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Yesterday I woke to the news of terrorists storming Capitol Hill in Washington DC.

They’re not protesters.

They’re not an angry mob.

They’re not rioters.

They’re domestic terrorists.

What is terrorism?

There is no universal definition of a terrorist or terrorism. The United Nations describes it as “…acts of violence that target civilians in the pursuit of political or ideological aims.”

The FBI defines domestic terrorism as “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”

Let me walk you through why I think they’re terrorists:

  • Trump advocates for his supporters to never give up ad continues with the narrative that the election was fraudulent (despite numerous court challenges – all of which he loses).
  • A group of people gather and march (some carry guns) towards the Capitol Building where Congress would officially confirm Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States.
  • They then force their way into the building (side note – does anyone else want an explanation as to why gates were opened for these people to enter the grounds?) to stop the election results being certified and not allowing Biden to take office.
  • Chaos ensues. People are hurt, and at least one person has died. Oh, and Trump does nothing!

These people are far-right extremists whose aim is to disrupt the rule of law and create chaos. They want to coerce the government into setting aside the democratically held, US Presidential election results. They did this under the guise that the election was stolen from them.

It’s easy for us to sit in our loungerooms, shake our heads and be shocked at what is transpiring in the US. We can say this is a US problem, that it was caused by Trump and his quest for power. But it is not just an issue in America. It could have just as easily happened anywhere globally; it could play out right here in Australia.

The rise of right-wing extremism

I wrote a policy brief late last year for an assignment based on countering violent extremism in women and girls after learning about the growth in far-right extremism.

When we think of terrorists, we focus on Islamic-based groups. Because that is what the news and politicians consistently warn us about. However, extreme far-right terrorism has increased by 320% in the past five years. And this increase is primarily focused in Western countries[1].

  • In 2019, 51 people lost their lives in the Christchurch mosque attacks. A lone wolf, white supremacist carried out the attacks and unloaded video to Facebook.
  • The Texas Walmart shooting which killed 23 people in 2019[2].
  • The ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville led to a self-asserted neo-Nazi driving his car into a group of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more[3].
  • In February 2020, a lone gunman entered two shisha bars in Hanau, Germany and started shooting anyone he considered foreign. 10 people lost their lives in this racially motivated attack.[4]

And let’s not forget the past 4 years which has seen the rise of Trumpism.

RWE are complex movements of groups and individuals driven by white supremacy and nationalism.  They circulate beliefs of racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred towards minority groups.

RWE groups have harnessed the use of the internet to spread their ideologies, incite fear, and encourage violent acts.

ASIO’s 2019-2020 annual report notes the increased growth in targeting youth via online services. They utilise online platforms: forums, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube to recruit vulnerable individuals. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the issue due to increased isolation and internet use.

Right-wing extremism and gender

While most research focuses on men, there is growing literature on the involvement of women in RWE. The media often portrays women as victims or being coerced. However, research shows that women are active agents for right-wing terrorism. They actively participate in spreading right-wing ideologies, which are focused on the traditional role of women and rejecting the feminist theory. If you would like to see an example of white nationalist propaganda, Google Lana Lokteff[5] or Lauren Southern. I would typically provide a link at this point, but I just can’t bring myself to link either one to my blog!

Gendered messages are used in recruitment as each group has unique motivations pushing and pulling them towards RWE. The drivers of young women to RWE groups include feelings of isolation and disenchantment. Right-wing groups spread propaganda via online channels offering these women status, an opportunity to belong, a family, and security.

Young women are particularly vulnerable to online radicalisation due to 24/7 internet access, high social media usage, the rise of influencers, and gender-specific recruitment tactics. Just have a look at the usage stats in the infographic:

Men are driven by ideals and gendered stereotypes as to what it means to be a man. White supremacist groups (like Qanon, Proud Boys, and the Lads Society) generally have deep-seated misogynistic views. They target disgruntled men, who fear losing their masculinity and want to return the traditional patriarchal model.

Even though these right-wing movements pursue a nationalistic agenda, they are transnational. Different groups are often connected throughout the world. They utilise technology and media sharing platforms to circulate their messages.

Countering violent extremism

What can we do? We need to build social cohesion and challenge these extremist ideologies. Countering violence extremism responses require a gender-sensitive approach as the experience of women, men, girls, and boys differ. Approaches should not reinforce gender stereotypes but rather empower women and promote social inclusion[6].

The cost of terrorism is high and varied.

It causes injury and death.

It destroys property.

It affects regional development.

It reduces investment and economic growth.

And, as we saw yesterday, it sends an arrow through the heart of democracy.

Congress has since certified Joe Biden as the next President with Trump defeated 306 to 232. I only hope Biden has the fortitude to heal a broken country.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

What did you think of the video and photos coming out of Washington yesterday?

Or perhaps you wish to share your views on far-right extremism and how they can infiltrate our homes via social media.

[1] The perpetrator pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and 1 count of terrorism. He was sentenced to life without parole, the first sentence of its kind in New Zealand.

[2] The motivation of the accused is thought to be a response to the invasion of the US by Hispanics. It is argued he was motivated by Trump’s declaration he would cut down in immigrants coming into the US and the 2019 Christchurch shootings. The accused is charged with numerous hate crimes and is currently awaiting trial.

[3] The attacker was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Heather Heyer and 419 years for federal hate crimes.

[4] The perpetrator died in the attack.

[5] Ashely Mattheis has written a fascinating article, Shieldmaidens of Whiteness: (Alt) Maternalism and Women Recruiting for the Far/Alt-Right, analysing women’s involvement in extremist ideologies. Mattheis studies alt-right promoter, Lana Lokteff, to gain a better understanding of what drives females in RWE, their recruitment tactics and gendered messages targeting the vulnerable and disillusioned to develop counter radicalisation narratives.

[6] The Global Counterterrorism Forum released a Good Practices Guide on countering violent extremism in women. Michael Quinn, a former right-wing activist, operates a far-right disengagement group, Exit Australia. The organisation assists in helping people leave these groups and to stop the hate messages from infiltrating society.

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