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Chapter 2 Leaderless Resistance and the Extreme Right Political extremism has long been a feature of US history. Some historians cite the Anti-Masonic Party of the early nineteenth century as the first reactionary movement in US politics.1 A few decades later, the Know-Nothing movement arose as a backlash amid an influx of largely Irish Catholic and southern German Catholic immigration. Shortly after the Civil War, the fraternal vigilante group known as the Ku Klux Klan emerged in Pulaski, Tennessee, and along with it came the first large-scale right-wing violence in the country. In 1915 the release of D. W. Griffith’s critically acclaimed feature film The Birth of a Nation—which lionized the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan—was the catalyst for the creation of the secondgeneration Klan, whose estimated membership reached three to six million in the 1920s. In the next decade, the dynamism of fascism in continental Europe inspired similar movements in the United States, including Gerald Winrod’s Defenders of the Christian Faith, William Dudley Pelley’s Silvershirts, Fritz Kuhn’s German American Bund, the Italian American Fascist League of North America, and Father Charles Coughlin’s Christian Front. The specter of communism in the 1950s provided an opportunity for the Far Right to return and regain respectability under the banner of McCarthyism. Moreover, the Supreme Court’s Brown v.Topeka Board of Education decision in 1954 galvanized the racialist Right, and the third-generation Ku Klux Klan emerged along with overtly fascist groups such as the National Renaissance Party, the National States Rights Party, and the American Nazi Party. During the 1990s, the extreme Right appeared to gain ground as a social movement . What is more, trends in technology, such as the Internet, enabled the movement to reach a larger audience than it had in the past. Horrific acts of political violence—most notably the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City—and high-profile confrontations with law enforcement authorities seared right-wing terrorism into public consciousness. In the aftermath of 9/11, as a result of greater vigilance by government, the extreme Right experienced a number of setbacks, as many of its representatives were arrested and prosecuted.The year 2008, though, witnessed the beginning of a polarization in the United States that could revive the extreme Right.The financial meltdown and ensuing economic crisis created conditions for greater grievance as the ranks of the unemployed grew. The election of the country’s first African American president, Barack Obama, seems to have had a catalyzing effect, not only on the extreme Right but on the 29 more respectable conservative movement as well. The Tea Party movement gained momentum in 2009 and was instrumental in Republican Party successes in the 2010 congressional elections. Although the extreme Right remains a marginalized movement, it persists and has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to continually reinvent itself. As the noted scholar of political violence Ted Robert Gurr observed, the principal reason right-wing terrorism has been unsuccessful and short-lived in the United States and western Europe is because extremist groups have generated little public support. In this they differ from community-based terrorist groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the PLO, and ETA (the Basque nationalist organization ).2 Likewise, as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, once pointed out, virtually no support exists in the United States for a lengthy terrorist campaign because the “potential sympathizers willing to listen to the cynical theories of terrorist ideologists and collaborate with them in their grisly deeds do not constitute a ‘sea’ but a collection of puddles at most.”3 As a consequence, some representatives of the extreme Right argue that a strategy that focuses on attaining broad-based support is unfeasible in the United States today. What’s more, changing demographics —it is projected that over half the country’s population will be nonwhite by midcentury—makes a racially exclusionary party untenable at the national level. For these and other reasons, some elements of the extreme Right have decided that a strategy of revolution and terrorism based on leaderless resistance is the only viable alternative to reach their political and social goals. The Response to the Extreme Right As a highly stigmatized and marginalized movement, the extreme Right faces significant repression, despite the long tradition of civil liberties in the United States. Among Western democracies, the US response to political extremism is unique. In the Federal Republic of Germany there...


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