Looking Clearly at Right-Wing Terrorism

Charles P. Blair is a Washington, D.C.-based university instructor, researcher, writer, and thinker specializing in terrorism and the history, technical underpinnings, and potential futures of Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is the director for two courses in the Summer Program in International Security: 21st Century Terrorism: Emerging Trends and Evolving Tactics which runs July 14-16 and Terrorism Analysis: Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methodologies and Tools which runs July 17-18.

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By Charles P. Blair

Five years ago the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division released an assessment of US far-right extremism. Initially intended for law enforcement and intelligence agencies only, the report—“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”—was almost immediately leaked. The report warned that small cells practicing “leaderless resistance” and “white supremacist lone wolves [posed] the most significant domestic terrorist threat.” Significantly, it highlighted the likelihood of expanded attempts by far-right extremists “to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” Overall, the report warned of trends similar to “the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence.” That far-right extremist rally reached a violent crescendo with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

Reflecting on the past five years, a leading far-right extremism expert I recently interviewed described the homeland security report as “prophetic.” Mark Pitcavage, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of investigative research, explained that most of the warnings in the 2009 report have become realities. Yet at the time of its release, the document was derided by many inside and outside of government as “ridiculous [and] deeply offensive,” an “inconceivable” assault on US veterans, and, in general, “a piece of crap.” …

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