RPT: ANALYSIS – US extremist violence rooted in social inequality, polarizing politics
WASHINGTON (UrduPoint News/Sputnik – June 02, 2022) Social disruption, polarized political language and worsening economic inequality are the main drivers behind the substantial increase in violent extremism in the United States in recent years, have experts told Sputnik.
Violent extremism came to the fore in the United States earlier this month after an 18-year-old white supremacist killed ten black people at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. Meanwhile, US officials are concerned about white supremacists traveling to Ukraine to join the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, according to an intelligence report obtained by Politico last week. The United States fears that these fighters could eventually become a domestic threat upon their return to the United States.
“It is a clear and present danger. The economic fallout from the pandemic contributed to it, the economic recession of 2008 contributed to it, the immigration crisis in Europe and elsewhere contributed to it,” said Arie Kruglanski, professor in psychology at the University of Maryland. said Sputnik. “We live in very uncertain times.”
According to FBI data, there were more than 8,200 hate crimes committed in the United States in 2020, an increase of more than 30% from 2016. 35% of hate crimes committed last year targeted black people , followed by attacks against Whites (11%), Jews (8%), Gays (8%) and Hispanics or Latinos (6%).
Kruglanski, co-founder of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism sponsored by US Homeland Security, said the number of hate groups jumped 55% in the United States between 2016 and 2019. He said that uncertainties threaten people’s livelihoods and social value, creating a situation in which masses of people are vulnerable to ideas that empower them and give them purpose.
“The narrative…promises you that through violence you will rise to prominence, and sadly today’s white supremacists have proliferated (this) in recent years, primarily between 2016 and 2020, and they have grown in legitimacy” , said Kruglanski.
Some people think white supremacy theories identify who is responsible for their suffering and what to do about it, which primarily encourages violence against these perceived enemies, Kruglanski said.
POLITICS, PROTESTS AND SOCIAL INEQUALITY ADD FUEL TO THE FIRE
People can be further encouraged when hateful ideas of white supremacy are tolerated by American politicians or lawmakers, Kruglanski said, adding that several far-right politicians have ridden that wave.
“The fact that they legitimize it gives it a lot of credibility, a lot of authority,” Kruglanski said.
The fact that the far right has received so much legitimacy in recent years is certainly something that leads to greater violence in the name of these ideas, he added.
Solving this problem may depend on whether or not there is political will to tackle the problem head-on. However, there are plenty of political benefits to exploiting these vulnerabilities, which American politicians have been doing to get votes, Kruglanski said.
Social media companies, he added, should also think about the extent to which hate messages are allowed on their platforms.
Kruglanski said extremist violence could worsen in the United States if the political climate remains polarized and the economy remains uncertain amid high gasoline prices and rising inflation.
Randall Rogan, a terrorism expert at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told Sputnik that the various movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the race riots and protests following the death of George Floyd, the Capitol Riot of January 6 and the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic has created a sense of turmoil for all individuals.
“I would say it’s been so disruptive to our lives, but especially for young men, who have been in high school during that time and who are probably, in many ways, socially inept. They’ve been bullied or been rejected,” says Rogan. “And they’ve been alienated and they’re looking for solace and looking for meaning and definition and a sense of direction and purpose in their lives, and they’re doing it online and they’re being sucked into these different websites.”
The sense of white shame and white guilt resulting from these social changes fuels some of the potential negative stereotypes troubling these individuals, which can then be legitimized by the content they find online, Rogan said. Individuals can be inspired by conspiracy theories online that advocate or promote ideas of a racist nature, Rogan added.
He also said American politicians and lawmakers could be partly blamed.
“Let’s step back a bit and the vitriol and the shame and the canceled things that are happening in this country, let’s remember this aggressive behavior around everything that we are engaged in,” Rogan said. “Let’s start listening to others and stop talking so much.”
He also said we need to listen to what kids are saying and really focus on their mental health needs.
The widening social inequality gap in the United States also contributes to extremist violence in the country, Kruglanski said.
CEO compensation increased by more than 900% between 1978 and 2018, according to the US Economic Policy Institute. The Federal Reserve said that after the 2008 recession, the richest 10% got richer in 2016 while the rest of America suffered losses.
The pandemic-induced economic fallout has driven consumer prices up 8.3% while Americans pay record high prices at the gas pump.
“There are several things that society can do, one is to try to reduce the inequality that exists in society and which has grown in recent years,” Kruglanski said. “Try to reduce the economic fears and the existential fears of the masses of people. There are a lot of people who are really hurting in this country and it needs to be addressed and hasn’t been addressed enough.”