call “American-ness” (as opposed to “French-ness” or “Mexican-ness”). This quality is shared by all true members of the country. In most cases, there is a certain race, religion and/or set of ideals that are attached to the quality of “American-ness”.

By extension, all people who do not have the quality of “American-ness,” perhaps by having the misfortune of being the wrong color or creed, cannot be considered true Americans. At best, they can be a minority tolerated by the true Americans, and expected to remember their place.

If the authors of the reports had wanted to be more inflammatory, they could have used the word “fascist” or “proto-fascist” and gotten at the same meaning.

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