This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
Why don’t we include extremists who commit non-extremist related crimes?
As a follow-up to my previous blog post regarding the inclusion of sovereign citizens and financial crimes to tPP, I wanted to explore the characteristics of another sub-category of the rightist ideological affiliation we include in our dataset. As a refresher, we regard rightists as those individuals who embrace values such as limited government, socially conservative thought, individual rights, and authoritarianism. This is a wide-ranging spectrum, and we divide it into four separate subcategories in which we see most extremist crime occur, including government-focused, identity-focused, abortion-focused, and unspecified.
My previous blog post focused on individuals who fall under the Rightist: Government-focused subcategory of the dataset, specifically sovereign citizens who reject the legitimacy of the federal, state, and local governments. For the sake of this blog post we will focus on individuals who fall into the Rightist: Identity-focused bucket, or those who desire social political change in identity-based prejudice.
Rightist identity-focused crime has recently wrought worldwide media attention, in part, due to the rise of nationalism across the world and the spike in far-right crimes in the United States and abroad. Some would attribute the rise of far-right groups to the specific platform the current President of the United States (POTUS) has provided to far-right voices. While there is an argument to be made for the spread of far-right views due to POTUS’s legitimizing of far-right voices and media outlets, right-wing extremists have a deep-rooted history in the United States that far precedes the rise of nationalism in the United States. Specifically rightist, identity-focused organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) derive their identity and political agenda from the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era during which African-Americans gained new, albeit limited, rights under the United States government.
The historical context of the KKK is important to understand their current platform and positioning in the far-right ecosystem because their ideology centers around racial, identity-based politics. Moreover, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and Identitarians glean much of their ideology from early to mid-20th century nationalist movements. The United States Holocaust museum claims that “the eruption of neo-Nazism and White Supremacy on display in Charlottesville in August 2017 and at other rallies across the country has exposed the public to symbols, terms, and ideology drawn directly from Nazi Germany and Holocaust-era fascist movements”. Additionally, Identitarians draw their inspiration from the Nouvelle Droite (New Right) movement that arose in France during the 1960s. To put it bluntly, far-right crime and extremism is far from new, and, in fact, has been around for hundreds of years.
Nonetheless, the recent spike in far-right crime and the subsequent media frenzy motivates a re-evaluation of the rightists who are included in our dataset, and, more importantly, those who are not included in our dataset. Particularly, why don’t we include the ranks of far-right organizations who are indicted on charges that are unrelated to extremist crime? While the answer is fairly simple – because they are not indicted on charges related to political violence or else labeled as a terrorist or an extremist through the state speech act – it is important to motivate our decision to exclude them from our dataset. Keeping in mind that we strive to identify incarceration trends in the United States justice system on such factors as race, ideological affiliation, group affiliation, citizenship status, and religion as it relates to extremist crime.
So then, why is an individual such as Kevin Alfred Strom, the founder of National Vanguard, not in our dataset? Strom a friend and close associate of William Pierce, author of an influential white nationalist book called the Turner Diaries, was indicted on charges of child pornography and witness tampering in 2007. Hosting a website devoted to neo-Nazism, Strom was known to have fetishized young girls on his online platform. However, his blatantly illegal actions of publishing promiscuous images of young girls on his site led to his eventual conviction on child pornography crimes. To be clear, Strom did propagate neo-Nazi propaganda on his site. Furthermore, he served to recruit and organize radical individuals into a group that espoused distinctly hateful and violent language against minorities, and while his crimes were directly related to the website that served to circulate these extreme views, he was not indicted on a crime that was extremist in nature.
There is a rather distinct trend of white-nationalist and neo-Nazi leaders being indicted on child-sex charges, and certainly this trend is important in understanding the patterns of behavior in different extremist organizations. Yet another crime trend that is prevalent amongst specifically identity-based far-right extremists is domestic violence. Some high-profile individuals on the far-right have been accused of assaulting their female partners. Richard Spencer’s wife publicly accused him of physical abuse, though he was not charged with any crime, while others, such as Matthew Heimbach, a prominent white nationalist, was indicted on charges relating to domestic abuse.
Again, while we see certain crimes associated with those who identify with the far-right, and, in fact, observe that these crimes could be a direct result of the misogyny propagated by their extremist views, their inclusion in the dataset for domestic assault or sexual felonies would not be in line with the mission of tPP to examine political violence. This is unless, of course, the reason cited for engaging in violent behavior against women is specifically extremist in nature AND the individual who carried out the crime is indicted on a charge relaying this information about their political intent for abuse.