January 24, 2021
New Orleans In the wake of the January 6th days of rage at the US Capitol there’s a lot of buzz about the rise of rightwing extremists. The head of the FBI, Christopher Wray, who will be retained by President Biden, has indicated that domestic terrorism is currently one of the central threats that we are now facing. The United States is a big country, so there’s fertile soil in our wide-ranging population for every kind of point of view from right to left, solid to sketchy. The notion that we are discovering this suddenly, when it has been in front of us as clearly as the nose on our face is one of the more shocking things to me, but maybe that’s just a sign that I’ve traveled the red state roads all my life.
Talking to Cynthia Miller-Idriss on Wade’s World was timely, since she’s made monitoring and study of the far-right a central part of her academic career, where she is now professor of public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. Her research focused initially on the rise of the right in Germany, where there are too many unfortunate parallels, but also has led her to writing the recent, Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right, which offered a good look not only at their ideological platform around a perverted sense of patriotism, claims about threats and protection of the “homeland,” and replacement theories around race and immigrants underpinning their commitment to white supremacy, but also their recruiting techniques.
Vegan restaurants for example might not be at the top of your list of places to look, and, indeed, Miller-Idriss doesn’t put them at the top of the recruitment list either, but does note that in the big net the far-right is casting, particularly to recruit young people, this is part of their menu. More commonly are fight clubs, martial arts programs, and centers that stress physical education and training, where being fit and manly can allow some to be targeted. The far-right isn’t alone is this technique, since the left also uses boxing and self-defense for women especially as a bridge builder to some communities.
It would also be a mistake to believe that everyone you see with a Hawaiian shirt is a Boogaloo adherent, rather that someone lost in New Orleans looking for Jazz Fest. Miller-Idriss notes that this is not past decades where skinheads and a certain uniform were easy “tells.” She notes that whole gangs of folks in polo shirts and khakis were part of the Charlottesville cohort. Fashion is part of the signaling, and it’s not a MAGA hat, friends.
Of course, social media has been huge for them, as well as just about everyone else. Professor Miller-Idriss was skeptical that the highly publicized recent moves by Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like would like to be successful in tamping this down. She described the process as a bit like whack-a-mole, as adherents change names, spelling, and other things to fool algorithms.
Here’s the bottom line. Despite the chaos of January 6th, though some of these groups are small, they are organized, strategic, aggressively and subtly recruiting, and, needless to say, dangerous.