El Paso shooting: Should we expect more far-right terrorist attacks?

We have seen couple of attacks in the US that probably could be described as the acts of a white nationalist, extreme far-right individuals (lone wolfs). What should be a reaction to this and do you see a danger that this far-right terrorist scene might be able and willing to carry out also some more sophisticated, coordinated attacks? Read few comments.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Professor of Education and Sociology, School of Education, American University

The US authorities have ignored the threat of white supremacist extremism for far too long, insisting even recently that the main threats to US citizens come from Islamist extremism. This weekend’s shooting in El Paso finally makes it clear how wrong they have been. Far right extremists are inspiring each other globally to act– with urgency– inspired by each other’s terrorist acts. They believe there is a sense of imminent threat posed by immigration– and that narrative is reinforced by mainstream politicians who use language like “invasion” when talking about immigrants. We need gun reform, of course, but we also need to elect politicians and leaders who can help change that narrative, reframing immigration not as a threat but as a strength. And we need education to steer young people away from that narrative and understand demographic change — which is a reality– in an unthreatening way.

James ForestProfessor of Security Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell

I think most people react to this with horror, disgust and sadness. Only the far-right extremist trolls on social media are celebrating attacks like these. I wonder if Alex Jones and his InfoWars colleagues will claim that these incidents are just a hoax, like the claims they made about the school shootings in Florida and Connecticut. My own reaction to this is anger. These attacks are a product of social and political influences that do not belong in a great country like ours. As I wrote in the Globe Post a couple of weeks ago, this white nationalist violence is directly fueled by the tribal politics encouraged by Donald Trump, Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, and others.

White nationalists believe that America was founded by white men (many of whom owned black slaves), and therefore, the power of white men over all others must be maintained at all costs. Further, they see violent attacks like these as a necessary response to the forces of globalization that threaten the sanctity of their (white supremacist) tribe. By dehumanizing immigrants from Mexico and other countries, refusing to condemn white supremacist attacks against minorities, and his using his official Twitter account to stoke the fires of white nationalism, Donald Trump bear some responsibility for the tragic deaths we have seen recently, and will continue to see for years to come. I am especially worried about what will happen if Trump fails to get re-elected next year, and (just like last time) claims election fraud and conspiracy, further inflaming the situation and likely resulting in even more white supremacist attacks like these.

Do I see a danger that this far-right terrorist scene might be able and willing to carry out also some more sophisticated, coordinated attacks?  Unfortunately, yes I do. These lone actor attacks are seen as inspirational by a small number of other white supremacists, and some of them will no doubt agree to work together toward the common goal of increasing the carnage. There is such wide availability of guns and other weapons in our country, and so-called “soft targets” like these are everywhere, resulting in a high capability to kill large numbers of people. Arrogance is very high among white supremacists, and no doubt some of them will be convinced that “hey, we can do even better than that guy” (with regard to killing more non-white victims). Federal, state and local law enforcement has already disrupted many such plots – largely because the more people know about or involved in a planned attack, the more changes there are that one of them will slip up, make a mistake, and tip off someone before it’s too late. In contrast, if the lone actor is careful enough, they can keep from revealing any signs of their impending attack until it’s too late to stop it. This tactical challenge in preventing such attacks means that in the future, at least some of these attacks will be virtually unpreventable.

Colin Clarke, Senior Research Fellow, The Soufan Center. Assistant Teaching Professor. Institute for Politics and Strategy (IPS). Carnegie Mellon University

To me, the situation is rather obvious. In order to combat the threat of violent white supremacy, and indeed of radical right-wing extremism, the US government needs to get serious about passing laws to help authorities deal with domestic terrorism. In this morning’s daily IntelBrief for The Soufan Center, we say the following:

Effective legislation takes time to craft properly, but a federal statute built around domestic terrorism could provide authorities with the prosecutorial power and resources necessary to address radical right-wing extremism head-on and make progress toward better protecting American citizens.

Moreover, it is entirely plausible that right-wing extremists could put together a more sophisticated attack along the lines of what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City. Especially since white men don’t draw suspicion in the same way others would, they could easily amass stockpiles of ingredients needed to make powerful bombs, much as McVeigh did.

J.M. Berger, Author of Extremism, Analyst and Consultant on Extremism, Research Fellow, VOX-Pol Network of Excellence

Since the 2011 Norway attacks by Anders Breivik, it’s been clear that so-called lone wolves can carry out mass murder on a scale not previously believed possible, and we’ve seen several such cases since then that were inspired by Breivik, or inspired by someone who was inspired by Breivik. I don’t expect this threat will go away any time soon.

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