Right-wing extremists (RWEs) are using the current protests over police brutality in the United States as a cover to commit terroristic acts and to grow their numbers. They present a significant danger to public safety and security and are a growing threat in the West. Despite this, the rise of right-wing extremism (a homogenized term for white ethnonationalists, alt-rights, white supremacist groups, male supremacist groups, and right-wing anti-government extremists) has not been afforded the priority and attention it justly deserves. There are three reasons for this. First, the global narrative maintains that terrorism rests almost exclusively in the hands of a balaclava-clad Salafi-jihadist holding a Kalashnikov. Second, Western right-wing media has largely pushed back against covering the rise of right-wing extremism and the media as a whole has failed to contextualize the systematic threat RWEs present. Third, the global pandemic has forced governments to focus their attention on maintaining public health and socioeconomic order and have consequently failed to see how RWEs are subversively using the pandemic to support and expand their own agenda.
RWEs have utilized the lawless and unmoderated internet to reach broader audiences, disseminate literature, and target vulnerable people. They have done so quietly, pushing an ideological campaign that manifests itself under the surface of popular internet discourse, rather than the aggressive proselytizing of Salafi-jihadist groups like the Islamic State. These efforts can be understood as a kind of subversive exposure, where memes and fake news dominate discourse. This paper will analyse the scope of the RWE threat, describe their latest modus operandi, and explore how the pandemic is being instrumentalized by such groups and how the internet has become their principal tool and battleground. The paper will then provide theory and evidence for how counter-narrative programs, especially through digital disruption, can help neutralise the threat.
Photo: Anthony Crider