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Far-Right Extremism Rising in US, Report Says


FILE - A person wears a hat of U.S. far-right men's organization Proud Boys during a campaign rally for Patriot Prayer founder and Republican Senate candidate Joey Gibson in Portland, Ore., Aug. 4, 2018.

The number of attacks carried out by right-wing extremists in the United States has increasingly grown over the past decade, a new report said.

The report, published last week by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington research group, found that these attacks doubled from 2016 to 2017.

The CSIS research also used as examples of the new trend the recent pipe bomb attacks that targeted Democratic politicians and critics of U.S. President Donald Trump, as well as the mass shooting in October at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people.

"There are several factors that are driving the rise of far-right extremism in the United States," Seth Jones, the author of the report, told VOA.

"One is the rise in internet and social media use by far-right groups like neo-Nazis, 'sovereign citizens' and others. Second is the connection between a range of these groups and individuals overseas, particularly in Europe, in countries like Germany, Ukraine, Italy and even the U.K.," he added. Sovereign citizens refers to groups who plot attacks against government, racial, religious and political targets in the United States.

FILE - A group of right-wing radicals wave Croatian and U.S. flags as they march through downtown Zagreb, Feb. 26, 2017.
FILE - A group of right-wing radicals wave Croatian and U.S. flags as they march through downtown Zagreb, Feb. 26, 2017.

"A third factor is some political developments in the U.S.," Jones said. "The rise really started before the current U.S. president was even campaigning for presidency, but there definitely has been an increase in the last two years or so. And it does look like individuals have at least been partly energized."

Rise in attacks

From 2007 to 2011, right-wing extremists committed five or fewer attacks per year. In 2012, that number rose to 14 and continued at a similar level through 2016. But the number jumped to 31 in 2017, the CSIS report said.

Some analysts say the current political climate in the U.S. has had a major impact on the rise of right-wing extremists in the country.

"This is the first time I've seen right-wing extremism thrive and grow under a Republican administration," said Daryl Johnson, a former domestic terrorism analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"Far-right extremists increase their activities under Democratic administrations because they fear passage of restrictive gun laws, expansion of minority rights, increased taxation, [and] abortion rights and immigration rights strengthening," he added.

There were 65 terror attacks in 2017 in the U.S., according to the Global Terrorism Database, a program of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

It said right-leaning extremists carried out 37 of those attacks.

U.S. law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, state and local agencies, have had a good record in taking down right-wing extremist groups, some experts say.

FILE - A law enforcement official wearing an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force jacket works near the Pentagon, June 17, 2011, in Arlington, Va.
FILE - A law enforcement official wearing an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force jacket works near the Pentagon, June 17, 2011, in Arlington, Va.

The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, which leads investigations into terrorist activity, has been working with federal, state and local agencies, although its focus has largely been on Islamic extremism since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the East Coast.

The U.S. Department of Justice also provides federal domestic terrorism training — State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training — which has served more than 142,000 law enforcement officers across the country.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security lacks a domestic terrorism unit to support state and local law enforcement with strategic analysis of national trends and training needs, according to some experts.

Private sector cooperation

Cooperation between the U.S. government and private sector to combat the online presence of extremist individuals and groups is of high importance, experts said.

"If there are individuals on Facebook or on Twitter or on a number of other mainstream accounts that are violating terms of service of those companies, their sites can be removed, their information can be removed, videos can potentially be removed," Jones, of CSIS, said.

Former DHS analyst Johnson agreed that the "private sector can fill important voids in monitoring domestic terrorism."

"The private sector should also take the lead in helping extremist individuals to overcome the root causes of their radicalization," he said.

Countering violent extremism

In 2016, former President Barack Obama's administration worked with partners in the private sector on a program to combat the Islamic State group's extremist message on social media and the internet.

The program, which was initiated by an affiliate of Google, sought to disrupt IS online recruiting efforts by targeted advertising algorithms and the use of YouTube's video platform to dissuade people from joining the terror group.

"I think the same potentially can happen with the far right if there is cooperation in taking down some of the more violent language, encouragement of violence or close to encouragement of violence on some of these platforms," Jones told VOA.

FILE - Muslim, Christian, minority and government leaders fix their eyes on a laptop screen showing a video as part of the program called Countering Violent Extremism, at Roxbury Community College in Boston, March 31, 2015.
FILE - Muslim, Christian, minority and government leaders fix their eyes on a laptop screen showing a video as part of the program called Countering Violent Extremism, at Roxbury Community College in Boston, March 31, 2015.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), a U.S. government initiative to deter Americans from joining violent extremist groups, should focus more on right-wing networks and groups, Johnson suggested.

"Federal grant funding from the CVE program should be allocated to private sector groups involved in helping white supremacists, sovereign citizens and other extremists get out of these hate-based movements," he added.

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