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White nationalism is now a global terror threat

PRI logo PRI 21/03/2019 The Conversation
a group of people standing in front of a flag © Jim Urquhart/Reuters

The recent massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is the latest confirmation that white supremacy is a danger to democratic societies across the globe.

Despite President Donald Trump’s suggestion that white nationalist terrorism is not a major problem, recent data from the United Nations, University of Chicago and other sources show the opposite.

As more people embrace a xenophobic and anti-immigrant worldview, it is fueling hostility and violence toward those deemed “outsiders” — whether because of their religion, skin color or national origin.

Photos: Mourning in New Zealand (The Atlantic)

Transnational violence

Most of the Western world — from Switzerland and Germany to the United States, Scandinavia and New Zealand — has witnessed a potent nationalist strain infecting society in recent years.

Driven by fear over the loss of white primacy, white nationalists believe that white identity should be the organizing principle of Western society.

CHARLOTTESVILLE,VA-AUG12: Clashes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, August 12, 2017.  (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images) © Catalyst Images CHARLOTTESVILLE,VA-AUG12: Clashes at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, August 12, 2017. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“Every people in the world can have their own country except white people,” the American Freedom Party’s William Daniel Johnson told the Chicago Sun Times after the New Zealand attack. “We should have white ethno-states.”

In researching our upcoming book on extremism — our joint area of academic expertise — we found that hate crimes have risen alongside the global spread of white nationalism. Racist attacks on refugees, immigrants, Muslims and Jews are increasing worldwide at an alarming rate.

Scholars studying the internationalization of hate crimes call this dangerous phenomenon “violent transnationalism.”

Supporters of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist political group, give Nazi salutes while taking part in a swastika burning at an undisclosed location in Georgia, U.S. on April 21, 2018. Reuters photographer Go Nakamura: "I never fathomed capturing this image. Earlier in the day, I had been covering a very uneventful white supremacy rally in Newnan, Georgia, run by a neo-Nazi group called National Socialist Movement, the same group involved in the infamous Charlottesville rally in 2017. A couple of colleagues told me that the group might hold some sort of secret ritual outside of town afterwards. Together, we approached the head of the movement who granted us permission to document the ritual. After waiting for several hours, we reached the backyard of a bar in the middle of nowhere where we saw a big wooden swastika and cross set up on the ground. Then, a group of some 15 neo-Nazis lit up their torches as they encircled the swastika and performed a Nazi salute. It was surreal. Adrenalin was rushing through my body, but I remained focused on capturing what was unfolding in front of my eyes. The ritual reached its climax when the group lined up in front of the burning swastika and began chanting and performing a final salute. We left immediately after it ended. As we drove away, I set about unravelling the tangle of emotions I experienced that day that led to this photo." REUTERS/Go Nakamura  SEARCH "POY STORY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2018 PACKAGES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY. © Catalyst Images Supporters of the National Socialist Movement, a white nationalist political group, give Nazi salutes while taking part in a swastika burning at an undisclosed location in Georgia, U.S. on April 21, 2018. Reuters photographer Go Nakamura: "I never fathomed capturing this image. Earlier in the day, I had been covering a very uneventful white supremacy rally in Newnan, Georgia, run by a neo-Nazi group called National Socialist Movement, the same group involved in the infamous Charlottesville rally in 2017. A couple of colleagues told me that the group might hold some sort of secret ritual outside of town afterwards. Together, we approached the head of the movement who granted us permission to document the ritual. After waiting for several hours, we reached the backyard of a bar in the middle of nowhere where we saw a big wooden swastika and cross set up on the ground. Then, a group of some 15 neo-Nazis lit up their torches as they encircled the swastika and performed a Nazi salute. It was surreal. Adrenalin was rushing through my body, but I remained focused on capturing what was unfolding in front of my eyes. The ritual reached its climax when the group lined up in front of the burning swastika and began chanting and performing a final salute. We left immediately after it ended. As we drove away, I set about unravelling the tangle of emotions I experienced that day that led to this photo." REUTERS/Go Nakamura SEARCH "POY STORY" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" FOR ALL BEST OF 2018 PACKAGES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY.

In Europe, white violence appears to have been triggered by the sudden increase, in 2015, of refugees fleeing war in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Ultra-nationalists across the continent  including politicians at the highest rungs of power  used the influx as evidence of the imminent “cultural genocide” of white people.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Charlottesville one year after the deadly Unite the Right rally (Business Insider)

White nationalism is a US export

This disturbing international trend, in its modern incarnation, was born in the United States.

Since the 1970s, a small, vocal cadre of American white supremacists have sought to export their ideology of hate. Avowed racists like Ku Klux Klan wizard David Duke, Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and extremist author William Pierce believe the white race is under attack worldwide by a cultural invasion of immigrants and people of color.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump place stones and flowers on a memorial as they pay their respects at the Tree of Life Synagogue following last weekend's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 30, 2018. - Scores of protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to denounce a visit by US President Donald Trump in the wake of a mass shooting at a synagogue that left 11 people dead. Demonstrators gathered near the Tree of Life synagogue, where the shooting took place, holding signs that read 'President Hate, Leave Our State!' and 'Trump, Renounce White Nationalism Now.' (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)        (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump place stones and flowers on a memorial as they pay their respects at the Tree of Life Synagogue following last weekend's shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 30, 2018. - Scores of protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to denounce a visit by US President Donald Trump in the wake of a mass shooting at a synagogue that left 11 people dead. Demonstrators gathered near the Tree of Life synagogue, where the shooting took place, holding signs that read 'President Hate, Leave Our State!' and 'Trump, Renounce White Nationalism Now.' (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

The United States is diversifying, but it remains 77 percent white. White supremacists, however, have long contended that the country’s demographic changes will lead to an extermination of the white race and culture.

The “alt-right”  an umbrella term describing modern online white supremacist movement uses the same language. And it has expanded this 20th-century xenophobic worldview to portray refugees, Muslims and progressives as a threat, too.

Alt-right leaders like Richard Spencer, extremist Jared Taylor and the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer editor Andrew Anglin also use social media to share their ideology and recruit members across borders.

a group of people standing in front of a building: a white man holds up a sign that reads © Provided by Public Radio International a white man holds up a sign that reads

They have found a global audience of white supremacists who, in turn, have also used the internet to share their ideas, encourage violence and broadcast their hate crimes worldwide.

“The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world,” Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil liberties watchdog, told USA Today after the New Zealand attack.

“Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.”

Rising racist violence

People protest the arrival of US President Donald Trump as he visits the Tree of Life Congregation on October 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. - Scores of protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to denounce a visit by US President Donald Trump in the wake of a mass shooting at a synagogue that left 11 people dead. Demonstrators gathered near the Tree of Life synagogue, where the shooting took place, holding signs that read 'President Hate, Leave Our State!' and 'Trump, Renounce White Nationalism Now.' (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images People protest the arrival of US President Donald Trump as he visits the Tree of Life Congregation on October 30, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. - Scores of protesters took to the streets of Pittsburgh to denounce a visit by US President Donald Trump in the wake of a mass shooting at a synagogue that left 11 people dead. Demonstrators gathered near the Tree of Life synagogue, where the shooting took place, holding signs that read 'President Hate, Leave Our State!' and 'Trump, Renounce White Nationalism Now.' (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

We know the alleged New Zealand mosque shooter’s hatred of Muslims was inspired by American white nationalism — he said so on Twitter.

His online “manifesto” includes references to cultural conflicts that the author believed would eventually lead the United States to separate along ethnic, political and racial lines.

The alleged attacker also wrote that he supports President Donald Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity.”

a person talking on a cell phone: two women wearing hijab cry into their hands © Provided by Public Radio International two women wearing hijab cry into their hands

Trump and other right-wing politicians like French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and Dutch opposition leader Geert Wilders have blamed the very real problems of modern life — growing economic instability, rising inequality and industrial decay — on immigrants and people of color.

That narrative has added further hostility into the existing undercurrent of intolerance in increasingly multicultural societies like the United States.

Hate crimes against Muslims, immigrants and people of color have been on the rise in the US since 2014.

BATTERY PARK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2018/10/30: Members of the Jewish community in New York and allies gathered in Battery Park, holding a candlelight vigil to demonstrate support for the victims of white nationalism in Pittsburgh and resist this administrations bigotry. This is one of several solidarity events across the country. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) © Catalyst Images BATTERY PARK, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2018/10/30: Members of the Jewish community in New York and allies gathered in Battery Park, holding a candlelight vigil to demonstrate support for the victims of white nationalism in Pittsburgh and resist this administrations bigotry. This is one of several solidarity events across the country. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In 2015, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented 892 hate crimes. The next year, it counted 917 hate crimes. In 2017 — the year Trump took office stoking nationalist sentiment with promises to build walls, deport Mexicans and ban Muslims — the US saw 954 white supremacist attacks.

One of them was a violent clash between counterprotesters and white nationalists over the removal of a confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. The 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, which killed one person and injured dozens, amplified the ideas of modern white nationalists nationally and worldwide.

Some Pittsburgh Jewish leaders to Trump: Don't come until you denounce white nationalism (USA TODAY)


Last year, white nationalists killed at least 50 people in the United States. Their victims included 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, two elderly black shoppers in a Kroger parking lot in Kentucky and two women practicing yoga in Florida.

The years 2015, 2016 and 2018 were the United States’ deadliest years for extremist violence since 1970, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

WASHINGTON D C , UNITED STATES - 2018/08/13: Men in the crowd confront members of Antifa at the Unite the Right 2 rally in Washington D.C.
Despite predictions of a huge rally by the Alt-Right celebrating the first anniversary of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, only 15 showed up to march in Washington, D.C. on Saturday August 12. The small group was met by over a thousand anti-fascist protesters who marched from the city's Freedom Plaza to meet the handful of white supremacists who gathered under police guard under at a park behind the White House. Police eventually provided the Alt-Right supporters with an escort after their rally was cut short. (Photo by J.M. Giordano/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) © Catalyst Images WASHINGTON D C , UNITED STATES - 2018/08/13: Men in the crowd confront members of Antifa at the Unite the Right 2 rally in Washington D.C. Despite predictions of a huge rally by the Alt-Right celebrating the first anniversary of the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, only 15 showed up to march in Washington, D.C. on Saturday August 12. The small group was met by over a thousand anti-fascist protesters who marched from the city's Freedom Plaza to meet the handful of white supremacists who gathered under police guard under at a park behind the White House. Police eventually provided the Alt-Right supporters with an escort after their rally was cut short. (Photo by J.M. Giordano/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

All perpetrators of deadly extremist violence in the US in 2018 had links to white nationalist groups. That made 2018 “a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders,” the Anti-Defamation League says.

Nationalist terror is a danger to the domestic security of the United States and, evidence shows, a global terror threat that endangers the very nature of global democratic society.

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