Thoughts on Covering Right-Wing Extremists

A protest in Washington, D.C. in August 2018 against the second Unite the Right rally (a year after Charlottesville). Credits: Mobilus in Mobili, Flickr. CC

It’s been so difficult to watch the recent incidents involving right-wing extremists in the past few weeks. As someone who has covered right-wing extremists in my part of Europe extensively, seeing this happen in other parts of the world is extremely troubling.

In the span of two weeks, there have been three shootings n Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and Tallahassee with a total of 14 people killed. All three shooters are thought to have been influenced by radical right-wing beliefs. While all three held white supremacist views, the latest shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee was perpetrated by a man who also held misogynistic views of women and believed “feminism was to blame” for his lack opportunities with the opposite sex. He also believed that women should not have relations “with other races.”

One of the ways in which journalists, as well as police and security organizations in Europe, track and report on right-wing extremists is by identifying the political options that they most strongly associate with. Then, based on the recent statements made by the political option, they can predict an individual’s future move or a policy issue that might incite them to violence. For example, many European countries are currently on alert regarding possible violence against immigrants since many right-wing parties and figures have been publicly criticizing the Marrakech agreement or UN’s Global Compact on Migration – the agreement is a roadmap for managing migration on a global level. For the record, the Trump administration has said it does not want to be part of the agreement or its implementation.

For European countries, it is not uncommon to examine right-wing attacks on an ideological level – after all, the “old continent” has been split along ideological fault lines throughout history and served as the source of the world’s main competing ideologies for most of the 20th century. While most political ideas or beliefs in the US are divided between those that correspond with either the Democratic or Republican party, the main “ideology” since WWII and even before has that of a liberal democracy with protections guaranteed by the constitution and its amendments. In the past few years, we have seen an erosion of this status quo and a serious challenge to the liberal democratic system.

It would, therefore, be naive, speaking from the European experience, to not consider the ideological clashes that might lie at the heart of these attacks. Besides the abovementioned shootings, an avid Trump supporter mailed cylinder bombs to figures deemed to be in opposition to the president. He was motivated by a strong ideological belief, one that does not consider the liberal predispositions of free speech and the right to support or oppose any political option or politician.

The results of the upcoming midterms could provoke a slew of new reactions – hopefully, they’re limited to public outbursts or online rants and no individuals or groups are harmed as a result of the political clashes that might ensue. Either way, the current level of political animosity in the US is unlike anything I’ve read about or followed from afar, and I never thought I’d be in the country to follow it up close.

Una Hajdari is the 2018 Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow.