Column: Radicalization and extremism are not unique to Islam

Trump and his ideological backers, particularly the "alt-right," made a massive deal this year regarding the threat of “radical Islamic terrorism.” However, what they seem to be missing is the growing radicalization within their own ideologically charged ranks. Last week, a man named Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire inside a mosque in Quebec, killing six and wounding eight. Bissonnette's far-right views were no secret and included support for Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, as well as opposition to refugees and feminists. Of course, this is in no way asserting that the average Trump supporter or "alt-right"-er has anything to do with such appalling violence; rather, I believe that such incidents of hate, among many others, bring to light a disturbing trend of far-right radicalization within the U.S. and abroad.

The "alt-right," as defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that 'white identity' is under attack by multicultural forces.” This makes the "alt-right," essentially, a white nationalist movement. There seems to be much ambiguity, even within the movement, about what its core ideological tenants are, however. As a result, the "alt-right" is a coalition of ideological views ranging from isolationism, protectionism and “America First” to radical white supremacy.

The ambiguity is itself not directly an issue, but the resulting intellectual chaos caused by it has allowed the movement to become a driver of radicalization. For example, a conservative could get pulled into the movement by the relatively moderate "alt-right" writings of Milo Yiannopoulos. From there, they could then be exposed to far more radical viewpoints, such as those of Richard Spencer. Spencer, who you might remember getting punched during Trump’s inauguration, has argued in favor of “'peaceful ethnic cleansing’ to halt the ‘deconstruction’ of European culture.” While exposure by no means automatically results in radicalization, exposure certainly helps pave the way.

Much of the "alt-right" exists outside of high-profile figures like Spencer and Yiannopoulos in online forums. Within these forums, radical "alt-right" members have formed their own communities, allowing them to express their personal views with a degree of anonymity. Users are protected, generally by making accounts, and can separate their public and private lives from their online presence. It is within these forums that further radicalization occurs.

Online radicalization, whether it be radicalization to join the IS or radicalization to attack a mosque, follows a similar casual mechanism. A  study by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence concluded that, “[The internet] creates a new social environment in which otherwise unacceptable views and behavior are normalized. Surrounded by other radicals, the Internet becomes a virtual ‘echo chamber’ in which the most extreme ideas and suggestions receive the most encouragement and support.” Through this mechanism, online forums with an "alt-right" and far-right presence have become hotbeds for radicalization.

Online forums such as Reddit, Voat and Stormfront, to name a few, have large online presences of radical "alt-right" members in various subsections of the websites. Take, for example, Reddit. This forum has had a particularly nasty track record of racist and bigoted members and subreddits. One of the most flagrant of these was the subreddit called /r/altright which “often made inflammatory remarks about a variety of marginalized groups and many espoused views in the white supremacist/national socialist spectrum,” according to Bryan Menegus' article "Reddit Says Goodnight to 'Alt-Right' Community [Updates]." They were eventually shut down by the website for doxing, or releasing other people’s personal information without their consent. That might not be direct violent action, but doxing has led to right-wing violence in the past.

Reddit is a relatively mild case. Stormfront, on the other hand, is much worse. Stormfront's motto is “White Pride Worldwide,”  and the website has come to be known as the home of possibly the most radical of the radical in right-wing extremists on the internet. So much so, in fact, that Stormfront has been linked to nearly 100 hate-crime murders.

If you replaced radical right-wing extremists with radical Islamic extremists, this would become, as it already has, the number one priority of the GOP and the Trump administration. Instead, radical right-wing extremism, which has killed more people in the United States in the past 15 years than radical Islamic extremism, has been ignored entirely. If Islamic extremists were stockpiling weapons, shooting up religious centers, plotting and carrying out bombings, attacking medical professionals, forming militias, attacking and harassing religious minorities, rapidly expanding recruitment and infiltrating our police forces in the same way that right-wing extremists have, the response would undoubtedly be different. This dangerous radicalization is festering within the "alt-right," especially online. So, President Trump, are you going to finally mention radical right-wing terrorism?



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