Growing Extremism on the Right

March 8th, 2010

By Tom Carter

A Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Intelligence Report published recently presents a chilling assessment of the growth of right-wing extremism in the past year.

Americans justifiably worry about the threat of radical Islamic terrorism, but we often forget the ongoing threat of terrorist violence from home-grown extremists.  Thinking back over the last half-century or so, there have been more terrorist attacks of that kind than any other in the U.S., although with 9/11 in the equation the number of deaths from violence perpetrated by radical Islamic terrorists is higher.

Most Americans remember the horror of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, including the 19 little children who died, most of them in the destroyed day care center of the Murrah Federal Building.  The bombing — the second-most deadly terrorist attack on U.S. soil — was the work of Timothy McVeigh, a right-wing extremist:

McVeigh’s life darkened in the year following his discharge [from the Army]. By the end of 1991, McVeigh was living with his father again in upstate New York, near Buffalo, and working for near minimum wage as a security guard. He fought through bouts of serious depression and thoughts of suicide. Politically, he moved further and further from the mainstream. He began espousing increasingly angry views of U. S. foreign policy, gun control, and what he believed were conspiracies involving the United Nations. In a March 1992 letter to the Lockport Union-Sun, McVeigh wrote, “AMERICA IS IN DECLINE….Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system?” According to McVeigh, he first began thinking of violent action against the federal government in August 1992 following news of a federal government shoot-out with survivalist Randy Weaver in the Idaho woods.

Is every right-wing extremist a potential terrorist?  Of course not.  Believing in outlandish conspiracy theories, living in fear of a socialist takeover and the destruction of America, dreading the day when black helicopters of the forces of the New World Order appear on the horizon, stocking up on arms and ammunition to fight off an imagined tyrannical government, and other irrational thinking and speaking doesn’t mean that a person is going to blow something up or start shooting people.  But these are indicators, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly.

From the SPLC report:

The radical right caught fire last year, as broad-based populist anger at political, demographic and economic changes in America ignited an explosion of new extremist groups and activism across the nation.

Hate groups stayed at record levels — almost 1,000 — despite the total collapse of the second largest neo-Nazi group in America. Furious anti-immigrant vigilante groups soared by nearly 80%, adding some 136 new groups during 2009. And, most remarkably of all, so-called “Patriot” groups — militias and other organizations that see the federal government as part of a plot to impose “one-world government” on liberty-loving Americans — came roaring back after years out of the limelight.

The anger seething across the American political landscape — over racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the relatively liberal Obama Administration that are seen as “socialist” or even “fascist” — goes beyond the radical right. The “tea parties” and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories and racism. … 

Last year also experienced levels of cross-pollination between different sectors of the radical right not seen in years. Nativist activists increasingly adopted the ideas of the Patriots; racist rants against Obama and others coursed through the Patriot movement; and conspiracy theories involving the government appeared in all kinds of right-wing venues. A good example is the upcoming Second Amendment March in Washington, D.C. The website promoting the march is topped by a picture of a colonial militiaman, and key supporters include Larry Pratt, a long-time militia enthusiast with connections to white supremacists, and Richard Mack, a conspiracy-mongering former sheriff associated with the Patriot group Oath Keepers.

What may be most noteworthy about the march, however, is its date — April 19. That is the date of the first shots fired at Lexington in the Revolutionary War. And it is also the anniversary of the fiery end of the government siege in Waco and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

As April 19 approaches, it’s a good idea to stay away from federal buildings, IRS offices, abortion clinics, and other venues that might excite the imaginations of these people.  And you might want to keep an eye your quirky gun-nut neighbor with the confederate flag in the back window of his pick-up truck.

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7 Responses to “Growing Extremism on the Right”

  1. larry |

    This outfit has been issuing negative reports about the right ever since Morris Dees started it. According to many, Dees and his SPLC have a few skeletons in their collective and corporate closets that the liberal press has ignored for years.
    Your last paragraph sums up your opinion. Your using a very broad brush with your statements. That you say such things is disappointing and its also untrue.

  2. Brian Bagent |

    Morris Dees should not be taken at face value because he is as duplicitous as they come. I am actually stunned that you would cite him as a source for anything other than pure leftist moonbattery, how to seduce 16 year old step daughters, or how to punch your wife in the face, breaking her jaw, and getting away with it. The only difference between Dees and Josef Goebbels is that Dees, quite fortunately, didn’t have a Hitler to follow into power.

    You overlook all of the leftist, terrorist kooks out there, some of whom are close to the president – Bill Ayers just to name one. Remember Ted Kaczynski? He had a copy of “Earth in the Balance” in his “library.” How many loggers have lost their lives, limbs, or were otherwise injured because of leftist kooks spiking trees in the Pacific northwest? Don’t be a “scab” because some leftist, terrorist, union goon is going to knee-cap you for breaking the picket line.

  3. Tom |

    Actually, Larry, the SPLC is a pretty effective organization. It came out of the civil rights movement, and one of it’s principle purposes is, as they state:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center monitors hate groups and racial extremists throughout the United States and exposes their activities to law enforcement agencies, the media and the public. … We’ve crippled some of the country’s most notorious hate groups by suing them for murders and other violent acts committed by their members.

    Currently, there are 926 known hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.

    What kind of group on that list would you rush to defend?

    When you focus on these kinds of groups and the crimes they commit, you’re frequently looking way out on the right end of the political spectrum. You can be as indignant as you like, but that’s the reality.

    “According to many” they have “a few skeletons.” Can you provide at least one reputable source to substantiate that claim? And since you said “many,” several reputable sources would be more appropriate.

    The last paragraph doesn’t sum up my opinion. If I had intended for it to do that, I would have said so. The first sentence says that April 19 is a key date — which is true. It also names a few previous targets of right-wing extremists — again true. The second sentence is mild humor; I’ve already said explicitly in the article that being a right-wing extremist doesn’t mean that one will resort to violence, although a few of them do, which is as true a statement as was ever made.

    By the way, in case you’re interested, here’s an interactive map showing hate groups in Tennessee. Click on each symbol, and the group is identified.

  4. Tom |

    Brian, as I asked Larry, do you have reputable sources on Morris Dees? And comparing him to Goebbels? Don’t you think that’s way over the top?

    I would also point out that SPLC is an organization, not just one person. Beyond that, I can’t resist asking what Dees’ (or Glenn Beck’s or anyone’s) past misdeeds have to do with what they may think or do now, in terms of the truth?

    Why isn’t it possible to discuss right-wing extremists without it being implied, at the least, that you’re somehow more tolerant of or less critical of left-wing extremists? My opinion of those on the left — some of which, by the way, attract the attention of SPLC — is just as negative as my opinion of those on the right. I’ve made that clear over and over again, and I’m sure you’ve read the articles. Here’s one and here’s another and another and another.

    In the article at the last link, I wrote:

    Extremists of the far left and the far right share a certainty that the American political system is broken, and they’re convinced that those who disagree with them are not only completely wrong but determined to destroy the country.

    Extremists see those they oppose as evil beyond redemption. They also share destructive agendas, often expressed in the view that the existing political order, or subsets of it, must be destroyed and re-built.

    Extremists also believe in absurd conspiracy theories with a certainty that makes most of their fellow citizens uncomfortable.

  5. Jane Thomas |


    As the archivist for the Oklahoma City bombing, I have done extensive research on the extremist groups in the US. It is important to understand that an extremist group is not necessarily a terrorist group, although they are the possible launch pad for terrorists/terrorist groups. Randy Weaver was an extremist, although he committed no acts of terror. The Aryan Nation included many members who were extremist in their beliefs and who sought separation from the general population, but only a few of them committed acts of violence. They initially spawned Robert Mathews and Das Bruder Schweigen and they may have influenced Timothy McVeigh. The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord collaborated with both Robert Mathews and Elohim City in Oklahoma, which may also have influenced Timothy McVeigh. Eric Rudolph was Christian Identity, a form of Christianity that is so skewed that it is generally not recognized by any of the mainstream Christian religions. Skinheads tend to be involved in violence directed toward minority groups. And, in our prison systems, virtually all ethnic groups have extremist bodies that serve as a means of both bullying and protecting. Still, most extremist/militia groups just desire to live their lives by their own codes, promote methods for avoiding enforcement of various national or state laws (such as how to avoid paying taxes), are money making scams (print counterfeit money or sell videos and cds containing extremist philosophy), or just participate in warrior week-ends to inflate the ego.

    After the Oklahoma City bombing, law enforcement agencies recognized the need to open communication with the various types of extremist groups in the US and successfully defused much of the hostility the groups harbored. Those who were in violation of the law were often prosecuted and incarcerated. Holding extreme views, as long as they are not acted upon to cause harm to others is not prohibited under our nation’s laws and beliefs. Such organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Anti-defamation League (ADL) help in identifying and monitoring these groups and both work closely with the law enforcement agencies. Almost every state in the US has a Joint Terrorism Task Force that is very knowledgeable about the extremist groups (both left and right) in their state and has a pretty good handle on how to interact with them.

    We know that extremist groups are currently on the rise in number. Anytime there is unrest in the country, we see a growth in extremist groups. That does not mean there will be any growth in extremist activity vis-à-vis the general public. The Southern Poverty Law Center always issues an annual report identifying those groups that they would classify as extremist. The report is valuable information for law enforcement agencies as an alert mechanism, nothing more. It is not any cause for alarm by the general public, nor is it intended to imply that there is any imminent action in the wings.

    A word about SPLC, it has a research wing and an action wing. The research wing only provides information. The action wing has actually performed some valuable work in the area of controlling such groups as the Aryan Nation that seemed to be a pool that encouraged units to commit violence. There is a need to weigh the influence that words produced by extremist groups (even though a group itself may not commit violence) can have on members who might be likely to take it to the next level. There was much debate around the time of the Oklahoma City bombing as to the role of incitement.

    Thanks to enlightened training for our law enforcement officers, we are in better hands than we were in 1995. And, thanks to groups such as SPLC and ADL, they are better informed.


  6. Brian Bagent |

    I googled “SPLC lies.”

    Here’s a quick link to one of them.

    Don’t expect MSM to report on any of this stuff. I don’t see any grand conspiracy, just people of like mind sticking together.

  7. Tom |

    Jane, thanks for your expert input. It’s absolutely true that extremist groups (left or right) have every right to associate, gather, write, speak, and disseminate their ideas (assuming they don’t incite violence). I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s also true that demented people who blow up buildings and kill people in the belief that they’re furthering their extremist views gravitate to extremist groups, either as members or fellow travelers. The growth of the number of these groups and their level of activity isn’t a good indicator. I also agree that SPLC and ADL do good work.

    Brian, the website you linked to isn’t an objective source, in my view. The linked article also focuses on just one controversy. There are many other websites on SPLC. The Wikipedia article seems fairly balanced and objective. SPLC has, in fact, listed FAIR as a hate group. You can read their detailed report on FAIR here.

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