Extremism Assessment Series: Far-Right Extremism

  • Far-right extremism describes ideologies and movements that are more radical than traditional conservatism, and often promote xenophobia, racism, white nationalism, Neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, and related ideologies
  • Modern far-right extremism began in the 1860s, and was met by efforts to eliminate the Ku Klux Klan’s presence after the Civil War.
  • From 2009 through 2018, 73% of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by far-right extremists
  • Far-right extremist ideology is largely enacted by lone actors rather than groups
  • The primary method of recruitment for far-right extremism is through online platforms including social media sites, chat rooms, and other websites
  • Increasing anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment has given rise to far-right extremism in places such as the United States, Australia, and Europe
A collection of flags representing different streams of the far-right movement available in the open-source.

A collection of flags representing different streams of the far-right movement available in the open-source.

Summary of Extremist Narrative

Far-right extremism describes ideologies and movements that are considered more radical than those associated with traditional conservatism, and is often linked to ideologies that promote xenophobic and racist views such as white nationalism, anti-Semitism, Neo-Nazism, authoritarianism, and others.

Far-right extremism often takes inspiration from regimes of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

 History of Far-Right Extremism in the United States

 Modern far-wing extremism in the US was first recognized by scholars during the 1950s, as a way to understand and explain McCarthyism and its break from political norms of the time. However, it is understood that far-right sentiments, groups, and actions began to form long before they were labeled by social scientists, around the 1860s and 1870s in the Reconstruction era. During that time, President Ulysses S. Grant took legal and legislative acts to eradicate the Ku Klux Klan and its offshoots following the civil war.

From then on, far-right extremism reappeared in many forms, and to varying degrees of success, from the formation of the Second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 to a politically-motivated resurgence in the 1990s in response to prominent issues of the time, including abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. The Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 led to new arrests of far-right organizational leaders, but such ideology continued to be prevalent and inspire violence throughout the next two decades and beyond. Subsequent instances of far-right extremist violence in the US include the shooting at Emanuel Africa Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which resulted in the death of nine people, as well as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 which resulted in 11 deaths. From 2009 through 2018, 73% of terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by far-right extremists, and between 2016 and 2017, right-wing inspired violence quadrupled in the US.

Today, some government officials across multiple branches and agencies have expressed concern over far-right extremism. However, the movement to properly address far-right extremism is hindered by multiple factors, including the absence of a formal domestic terror law in the United States, lack of grant funding to research right-wing extremism, and a general difficulty in studying such ideology due to its lack of cohesion.

 Current State of Far-Right Extremism

 Far-right extremism is currently largely based in hate rhetoric. Topics of focus for far-right extremist rhetoric include anti-immigrant and anti-government sentiments, and appeals to those affected by real or perceived economic instability and social isolation. Such rhetoric has given rise to disorganized bouts of low-level violence, as well as violence that results in mass causalities around the globe.

In the United States, most far-right extremists engage in low-level violence, with only one percent of attacks by people unaffiliated with an established far-right group involving firearms or explosives. Far-right extremist groups are largely instable and notwithstanding, and most far-right extremists are lone actors.

However, there are a couple of prominent, long-standing groups associated with far-right ideology that contribute to the spread of the ideology and violence, and potential recruitment agencies to followers of far-right extremism. Such groups include the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), skinheads, neo-Nazi groups, and other militias. In the United States, alt-right groups Identity Evropa and Patriot Front constitute some of the largest and most pervasive organizations of their kind. While these groups represent the more formalized, structured end of far-right extremism, they are still mainly fragmented and unsophisticated themselves.

 Prominent Sites of Operation

Far-right extremism operates around the globe, but is especially concentrated in areas in which populist and nationalist political movements have recently become popularized in mainstream political and social thought. The majority of far-right extremist individuals and groups operate out of the United States of America, in Europe, and in Australia.

In the United States of America, the combination of a history of far-right groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, renewed anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the growth of alt-right, populist politics has resulted in some of the most prominent examples of far-right extremism around the world. After the 2016 election, far-right violence grew, including nine deadly incidents in 2017.

In Europe, increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa has spurred an increase in xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment, which evolved into far-right ideology for some members and groups in society. Attacks against Muslims and refugees in Europe have increased significantly beginning in 2015. Some far-right attacks in Europe have been coined as retribution attacks, as they occur after instances of Islamic extremism.

Far-right operations in Australia are less active, but still existent. From 2011 to 2017, there were five far-right extremist attacks in the country.

While these are the prominent countries in which far-right extremism operates, the ideology does not act as a country-specific, individual entity. There is a growing, global network of far-right extremists fueled by increasing interactions between likeminded individuals and groups around the world. This is demonstrated through instances such as the American far-right group Rise Above Movement (RAM) meeting with European white supremacist groups in Germany, Ukraine, and Italy.

Recruitment Methods

 Social media and other forms of online news consumption are the primary methods of recruitment utilized by far-right extremist groups. Recruitment is achieved on popular platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as well as sites such as Gab and Reddit. Through online interaction with followers, the far-right have been able to recruit new followers and members, coordinate travel to protests, rallies, and conferences, organize trainings, fundraise, and foster communication across individuals and groups that share similar ideologies.

Prominent websites associated with far-right ideology include 8chan and the Daily Stormer, but recruitment is also achieved on more mainstream, popular platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Reddit. The radicalization of multiple far-right extremists who have been responsible for recent terrorist attacks around the globe has been linked to such websites. For example, the far-right extremist responsible for the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018 was a user of Gab, a site frequented by far-right extremists and associated messaging.

The cycle of recruitment and radicalization is perpetuated as far-right extremists not only draw inspiration from online communities, but then project their activities out into those communities as well. In 2018, the far-right extremist that attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand announced the attack on Twitter and 8chan and broadcasted it live on Facebook, which quickly spread and was replayed countless times on other platforms. This paves the way for media consumers to become encouraged and recruited into far-right extremist ideology or actual groups by watching this extremist act, or even to commit copycat attacks.

In addition to far-right extremists utilizing a heavy online presence to enact recruitment efforts, there has been an increased effort to protect anonymity while increasing recruitment through distribution of propaganda. This propaganda often in the form hard-copy materials such as flyers, posters, stickers, and more. From 2017 to 2018, the amount of hard-copy propaganda materials increased by 182% overall, with a jump from 421 to 1,187 reported sightings of far-right materials. These materials are not only found in large cities and public spaces, but are also often concentrated on and around college campuses. This allows right-wing groups and individuals to tap into vulnerable members of the age group afflicted by feelings of a lack of belonging, and yearning for community.


The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Prevention and Redemption Initiatives Are Key to Countering Terrorism in Russia

The mountains of Chechnya where “going to the forest” is a colloquial term for joining an extremist group. Photo Credit: eTurboNews.

A series of recent incidents validate the Russian Federation’s concerns over the rise of internationally-linked terrorist groups active within its territory. This security matter is heightened by the presence of battle-hardened fighters who returned from fighting in the Middle East and North Africa. The main query that emerges is whether Russian authorities will amend their counterterrorism tactics, or continue to engage in a framework simplified as a nexus of a military-bureaucratic-judicial instruments.

Russia has long contended with the dilemma of homegrown terrorism, especially in the North Caucasus region. Radicalization and the development of terror cells were intrinsically linked to the Chechen independence movement that expanded into neighboring Dagestan. Ayman al-Zawahiri (the current head of Al- Qaeda) once called the region ‘a shelter’ for fighters from across the globe. It is little wonder then that Daesh capitalized on homegrown ethnic grievances in Russia’s ‘inner abroad’ for recruitment.

Russian officials estimate that approximately 4000 citizens fought as militants in the armed conflicts in Syria. The state of affairs shifted domestically too. Militants that once operated under the banner of Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate) transferred allegiances to Vilayat Kavkaz — a branch of Daesh in the North Caucasus. Russia identifies the pan-Islamist political movement Hizb ut- Tahrir (Party of Liberation) as a terrorist organization, and deems it culpable in the recruitment of foreign fighters as well. It is undoubtedly a case where international groups seized upon already active movements to franchise ideologies.

As a consequence, recent terror-related events in Russia are linked to the international moniker of Daesh, although the actors are domestic agents. The Federal Security Service (FSB) conducts operations across Russia linked to Daesh through a perpetrator’s affiliation, but few links to the umbrella organization. For instance:

• April 13: two suspected members were killed in a raid in Tyumen; an oil rich town in Siberia.
• June 26: a declared member who created explosives and sought to carry out attacks in the name of Daesh was neutralized in Saratov; a city in the southwest.
• July 1: police in Khanty-Mansi (a region in western Siberia) sent out an alert of a woman suspected of membership in an international terrorist organization being in the area.
• July 12: Moscow District Court sentenced seven members of Daesh to 15-21 years of incarceration for planning to attack the Sapsan train in Saint Petersburg in 2017.

These cases exhibit a Russian reliance on strict legislation and applications of force as primary counterterror tactics. Numerous laws have been passed, including the revocation of citizenship for naturalized citizens, life sentences for some terror-related crimes, and guidelines aimed to counter proliferation of extremist ideology, especially the contentious Yarovaya package.

A preference for the military-bureaucratic-judicial nexus and intelligence collection means psychological rehabilitation and cultural efforts receive less attention. Up until 2013, Russia applied such methods until preparations for the Sochi Olympics required hardline policies. However, emphasis on these two spheres provide Russian authorities with a humanitarian method to prevent radicalization before it takes root, and to counterbalance extremist teachings post-indoctrination, to those willing to relent. This is a key recommendation that needs to be met at many levels.

Those at risk of radicalization must be exposed to civil society organizations that promote tenets of inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue. Exposure to educational and employment prospects, tolerant views amongst peers, and wider community solidarity provide numerous opportunities for exchange.

Preservation of cultural traditions that display a wider understanding of ethnicity and religion — that have not been manipulated to advocate extremist or political views — teach at-risk youth they are already part of an important community, rather than a terrorist cell or a linked international organization. Sports provide additional occasions of solidarity, especially those that prioritize strength of character. For example, combat sports widely practiced across the region place the historic mindset of a ‘Caucasian warrior’ in a positive context, at the same time young girls practicing tightrope walking in Dagestan are taught to be ‘fearless’.

Psychological supports and deradicalization initiatives are of vital importance in the current context. These programs are especially beneficial to returnees willing to shun extremist views as they are offered a path towards redemption, as well as chances to inform at-risk peers of the realities of membership in such groups. The Comprehensive Plan of Counteraction of Ideology of Terrorism 2019-2023 reveals provisions covering this matter. As well, a member of the Russian State Duma announced the development of a rehabilitation center focused on individuals influenced by Hizb ut- Tahrir in annexed-Crimea, though it is viewed as politically motivated.

The Russian Federation strongly relies on military-bureaucratic-judicial methods as violent extremism and terrorism are serious infractions under the criminal code, as they should be. It seems easier to manage the localized and decentralized nature of domestic extremism in that framework. However, such hardline measures should be employed concurrently with softer methods aimed at prevention and redemption. They offer broader social advantages in totality.

Réjeanne Lacroix is the Editor-in-Chief at Rise to Peace.

Women’s Roles in Al-Shabaab: Deeper Understanding and Research Is Needed

The ‘daughters’ of Al-Shabaab, armed with assault rifles. Credit for image and caption: Al Jazeera.

In April 2019, it was reported that recent studies over-emphasise the role of men in terrorism, therefore overlooking and underestimating the influence of women. Accounting for over 15-25% of membership in terrorist organisations, women possess a significant role in the recruitment, operations and delegation of terrorist groups, to name a few.

Data originating from the Western Jihadism Project revealed that the role of women in such organisations take the form of traditional gender roles, where women are less likely to be involved in the planning of attacks, and more likely to support the organisation “behind the scenes”. Given this context, this piece will explore the role of women, specifically within the Al-Shabaab.

A woman in the Al-Shabaab operating in Kenya participated in an interview held in 2015 with an Al-Jazeera reporter. She recounted to have given shelter to Al-Shabaab members, whilst they referred to her by the name “Mother”. This woman also stated that she remembers providing accommodation to a young man named Ikrima. Ikrima would later be identified as one of the planners of Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left over 67 people dead.

Consistent with this woman’s account, it is identified that women in the Al-Shabaab play the role as “wives” of fighters, and partake in domestic activities. Women in the Al-Shabaab are reported to also be used as sex slaves, in addition to helping to attract new recruits. These women are often tricked into the Al-Shabaab by being lured with the prospect of employment, counselling or financial support. Some of these women who escaped have shared their stories, though they lived with the lifelong emotional, psychological and even physical scars inflicted upon them by the group.

In 2017, one woman stated that she had fell victim to this luring, and shared her account of the horrors she experienced while she was forced into sexual slavery by the Al-Shabaab. This woman recounts being smuggled from Kenya into Somalia and was brutally beaten and raped by as many as six Al-Shabaab men. One day, when the camp was empty of men, she managed to escape and encountered authorities who helped her to a hospital and eventually back to Kenya. She later learned that she was infected with HIV. The Al-Shabaab are reported to use women in sexual slavery to control the breeding of the next generation.

With consideration to the foregoing, not all women within the Al-Shabaab are tricked or lured into operating with the group. Recent studies have shown that there exists women voluntarily travel to Somalia to support the group’s agenda. A ‘key aspect’ to the Al-Shabaab’s operations is that Somali officials (such as officers or border control agents) do not recognise nor do they perceive women as a threat, allowing women to seamlessly pass through security checks. Therefore, women are often tasked with the transport and smuggling of weapons and go undetected at checkpoints. They are also tasked with gathering intelligence and information for the Al-Shabaab, as their manoeuvres and actions as women often pass without arousing suspicion.

The concern raised here is that the role of women within the Al-Shabaab remains under-reported, overlooked and rather unexplored. Continued research and analysis should be therefore encouraged regarding the significance of the role of women in the Al-Shabaab. Moreover, it must be emphasized that not all women within the Al-Shabaab are working with the group voluntarily, and a greater issue that must be addressed are the women who voluntarily join the group.

It has been reported than many young women specifically from Kenya travel to Somalia to join the group. These women often feel helpless in their former communities, and severe poverty often push them to join the Al-Shabaab. Another motive for women joining the group are their feelings of resentment towards Kenyan authorities who may have mistreated their sons or husbands. Joining the Al-Shabaab is therefore a form of retaliation and revenge, and analysts have even reported that for these women, joining the group is a form of empowerment.

However, as previously mentioned, once these women have experienced the reality of their role within the group (the brutal treatment and being forced into sexual slavery), women are left with two core choices: either remain in the group or attempt to return to Kenya. Those who remain in the group have reported that they stay because of fear or hopelessness. Those who attempt to return to Kenya face difficulty in returning to their former communities, and even face extrajudicial killings by Kenyan authorities if it is discovered that they were in Somalia assisting the Al-Shabaab.

The vulnerability and precarity of women’s roles in the Al-Shabaab necessitates more profound research, and equal recognition when conducting studies related to the group’s operations. Although not all women are tricked into joining the extremist group, resources can be made available to all women to provide education of the realities of the horrors of the Al-Shabaab. It has even been suggested that Somali forces should encourage more female presence of officers within their commands, to empower women and to demonstrate that there are options to empowerment, and that they need not to join the group.

Extremism Assessment Series: Antifascist Action (ANTIFA)

Image: The most identifiable form of the Antifa logo used by the group and found in public sources.

  • ANTIFA represents a semi-disorganized collection of extremists on the far-left, sometimes considered the alt-left
  • ANTIFA is more accurately described as a brand, as opposed to a formal group, however, for ease of understanding it may be referred to as such throughout this assessment
  • With the upcoming presidential election, ANTIFA violence should be expected to rise alongside increasing political turmoil

Summary of Extremist Narrative

 ANTIFA’s self-described purpose is to counter fascism and prevent fascism from taking root in society. The ‘enemy’ of ANTIFA does not stop solely with fascists, however. Individuals believed to be far-right, conservative, and even individuals considered center-left on the political spectrum may be identified as an enemy of ANTIFA. Within the often militant organization, tactics for accomplishing objectives can vary from acts of violence, vandalism, criminal damage to property, or spreading of propaganda in interest of their ideology.

Within the social and political roots of ANTIFA, free speech is targeted as believers in the underlying ideology of ANTIFA believe that select speech is violent and must be suppressed for the betterment of overall society. This is a key justification for believers to resort to violence. As such, law enforcement has been deemed as an accessory to the enemy by ANTIFA as law enforcement seeks to separate clashing political protestors, hence preventing ANTIFA from attacking those they deem the enemy.

History of the group

 The majority of individuals who identify as ANTIFA come from Marxist political backgrounds, including communists and socialists. It is important to understand that ANTIFA does not represent a single organization or network. Numerous groups or individuals may consider themselves ANTIFA members, leading to the group being highly disorganized in terms of the overall structure.

The history of the ideology that brought about ANTIFA can be found in both the history books as well as in the writings of various political theorists. Communism, socialism, and far-left anarchism have had a small following within the US for well over a century. Such Marxist political leanings often call for a societal revolution to rise up through militant activities to support their political agendas.

Political theorists have argued that the spread of extremist political leanings begets the rise of the opposite form of extremism along the linear political spectrum. Regardless of which form of extremism first came about, ANTIFA believes that ‘fascist creeping’ has begun to attempt to take hold within the United States. This partially is cited as justification for violent acts against those considered supporters of fascism. While various international groups have used a varying version of ‘anti-fascist action’, the current American use began in the mid-2000s.

In the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections, ANTIFA surged in activity and membership with followers engaging in acts of violence across the nation. Protests and counter-protests sparked civil unrest unlike anything observed in decades in the United States with groups like ANTIFA at the forefront of the violence.

 Current state of the movement

 ANTIFA is very much active as an extremist ideology and brand. With the modern version of the group having become increasingly active and violent since its inception just over a decade ago, ANTIFA will be a source of far-left extremism for the foreseeable future. The ability for ANTIFA to inspire and recruit people into its brand of thinking is highly dependent on a politically volatile United States, which most would agree is the current operating environment. With the looming 2020 presidential election approaching, look for ANTIFA or ANTIFA inspired violence to increase.

 Where is ANTIFA operating?

As has been widely observed, ANTIFA is often found participating in political protests across the nation. Primarily located in major US cities or on college campuses nationwide, ANTIFA often has a presence amongst more volatile far-left protests.

 What are the primary recruitment methods into the movement?

ANTIFA messaging can be found easily on the internet. The spread of Mark Bray’s 2017 writing, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, is a ready source of information for the brand and helps to spread its ideology. The spread of this and related writings on the internet has been fostered by various online communication platforms that also serve as communications centers for the coordination of physical militant activities and the organization of protests and counter-protests.

The Extremism Assessment Series is an initiative of Rise to Peace’s Domestic Counter Terrorism Program. It seeks to provide short educational pieces highlighting groups or social movements linked to extremist ideologies and/or tactics. Check back for new additions to the series.

Content Moderation Presents New Obstacles in the Internet Age

Image Credit: Cogito Tech (Cogitotech)

The first instance of a terrorist recording violent crimes and posting it online occurred when Mohammed Merah — the perpetrator of the 2012 Toulouse and Montauban attacks in France — did just that with his GoPro. Seven years later, the culprit of the Christchurch mosque shootings used a similar method. These attacks both beg the same question: How are social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter handling extremist content posted to their sites?

As a consequence, tech giants began the process of addressing this problem and seek to formulate a specific mechanism that targets extremist content. Facebook and Google focus significant attention towards development of their automated systems or AI (Artificial Intelligence) software to detect and eventually remove content that violates their policy.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) acts as a cooperative between tech companies to pool extremist content already in existence. A key purpose is to create unique digital fingerprints of contentious material called “hashes.” Hashes are then shared within the GIFCT community to ensure an expanded reach to tackle such material efficiently and the burden is lifted upon a single network to contain the bulk.

YouTube uses techniques like automated flagging also. Membership of their Trusted Flagger Program includes individuals, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and government agencies that are particularly effective at notifying YouTube of content that violates its Community Guidelines. YouTube has removed 8.2 million videos from its platform using these techniques as of March 2019.

In a Wired interview, Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Mike Schroepfer described AI the “best tool” to keep the Facebook community safe. AI is not infallible though, as it sometimes fails to understand the nuances of online extremism and hate. This is the point where the human moderators enter the picture.

The Verge provided a detailed piece detailing the lives of Facebook content moderators. Once the post has been flagged, the moderator can either delete it, ignore it or send it for further review. The moderators are trained to look at signs that are distressing for any number of people.

It took 17 minutes for the original live stream of the Christchurch attack posted on Facebook to be removed. That was more than enough time for it to be downloaded, copied, and posted to other platforms. Facebook claims it removed 1.5 million copies of the Christchurch footage within the first 24 hours, but copies remain.

Content moderation is such a mammoth task for social media companies because of the sheer scale of their operations. Millions of people are online and accessing these services at the same time. Errors are expected. The Christchurch attack exposed a glaring shortcoming in content reporting: livestreaming. Moderation has mechanisms for standard uploaded videos but there are not enough tools to moderate a livestream.

Another issue facing social media companies remains the tech savvy nature of modern extremists. Such content can be uploaded by manipulating audio and video quality to bypass the filters in place. Language poses another problem as most of the automatic content moderation is English-language based. Nearly half of Facebook users do not speak English therefore the company needs to expand its technology to incorporate other languages.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram continue to develop their AI tools and improve their human moderator strategies. Nevertheless, the sections taking advantage of current security loopholes are evolving as well. With 4.3 billion internet users in the world in March of 2019, content moderation itself is under scrutiny.