November 23, 2016

TSG IntelBrief: The Danger of Rebranding Domestic Extremism

• The spike in reported hate crimes after the U.S. election is a warning sign of a troubling domestic trend.

• Rebranding white supremacist movements as ‘alt right’ or ‘nationalist’ obscures deep-rooted fault lines in the U.S. and elsewhere.

• While the label ‘fringe extremist’ can easily be exaggerated, it can also be minimized or discounted as it gains momentum.

• There is no acceptable level of racism in the national discourse; U.S. domestic security concerns stemming from persistently heightened societal tensions are significant.

The November 19 meeting of the white-supremacist group known as the ‘National Policy Institute’ at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. marked a rare event in the United States. It is easy to exaggerate the immediate significance of the meeting, while ignoring its longer-term menace and implications. Through social media, a gathering of a relatively small group of people can easily be inflated to a level of significance beyond its numbers; social media also ensures that such a limited number of people—skilled in social media manipulation—can attain a reach that for outweighs the group's size. 

The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign witnessed a resurgence of an ideology that has not been so openly seen since the 1960s. The public resurgence of the white supremacist movement presents domestic stability and security concerns reminiscent of the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Through the movement’s rebranding efforts, however, the ‘alt right’—a movement that incorporates ideologies long considered antithetical to democratic ideals—has forged its way into the national dialogue. In terms of extremism, the ‘alt-right’ movement’s call for the establishment of a ‘white nation’—achieved through the 'respectful' removal of minorities—makes it a white supremacist movement by definition.

Racism in the U.S. has been a constant and shameful thread pulling throughout American history. The hope has been that with each passing generation, the rhetoric of equality and unalienable rights found in the Declaration of Independence would be solidified in the practice of an inclusive country. The recent rise in racist rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiment is a step backwards for a forward-looking nation. 

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement following the ‘National Policy Institute’s’ white supremacist conference, which was held not far from the museum. The statement noted that the Holocaust ‘did not begin with killings, it began with words’. The instinct to dismiss extremist rhetoric as merely that of an extremist minority ignores history—and it does so at great risk. It is a slippery slope from dismissing hate speech designed to build upon a worrisome national attitude as merely well-publicized minority views. Downplaying such hate speech can easily slip into the normalization of hateful sentiments, followed by the potential for destructive policies. 

The demonization of immigrants and minorities—by however small of a fringe group with a large megaphone—must be uniformly countered by a nation with an even louder voice. On the eve of America’s quintessential immigrant holiday of Thanksgiving—with the clear historic understanding that extremist trends lead to extreme situations—it is vital that the center hold true to the most fundamental values and ideals of the United States of America.


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