When thinking of terrorism and threats to national security, it’s common to believe the main source comes from foreign members of radical islamic groups as opposed to homegrown white supremasists. However, from 2009 to 2018 alone, far-right extremists and white supremacists have been responsible for 73% of terrorist related fatalities1. Since 9/11, white extremists have been carrying out terrorist attacks at a rate of almost triple of their foreign counterparts1. Post 9/11 culture has painted terrorists and extremists to be exclusively middle eastern at the expense of exonerating any that don't fit that description.
Turning a blind eye to white terrorism has led to the rise of alt-right groups as the most significant terrorist threat to Americans. Their success rate is at an all time high. In 2018 right wing extremists murdered 49 people, which has been the highest death toll since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing1. Minimizing the threat of alt-right terrorism has enabled them to fly under the enforcement radar, empowering them to carry out lethal attacks with relatively high success rates. Their success can also be attributed to a lack of censorship, and their strategic use of weaponized communication.
The threat of alt-right terrorism has ironically been minimized even though alt-right extremists have killed many more people than Jihadi extremists since 9/112. The threat of alt-right extremism is so minimized that millions of Americans are emboldened to actively voice hateful speech and eliminationist rhetoric on social media, and even radio talk shows3.
ISIS related content on the other hand, seems to be kept pretty in check by government and social media organizations and is not seen to pose a significant threat4. The majority of searches and discussion on ISIS related content in Youtube and Twitter proves to be extremely negative with the majority rejecting their message4. While ISIS content is subject to increased monitoring, content deletion account suspension and largely subsumed by a significant amount of anti isis tweets, white extremist content is not4.
In fact, white supremacist related content is at an all time high while the FBI claims to not have the resources to "distinguish between those who talk and those who act"5. Even worse, the algorithms used by social media have actively circulated and amplified white backlash which the alt-right has exploited in order to promote extreme viewpoints, making them more tolerable within public discourse3. Their success can partially be attributed to their skillful use of weaponized communication (among other tactics).
Weaponized communication is defined as "the strategic use of communication as an instrumental tool and as an aggressive means to gain compliance and avoid accountability"6. Weaponized communication is a form of violence because it forces compliance through manipulation and is typically used to avoid accountability6. It is especially dangerous because of the way it manipulates people into blindly following.
White supremacist groups have various manipulation tactics in which they use communication as a weapon. First, they victimize whiteness and construct it as a constant state of oppression3. This is an aggressively manipulative tactic for two reasons: one, it channels the very powerful emotions of fear, anger and frustration of individual misfortunes and attributes it to whiteness. This collective grievance is exploited to foster echo chambers in online communities where the anger is directed at minority and POC communities3. The alt-right furthers their emotional manupulation by using irony, memes, and videos to encourage participation in white supremacist rhetoric. The alt-right is dangerously effective in encouraging users to disregard political correctness3. Encouraging hate speech in an ironic or funny manner slowly opens the door for more radical ideas to seep in. Hate speech is rarely harmless, especially when it becomes a global call to action for terrorist acts.
Not only is the point of entry for radicalization less narrow due to weaponized communication, internet platforms also make it easier for alt-right members to connect worldwide7. Since 2011, ⅓ of white extremist attacks claimed to be copycats, inspired by prior terrors incited by other white extremists7. Alt-right members use online platforms to write their manifestos and encourage others to enact violence. The increase of alt-right terrorist attacks is paralleled with the rise of hate crimes against minorities, which are occurring more often7.
The type of terrorism we should all be concerned about is unfortunately not the kind with the spotlight. The U.S. has exaggerated the threat of foreign and non-white attackers while white citizens appear to be absolved from perpetuating the same brand of terrorism western culture seems to be emphatically against. Alt-right ideologies are especially harmful to democracies due to their use of weaponized communication to create a strong following while actively promoting terrorism. Instead of counter-acting their messages, various social medias amplify their online reach while the FBI practically ignores it. It is time for our society to focus on the insidious ideologies that pose an immediate and dire threat to our livelihood.
Bergengruen, V., & Hennigan, W. J. (2019, August 8). America's lost battle against White Nationalist terrorism. Time. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://time.com/ 5647304/white-nationalist-terrorism-united-states/.
Walters, J., & Chang, A. (2021, September 8). Far-right terror poses bigger threat to us than Islamist extremism post-9/11. The Guardian. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/sep/08/post-911-domestic-terror.
Ganesh, B. (2020). Weaponizing white thymos: Flows of rage in the online audiences of the alt-right. Cultural Studies, 34(6), 892–924. Retrieved November 2 from https://www.tandfonline .com /doi/full/10.1080/09502386.2020.1714687
Siegel, A. A., & Tucker, J. A. (2017). The Islamic State’s information warfare. Journal of Language and Politics, 17(2), 258–280. https://doi.org/10.1075/jlp.17005.sie
Reitman, J. (2018, November 3). U.S. law enforcement failed to see the threat of white nationalism. now they don't know how to stop it. The New York Times. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/03/magazine/ FBI-charlottesville-white-nationalism-far-right.html.
Mercieca, J. R. (2019). Dangerous demagogues and weaponized communication. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 49(3), 264–279.https://doi.org/10.1080/02773945.2019.1610640
Cai, W., & Landon, S. (2019, April 3). Attacks by white extremists are growing. so are their connections. The New York Times. Retrieved November 2, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/03/world/white-extremist-terrorism-christchurch.html