Was the attack on the Capitol part of a new wave of terrorism?

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At the end of January, the Department of Homeland Security warned US lawmakers say the country faces a growing threat of violence from domestic extremists and, in particular, white supremacists. It wasn’t the first time officials sounded the alarm bells, but concerns about domestic terrorism increased after a pro-Trump mob stormed the United States Capitol building.

The failure of the insurgency was not a one-off event. As political scientist Vincent A. Auger argued in June 2020, extreme right-wing extremist violence could constitute a ‘new wave’ of domestic terrorism in world history. Over two decades ago, scholar David Rapoport wrote that Western countries have witnessed four major waves of terrorist activity since the 19th century: a wave of ‘anarchist‘ assassinations unleashed in Russia in the 1870s which has spread across the world; a dominant “anti-colonial” wave from the 1920s to the 1960s; a wave of “New Left” in response to the Vietnam War in the 1980s; and a “religious” wave since 1979, spurred by the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Drawing on Rapoport’s theory, Auger postulates that the contemporary form of domestic terrorism – typically motivated by strident nationalism, fascism, racism, anti-Semitism, chauvinism, nativism and xenophobia – could constitute a “fifth wave ”of transnational terrorism that dates back to the earliest times. From 2010 to 2018, the Institute for Economics and Peace’s think tank recorded a 320% increase in far-right terrorist incidents in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia, Auger writes. White supremacists were responsible for 76% of killings of far-right extremists in the United States from 2009 to 2018.

Many national terrorists in these regions share a “triggering cause”, namely a rise in right-wing or populist politics in their countries and concern over rising levels of immigration. Many right-wing terrorist ideologies anticipate the arrival of immigrant communities as an impending “white genocide”; these actors commit violence to force an end to immigration and “awaken” the white population to the “threat” of white demographic decline.

“[T]The election of Donald Trump was greeted by many white supremacists in the United States as a validation of their worldview, ”Auger adds. “Some, like the terrorist who attacked a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in response to the ‘Hispanic invasion of Texas’ – have consciously echoed the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

White supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, have terrorized and murdered for centuries. But Auger argues that this new wave terrorists set themselves apart from previous movements with an increased interest in mass attacks, such as the white supremacist who published a manifesto online just before live streaming the mosque shooting in Christchurch, NS. -Zeeland, in 2019. Social media has also provided this new wave with new tools for mass communication and violence coordination.

The toll of right-wing terrorists over the past decades reinforces the Department of Homeland Security’s prediction that the type of violence displayed in the attack on Capitol Hill is not going to abate anytime soon. “[I]If this is a fifth wave, ”Auger adds,“ we could face an increased threat of right-wing terror for many years to come. “


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By: Vincent A. Auger

Perspectives on Terrorism, vol. 14, n ° 3 (June 2020), pp. 87-97

Terrorism Research Initiative

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