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To the Editor: American domestic terrorism has reached dangerous levels, driven by increasing polarization within American society since the 1990s, which worsened considerably in the Trump years. There is no single reason that people become right wing extremists, but we owe it to ourselves to seriously examine the various motivations.

What we call the “American far right” is actually extremely fragmented. Organizations frequently split, merge, and change both their characteristics and ideological beliefs while maintaining their original names. Far right groups also operate in distinct ways, differing in their targets, tactics, resort to violence, and whether they employ a military structure, train to use arms etc. They tend to fall into four often overlapping groups: white supremacy, antigovernment, fundamentalist, and antiabortion.

White supremacist groups promote policies and social practices that sustain or elevate the privileges enjoyed by whites. They consider themselves superior to African Americans, Jews and immigrant communities. Antigovernment sentiments are as old as America. The modern antigovernment movement, widely called the militia or patriot movement, is generally considered to have emerged in the early 1990s as a result of economic conditions like the farm crisis of the 1980s, the growing political influence of minority groups, attempts to implement gun control and environmental legislation. Fundamentalism promotes literal interpretations of religious texts. Militantly religious groups seek to impose their interpretation of their sacred texts and norms on all of society. Antiabortionists see themselves as fighting the "abortion industry." This group often overlaps with white supremacists who see abortions as an attack against the growth of the white race. Occasionally there is operational cooperation between antiabortion and Neo- Nazi groups.

In sum, those with a tendency toward controlling others, a sense of superiority, or a belief in some “higher” calling are drawn to violent extremism. The idea that violence is a phenomenon of group action does not hold true for the American far right. Of 3,544 violent incidents in which perpetrators were identified, 57.6 percent were perpetrated by a single person, 18.1 percent by two perpetrators and the remaining 24.3 percent by a group. Injuries and fatalities do, however, tend to be greatest when groups are involved.

The predominance of “lone wolves” complicates the task of identifying them, tracking them, and stopping attacks. Unless they are publicly vocal about their views, these people rarely stand out from the large numbers of other people who are lonely, anxious, frustrated, angry, bored or confused.

Magdalena Usategui,



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