The Multifaceted Threats Of The Radical Right
Dr. Alan Waring is a retired risk analyst and former Visiting Professor, now Adjunct Professor, at CERIDES (Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences) at the European University Cyprus.
In a recent Safety Science article, George Boustras and I identify five main non-mutually exclusive and often overlapping ‘security’ categories:
- Political, economic and military threats: enemy states, armed conflict, revolution, insurgency, cyber-attacks, attacks on infrastructure/public utilities/institutions.
- Terrorism and radicalization: CBRN attacks, armed attacks, sabotage, bombs, lone actors, cyber-attacks, attacks on infrastructure/public utilities/institutions.
- Ideological threats: political and ethno-religious extremism incl. terrorism, persecution of minorities, science denial/subversion/inversion e.g. on global warming, environment, vaccinations, covid-19.
- Organized crime: money laundering, fraud, major corruption, trafficking, cybercrime, blackmail, extortion/coercion.
- White collar crime: theft, fraud, corruption, cybercrime, corner-cutting, willful gross negligence, integrity risks.
This article focuses on categories 2, 3, and 5, which have particular relevance to the negative impacts of radical-right ideology and actions. These categories also demonstrate their increasing interactions between the ‘security’ and ‘safety’ domains, i.e. the safety and health of individuals, whether in the context of work, public environments or mass exposure to harm.
Low frequency-high impact attacks by Islamic State terrorists using bombs and automatic weapons (e.g. in Paris (2015, 2017), London (2007, 2017, 2018), Manchester (2017)) have been added to by lone-actor Islamic State terrorists in smaller scale attacks using firearms, knives, and vehicles as low-tech weapons. Radical right terrorists have also tended to favor low-tech attacks and, with the exception of Breivik, have been on a relatively small scale.
Convicted lone actor radical right terrorists have included Anders Breivik, Thomas Mair, and Darren Osborne (for more in-depth analysis, see chapters in The New Authoritarianism Vol 2 by Paul Jackson and Emily Turner-Graham), as well as Sean Creighton and Tristan Morgan. Other convicted radical right terrorists in the UK have acted in concert, such as those associated with the proscribed neo-Nazi group National Action (Jack Renshaw, Mikko Vehvilainen and Alex Deakin), as well as Michael Szewczuk and Oskar Dunn-Koczorowski. These individuals were enthusiastic users of radical right extremist websites and social media, including the infamous White Resistance Manual and its formula for violent ethno-religious hate campaigns against minorities.
Radicalization has been defined variously as “a process whereby a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism” (Prevent, 2015), and “a process whereby people adopt extremist belief systems, including the willingness to use, encourage or facilitate violence – with the aim of promoting an ideology, political project or cause as a means of social transformation” (CPRV, 2019). Individuals are usually subjected to extremist material that radically changes their views about society and justice, and also alters their social behavior.
The growing problem of radicalization highlights the problem of identifying the key and underlying factors involved. Factors such as personal grievance/revenge, and existing or developing psychological issues, including personality disorders, potentially explain the transformation of radicalized individuals into terrorists (Gill & Corner, 2017; McCauley & Moskalenko, 2008), as per the case studies by Jackson and Turner-Graham in The New Authoritarianism Vol 2.
The next category under analysis in the latest volume of The New Authoritarianism, ‘White collar crime’ (WCC), refers to usually non-violent criminal activity, typically by individual corporate executives or officeholders, against other parties. Typically, WCC involves theft, fraud, embezzlement, or corruption. However, in principle, it may be extended to also cover corner-cutting, amoral calculation, willful negligence, and sociopathic actions stemming from beliefs (personal, ideological, political) whereby their ends justify their means regardless of harm to their victims.
On a larger scale, WCC may be a corporate crime perpetrated by senior executives or even board members. The Enron collapse is a high profile example. Examples of corner-cutting, amoral calculation and willful negligence relevant to safety include such disasters as the Grenfell Tower fire, BP Deepwater Horizon, Buncefield, and the Boeing 737 Max crashes. Such criminality is highlighted frequently in investigation reports and prosecutions regarding human-created safety disasters. It is debatable, therefore, whether it is any longer appropriate to artificially bracket off human-created disasters as if they were somehow different to white-collar crimes (Waring, 2019).
Moreover, radical right regimes have demonstrated a willingness to overlook, apologize for, agree with and, in some cases, judicially pardon white-collar criminals whose actions have favored the particular regime, its ideology, and its policies. Examples include the colorful sheriff and Trump supporter Joe Arpaio, who applied novel radical right theories about how prisoners should be treated, and was convicted for contempt of court in refusing to obey a court order to stop the egregious treatment of prisoners. His conviction was pardoned by Trump on August 25, 2017.
Following the Charlottesville radical right mob violence, including the murder of anti-fascist activist Heather Hyer, in August 2017, Trump sought to downplay the radical right’s culpability in a series of high profile tweets and press conferences. In doing so, was his radical right encouragement and sympathy tantamount to incitement to the far-right to carry out further violence? In his position as President, did this constitute a WCC?
Also instructive are President Trump’s tweets and presidential interventions relating to allegations of corrupt funding for his presidential campaign (e.g. federal convictions of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort for money laundering, tax evasion, fraud and failure to register as an agent of a foreign power). Evidence showed that he had channeled millions of US dollars into the country from foreign sources via Ukraine. After Manafort’s conviction and sentencing to seven-and-a-half years in prison, Trump heaped praise on “brave” Manafort. He also uttered sympathy for his staunch friend and supporter Roger Stone after he was sentenced in February 2020 to 40 months in jail for lying to Congress and threatening a witness in the investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In July 2020, Trump commuted his sentence.
In August 2020, Steve Bannon, the radical right Svengali and one-time Strategy Adviser to President Trump, was charged on federal indictment, with “conspiracy to defraud” via concealed payments, hundreds of thousands of campaign donors in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign relating to Trump’s Mexican wall project, from which he was accused of personally receiving more than $1 million. It is some irony that Bannon, an arch-promulgator of conspiracy theories about the enemies of the radical right, should find himself indicted on conspiracy charges! On this occasion, President Trump sought to distance himself from Bannon and any alleged association with his son Donald Jr.
Then, there is Trump’s impeachment in 2020 for “high crimes and misdemeanors”. The fact that Trump’s senatorial trial ended in a ‘not guilty’ judgement is not a reflection of his lack of amoral calculation and abuse of office, but more a product of Republican majority senators terrified that ‘their man’, his radical right policies, his 2020 re-election, and their own re-elections could be at high risk if he were convicted. It appears that they voted him ‘not guilty’ out of perceived self-interest and defense of the GOP and not any moral conviction that he was innocent. It could be viewed as their own amoral calculation piling on top of his.
Are government policies and their enactment methods that are highly likely to result in substantive harm to particular groups such as the poor, the disabled, immigrants, the mentally ill, ethno-religious minorities, and other vulnerable groups, classifiable as WCCs? For example, Trump’s radical right theories and program to dismantle Obamacare and replace it with American Healthcare, might well increase the number of US citizens without health care from the 28 million that Trump inherited in 2016 back to the 40 million level before Obamacare started.Looking to make a difference? Consider signing one of these sponsored petitions:
Environmental Pollution and Global warming
As a specific kind of white-collar crime, decisions and actions resulting in environmental pollution fall into their own sub-category of corner-cutting, amoral calculation, and willful negligence. The adverse impact of the downgrading of environmental legislation and enforcement in the US under the Trump administration has been manifest (and is examined in Waring (2018) pp. 273-301).
Rejection and recidivism relating to the Paris Climate Accord, and even climate change denial by some governments (e.g. US), represents a global security threat to public safety and public health. It could be argued that climate change denial and willful negligence pertaining to it, which knowingly puts large numbers of people at risk of harm to their safety, health, lives, homes, livelihoods, and future existence, also constitute a specific type of WCC and one that is almost exclusively perpetrated by radical right political and corporate leaders, their supporters and sympathizers. Trump’s US National Security Strategy of 2017 barely addresses environmental concerns, and global warming and climate change are not mentioned.
What the radical right, in all their various manifestations, say and do is likely to impact the security and safety of the nation, the public, and individuals. In particular, the more obvious impacts arising from radical right terrorism and radicalization are complemented by white-collar crimes that may come in many guises, ranging from giving succor and encouragement to radical right extremists, to amoral calculation, willful negligence, and sociopathic actions stemming from their beliefs. The scope of security and safety in the context of the radical right threat, therefore, needs to be both broad-based and targeted; both to mitigate the wider conditions of symbolic violence against minorities and actual violence caused by right-wing terrorists.
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.