2017 Was Worst Year for Right-Wing Violence

(Composite photo by the Southern Poverty Law Center)

(CN) — Worshipers at an Islamic cultural center, a black Army lieutenant and a couple who tried to end their daughter’s relationship when they learned her boyfriend held neo-Nazi beliefs were among the 17 people killed by right-wing racists, the Southern Poverty Law Center says in a new report.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy group based in Montgomery, Alabama, which tracks hate groups, said right-wing racists, also known as the alt-right, killed 17 people and injured 43 in the United States last year.

The report, “The Alt-Right Is Killing People,” found most of the violence was perpetrated by young white men — the average age was 26 — who harbor resentment for a perceived erosion of white male power and have tapped into an online network.

“Meanwhile, the alt-right is redoubling its efforts at youth recruitment, intensifying its rhetoric and calling for radical, individual action,” the report states.

The report states that the alt-right movement from a brew of white supremacy, misogyny and internet culture. It developed its own memes and lexicon, and attracted a wave of young white racists.

The alt-right movement has more online reach than the Islamic State group, the report states, and the trend of violence can be expected to extend into the future.

“Anonymous and disparate interaction with online extremist content, frequently without any real-world connection to hate groups or far-right extremism, is becoming an established pattern for those on the alt-right who have gone on to commit acts violence,” according to the report.

The first recent mass murderer inspired by alt-right views was Elliot Rodger in 2014, the SPLC said. Before using a knife and a gun to kill seven people and injure 14 in California, Rodger wrote a manifesto criticizing interracial couples and saying he could not get a girlfriend.

The alt-right stepped into the mainstream through Milo Yiannopolous’ writing on Breitbart News. Former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, one of President Donald Trump’s top advisers until he was forced out this year, played a key role, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC Intelligence Project.

“At one point, he has his foot in the White House, and he’s also playing footsie with the alt-right,” Beirich said.

Bannon left Breitbart news in January after Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” reported his caustic remarks about Trump.

“I would not call the whole site white supremacy rebranded,” Beirich said of Breitbart News. “I think that would be unfair. So these extreme ideas have leached into there, have found a platform at times with Breitbart, but that is not the whole deal with Breitbart.”

The alt-right entered mainstream public consciousness in August 2017 at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, Va., when a man drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and injuring 19.

The march of white-shirted white supremacists bearing torches in Charlottesville was “quite the wake-up call,” Beirich said.

Trump then was criticized for saying there were good people “on both sides” of the white supremacist rally.

In September, Congress unanimously passed a joint resolution condemning the “domestic terrorist attack” and urging the Trump administration to direct resources to threats from groups such as the KKK. It did not mention the alt-right movement by name.

“Whether or not the resources ended up getting there to fight this at the federal level from the Trump administration remains to be seen,” Beirich said.

“We need law enforcement to know about these ideas, know about these groups, be prepared to do what they have to, to open cases where it’s warranted,” Beirich said. “This is truly a law enforcement thing.”

Joe Mulhall, a senior researcher at Hope not Hate, said far right groups in the United States have been connecting with far right groups in the United Kingdom. Hope Not Hate combats extremism in both countries.

Right-wing hate groups in the United States often have a Christian or religious element, while British groups are more traditionally fascist, Mulhall said.

“They share similar hatreds and similar conspiracies, and the two movements are becoming increasingly similar, increasingly working together, with ideas going back and forth across the pond.”

Mulhall said part of the problem is platforms that allow these groups to communicate as freely as they do.

“Social media companies need to be held to account for allowing those who promote hate to have a platform,” he said. “But the key with the alt-right is to expose their anonymity and thus increase the social cost of their far-right activism. When people are anonymized there’s very little cost to their actions.”

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