Is The Far-Right’s Praise Of The Taliban Indicative Of Something Bigger?

As the Taliban took over Afghanistan, elements of the far-right in America cheered. It's one example of a number of recent cross-ideological terrorist activities between right-wing extremists and Islamist extremists.
Taliban Humvee in Kabul – August 17, 2021. (Voice of America News, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Taliban Humvee in Kabul – August 17, 2021. (Voice of America News, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Krystel von Kumberg graduated from Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program (M.A.) in May 2020 and is currently pursuing a Master’s in International, Global and Comparative History. She specializes in the roles of non-state actors; militarized social movements, terrorists, and militias in Europe, Russia, and the Middle East. Her research focuses on transnational terrorism, recruitment methods, and radicalization.

In the September/October 2021 issue of Foreign Affairs, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), argues that in the wake of 9/11, the rise of violent jihadism and the consequent War on Terror inflamed today’s rise of far-right extremism. As seen from this angle, the fame that derived from the violent Jihad label propagated in the 21st century accentuated the far-right’s fears and boosted their appeal. However, it is important to note that connections between far-right extremism and Militant Islamism are not new, and in some cases, individuals espousing the former have actually pivoted towards embracing the latter.

Radical ideologies can and do inevitably interconnect historically; the far-right’s fascination with radical forms of Islam is not a new phenomenon and while it may have been accentuated by militant Islamists’ fame, we cannot overlook these movements deep historic roots and how historical fragments, real or imagined, intersect to inspire elements of the far-right today.

At first glance, it would seem that neo-Nazis and militant Islamists cannot share an ideological standpoint because of the idiosyncratic “in-group” dynamics at play. David Myatt, head of a neo-Nazi gang who converted to Islam recognized the irony of his conversion— “these were the people who I had been fighting on the streets, I had sworn…at and had used violence against.” However, when faced with a greater threat, the lesser enemy became an ally—Myatt did not believe that his movement was well-equipped, motivated or strong enough to quell the Zionist Occupation Government, so he looked towards a more successful movement which shared the same scapegoat.

Finding similar goals has enabled the movements to overlook their different religious and cultural identities—they both oppose modernity, democracy, globalization and US Foreign Policy in the Middle East. Both are critical of America’s support to Israel and motivated by support for the Palestinian cause. This closeness in exemplified by the neo-nazis positive response, specifically from American neo-nazi, David Duke, to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, when he weaved worldwide condemnation dismissing the Holocaust as a “myth.”

Most recently, elements of the far-right have yet again reflected their admiration and desire to emulate the successes of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Just like after Al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11, the far-right today perceives the radical Islamists as heroes that they can aspire to reincarnate into. It is also important to note that this phenomenon is not just relegated to extremist groups, but has spilled over into mainstream politics. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) called the Taliban “more legitimate” than the Biden Administration and former President Trump has praised the Taliban on multiple occasions. Elements of the far-right are inspired by the successes of radical Islamist groups overseas and want to learn important lessons from their success.

Borgeson and Valeri demonstrate that Aryan Nations has tried to form an alliance with followers of Islamic Jihad and examines how a shared hatred of Jews provides a basis for such an alliance. While some members of Aryan Nations believe that their organization and its members should preserve Christian Identity, others argue that radical Muslims, who share Aryan Nations’ goal of defeating Jews, should be allowed to join.

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Hitler’s inner circle criticized Christianity’s feebleness and admired the Islamic ‘warrior religion.’ Similarly, the Christian Identity movement today sees their followers as lacking because the “fervor” that radical Muslims possess is missing, as Martyrdom is not present. The ummah of believers, the strength of the brotherhood is something they want their “race” to have. Indeed, a group with bases in the US and Bosnian origins, affiliated with militant Islamism, posted images on telegrams that call supporters to kill Jews blending ideas from both ideational standpoints synchronously to incite hatred and violence. The group posted an image of Josef Mengele, the Nazi physician known for his deadly experiments on Jewish prisoners, praising him as a “hero.” Another post exhorted readers to emulate Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, and New Zealand mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant, highlighting the blending of different extremist solutions to foment hatred and violence.

In general, extremists and terrorists are propagandists; they need to incite people to take action and the simplest way to do this is to shock and inspire individuals by building a picturesque narrative that will draw people into sharing their worldview. Islamist extremist groups like ISIS gained so much traction because they used effective propaganda tools and tech-savvy individuals to disseminate their clear-cut, black and white ideology to a large audience; in other words they became great at hijacking people’s minds, which was greatly facilitated by the online realm.

The far-right has picked up on some of these strategies, in particular, it has borrowed terminology from militant Islamist groups. For example, the concept of “White Sharia” was formally introduced in 2017 by white supremacist, Andrew Anglin. Perceived declining white demographics and globalization has made elements of the far-right turn towards what they perceive as Islamist doctrine and can even encourage followers to convert to Islam to save the white race. The ways far-right extremists borrow ideas from radical Islamists, highlight the ways movements stemming from opposing contexts can borrow ideas, learn from each other and in some cases even blend together.

Today, the loosely networked militant movements that are globally on the rise have the freedom to escape conventional wisdom, as the rigid, ideologically firm, hierarchical pyramid-like leadership structures of the past have dissolved and proven to be short-lived. Not only have hierarchical networks evolved, but the ideological spectrum of violent belief-systems have expanded.

A number of individuals have actually been meandering, between a variety of ideological standpoints, such as extremist members of far-right converting to Islam and espousing radical Islamist beliefs. This makes it much more difficult to track extremists, as there is not one simple route people will take to form an extremist mindset. Consequently, it is more challenging to pinpoint appropriate grievances, establish counter-narratives and craft a sound counterterrorism response.

Policy and scholarly worlds do not openly discuss the convergence of different ideational standpoints. The ways we combat extremism have to be thought of differently, as how we visualize the spectrum of extremist belief-systems affect our national security discourse.

This article is brought to you by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). Through their research, CARR intends to lead discussions on the development of radical right extremism around the world. Rantt has been partnered with CARR for 3 years. We’ve published over 150 articles from CARR’s network of PhDs, historians, professors, and experts analyzing extremism and combating disinformation.

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