- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Though it hasn’t gotten the same amount of attention from the media or academics as religiously motivated terrorism, there’s been an increasing focus on white supremacist violence since the shooting rampages by Anders Behring Breivik and Michael Page.
In a paper (gated) for the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Steve Chermak, Joshua Freilich and Michael Suttmoeller attempt to identify what makes certain hate groups more likely to commit violence.The report focuses on the United States, which has seen 375 homicides connected to far-right extremists since 1990, causing the death of around 600 people. These groups were also connected to at least 60 planned or attempted terrorist plots between 1995 and 2005.
The authors looked at data on U.S. groups compiled by the Southern Povery Law Center between 1990 and 2008. While there were over 6,000 groups identified, the vast majority lasted for less than a year and the study focuses only on those groups that lasted at least three years. A number of organizational factors stood out for the groups that committed extreme acts of violence (my emphasis):
Groups that were older or large were significantly more likely to be involved in extreme violence, and groups with legal funding strategies were significantly less likely to be involved in extreme violence. In Model 2, groups that used multiple public legitimacy strategies were more likely to be involved in extreme violence but those that published extremist literature were significantly less likely to be involved in extreme violence. In Model 3, groups that were linked to other far-right groups and those that articulated specific conflicts with other groups were more likely to be involved in extreme violence.
Groups that advocated leaderless resistance and operated in prison were also more likely to be involved in extreme violence (Model 4). Finally, several of the other variables were significant (Model 5). Groups with a local/state agenda were significantly less likely to commit extreme violence compared to those with a national or international agenda. Groups that were headquartered in the Northeast were significantly more likely to commit violence compared to groups from the South.
The geographic finding is quite interesting. By far the largest percentage of the groups (40 percent) are located in the south, but they tend to be less violent than their counterparts in the Northeast (13 percent).
The paper also notes that like Islamist terrorist organizations, violent hate groups are increasingly operating as independent cells without a central leadership structure — a trend which appears to make them more violent. For what it’s worth, Page was a member of the neo-Nazi group Volksfront, but there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that he was ordered to carry out the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and the group as disavowed his actions.
I’d be curious to see if the U.S. results held true for far-right groups in Europe.