What inspired terrorists to be terrorists

Right-wing terrorism

Chris Allen

To person

is Associate Professor of Hate Studies in the School of Criminology, University of Leicester, UK. [email protected]

For almost two decades, the public and political debate about terrorism in the "western world" has primarily focused on incidents with an Islamist background. Characterized by several terrorist attacks, each targeting a maximum number of civilian victims, the perpetrators of the attacks in Madrid in 2004, Nice in 2016, Manchester in 2017 and other cities are commonly understood as united by an ideology that is derived from an extreme interpretation of Islam emphasizing the call for violent jihad. While organizations such as al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and the so-called Islamic State have been in line with this understanding in recent times, a significant part of the domestic political measures taken in response to Islamist terrorism is aimed at radicalizing people in our country to prevent at home. As a result, Islamist terrorism - more importantly, the ideologies that underpin and inspire it - is understood as an all-encompassing transnational phenomenon in which singularity and idiosyncrasy, differences and divergence have completely disappeared. In this sense, all attacks and other incidents, regardless of location, motivation, or manner of execution, become one.

Large parts of the public and politics therefore inevitably understand Islamist terrorism as something completely different from other ideologically motivated forms of terrorism. This is particularly evident in the case of right-wing extremist manifestations. Despite obvious similarities between the perpetrators, their activities, typical tactics and preferred methods of getting their message across to the world, it is rare that attacks motivated by right-wing extremists are linked and described as part of a larger phenomenon. Reinforced by the predominant depiction of the perpetrators as "lonely wolves" (lone wolves), this not only negates the very real danger posed by right-wing extremist terrorism, but also the ideas that underpin and inspire it ideologically.

With this article, I want to underline the need to rethink and re-conceptualize our collective understanding of right-wing extremist terrorism. Far away from the reserve of "lonely wolves", i.e. isolated, single and autonomous individual perpetrators, a deeper understanding of the ideologies at work here as well as the connection between apparently isolated incidents and newly emerging forms in which right-wing extremist ideologies inspire and motivate violence and terrorism is required. In short: I will explain below that right-wing extremist terrorism is also a transnational phenomenon.

Ideological foundations

Far right ideologies are neither static nor one-dimensional. According to the political scientist Cas Mudde, however, they usually comprise a number of specific key components. [1] The first is nationalism, which refers either to a particular nation-state or to a specific ethnicity or group of people. The second component is exclusivism, which can take different forms: While it manifests itself as racism or anti-Semitism in some, it manifests itself in the form of hostility towards immigration or Islamophobia in others. There is some overlap here with the third component, xenophobia and hatred of "others" identified as such. The fourth component finds its expression in certain undemocratic traits such as elitism, monism and personality cult, but can also manifest itself in other ways. The fifth component is populism and the awareness of being against "the establishment" and for "the people". The sixth component is the emphasis on the defense of law and order - a narrative that is justified by the alleged threat to "our" security and welfare from said "others" and which requires state control of certain areas of society. Finally, the seventh and final component is the complaint about the disappearance of traditional structures or frames of reference such as family, community and religion.

Since right-wing extremist ideologies are neither homogeneous nor fixed, they are best understood as a spectrum in which the components mentioned act in an asymmetrical way. Different actors - from the right-wing conservatives in the political mainstream to the right-wing extremist and, typically, violent margins - attach different importance and relevance to these components depending on the framework and the point in time. Pointing out these connections is important because they help us understand that right-wing terrorist perpetrators do not operate in a vacuum. This is particularly important when you consider the dramatic rise in right-wing populism in many parts of the world. Political scientist Thomas Greven sees precisely this as a driving force for right-wing extremist terrorism: [2] Because right-wing populism constructs clearly identified, thoroughly problematic "others" while at the same time encouraging "the people" to take matters into their own hands the likelihood that at least some will resort to violence - and terrorism - to solve the problem of these named "others".

Lone perpetrator?

On August 3, 2019, Patrick Crusius of Allen, Texas, wreaked havoc in a Walmart store in El Paso. He shot 22 people and injured 24 others. When questioned, he claimed that he was targeting only Mexicans. Since Crusius has been shown to be a supporter of US President Donald Trump, who in turn used his stage many times to label Mexicans as "other", the violence in El Paso could be interpreted as a confirmation of Greven's theory. Understanding Crusius in this way, however, suggests the idea that he acted autonomously and was thus a "lone wolf". However, this is extremely problematic insofar as it isolates the perpetrator from the ideologies and people who inspired and motivated him to act.

Crusius set out his inspiration in detail in a "Manifesto" that he had posted shortly before the massacre in the "8chan" online forum, a so-called imageboard. Under the title "The Inconvenient Truth", he also expressed his admiration for Brenton Tarrant, the assassin who shot 51 people and wounded another 50 in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019. In addition, Crusius justified his act as a response to the supposed cultural and ethnic exchange between the US state and its people through a "Hispanic invasion".

Tarrant had deposited a similar pamphlet in which he also referred to the conspiracy theory of the "great exchange" of the French author Renaud Camus. [3] This theory, popular in right-wing extremist circles, states that white Europeans will gradually be replaced by non-Europeans from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa through mass immigration and higher birth rates and with the active aid of certain elites. Camus' theory contains almost all of the above-mentioned components of right-wing extremist ideologies. This also applies to Tarrant's letter of confession, in which he identifies himself as "European" - as a cipher for white and Christian - and explains why he attacked Muslims of all people: They are "the most despised group of invaders in the West", which is why an attack occurred they promise the most support. In addition, they are "one of the strongest groups, with high fertility, high preference for their own group and a will to conquer".

So, although Tarrant aimed at the murder of Muslims, his justification was broadly the same as that of Crusius for murdering Mexicans: both Muslims and Mexicans were recognizable "others." And although Tarrant has also been referred to as a "lone wolf", the significant ideological connections between him and Crusius cannot be overlooked.

The situation is similar in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, who on July 22, 2011 killed 77 people and injured over 300 in two terrorist attacks in Norway. After detonating a bomb in Oslo's government district, he set off a bloodbath in a summer camp run by the youth organization of the Social Democratic Workers' Party on the island of Utøya. He chose this goal because it seemed to him to symbolize the displacement of white Norwegians by multiculturalism. Breivik also put his attacks in a larger context in a "manifesto". Under the title "2083. A European Declaration of Independence" he justified his attacks with the need for a wake-up call for white Europe: "There is no time to lose. We only have a few decades to build up enough resistance before our cities are demographically overwhelmed by Muslims How many tens of millions were killed by Islam just because they weren't Muslim? " The similarities between Breivik, Tarrant and Crusius are striking. In comparison, it is becoming increasingly difficult to claim that all of these incidents happened in isolation from one another and were perpetrated by "lone wolves".

Far right landscape

Once the clear similarities between these three cases have been acknowledged, the extent of their connection becomes increasingly clear when they are located in a still wider landscape. This landscape is the scene of numerous violent incidents, including terrorist incidents, which usually neither make international headlines nor cross national borders and between which, more importantly, one sees no connection. Take, for example, the murder of British MP Jo Cox on June 16, 2016. Shot twice in the head and once in the chest before being stabbed 15 times, Cox died for being a member of the United Kingdom in the European Union and a multicultural society. The perpetrator was the 52-year-old Thomas Mair, who had connections to a number of right-wing extremist groups, including the "British National Front", the "English Defense League" and "National Vanguard" in the USA. In his eyes, Cox was a "traitor" to the white man. The police found all sorts of Nazi devotional items and various books and publications on white supremacy, nationalism, apartheid and other right-wing extremist ideologies at his home. Although he had attended a number of events by right-wing extremist groups, the police described Mair as a "loner" who acted on his own initiative.

There are strong similarities between the murder of Cox and the murder of the Kassel District President Walter Lübcke on June 2, 2019. Shot in the head at close range, Lübcke was found dead on the terrace of his house in Wolfhagen-Istha. The politician, who supported Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to take in refugees in 2015, was allegedly murdered by 45-year-old Stephan E. He had connections to the NPD and the German branch of the British group "Combat 18", and he has also been several times Previously convicted of assaults against migrants, including an attack with a pipe bomb on an asylum seeker accommodation in 1993. In his confession to the police, E. stated that he acted alone.

Although both Cox and Lübcke had become targets of attacks because of their political views, the connection between the attacks is revealed more through a closer look at the alleged perpetrators: apart from the fact that they are both middle-aged white men, they both used the same tactics; Both of them had - albeit at times only loosely - contacts with right-wing extremist groups both at home and abroad; both were inspired by far-right ideologies.

The far-right landscape, however, is much more extensive. Take, for example, the "National Socialist Underground", a right-wing extremist group that murdered ten people in Germany between 2000 and 2007, tried to murder another 43 and also carried out three bomb attacks and 15 armed robberies. Or take Dylann Roof, known as a supporter of the white supremacy ideology, who shot and killed nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. In the same year in Great Britain, Zack Davies, a man with connections to the right-wing extremist group "National Action", tried to behead a Sikh with a machete. Two years later, Darren Osborne, who was inspired by the English Defense League and the far-right party Britain First, drove a van into a group of believers emerging from a mosque in Finsbury Park, north London. One person was killed and nine others were injured. In Spain, Manuel Murillo Sánchez, a member of a right-wing extremist Whatsapp group, was arrested in 2018 for planning an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. In the same month, six people with links to the far right were arrested in France for planning an attempt to assassinate French President Emmanuel Macron. Also in 2018, the White Supremacist and nationalist Robert Bowers shot dead eleven people and injured seven others in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This list is by no means exhaustive. What is striking, however, is that despite the obvious similarities of all these incidents, they were generally neither associated with one another nor identified as part of the transnational phenomenon of right-wing terrorism.


Even if we have recognized right-wing terrorism as such and name it accordingly: The phenomenon is anything but homogeneous. And precisely because there is such a wide range of individuals, groups, movements and a similarly wide range of tactics, activities and approaches, it is all the more essential to understand the different components and their interplay. In the following I will present three main manifestations of today's right-wing terrorist groups and networks.

"Traditional" groups
The first manifestation are the "traditionally" oriented groups and movements. Similar in function to their historical ancestors, they are hierarchically structured and usually formally structured. For example, they are characterized by clear chains of command, which is essential for how they recruit, mobilize and ultimately organize and control the use of violence and terrorist attacks. Since these groups and movements tend to plan acts of violence and terrorist attacks in advance, most of them are closed to the public and are sometimes invisible to the outside world. One example of this is the British organization "National Action", which was banned in the United Kingdom in 2016 as the first right-wing extremist group since the end of the Second World War. It saw itself as a youth movement and committed itself to "traditional" Nazism, glorified Adolf Hitler and the "Third Reich", quoted "Mein Kampf" and used Nazi iconography on banners and PR materials. With an undisguised commitment to anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism and discrimination against people with disabilities, the group committed itself to the "rescue" not only of Great Britain, but also of its own "race" and generation; their intent was to build a "white homeland". [4] Although the group largely disintegrated after the ban, a small number of activists set about planning various terrorist attacks, including hoarding weapons for a "race war" and murdering Labor MP Rosie Cooper.

It is interesting that "National Action" tried to differentiate itself from non-violent right-wing extremist groups and movements by emphasizing traditionalism and authenticity. However, referring to history in no way prevented the group from using social media channels and other online platforms - not only to spread their own messages, but above all to establish cross-border connections. "National Action" cultivated links with right-wing extremist militant networks in Germany, the Baltic States and Scandinavia, as well as with paramilitary groups such as the Ukrainian "Azov Regiment". The transnational interdependence is particularly evident, however, from the fact that "National Action" allegedly inspired the American "Atomwaffen Division" - a group of right-wing terrorist activists that is linked to a series of murders. This in turn similarly inspired the Sun War Division, another British group of which two members were recently convicted of terrorism-related offenses.

Social media influencer
The second manifestation can be best described with the term "right-wing extremist social media influencer".Not necessarily associated with specific groups or movements, influencers use the various online channels to spread right-wing extremist ideologies and conspiracy theories across national borders and group affiliations. While it is rare for these actors to be involved in acts of violence, let alone terrorist attacks, it is not uncommon for them to suggest that both are justified. Not only do they give right-wing extremist ideologies an "acceptable" face, there is also a strong response between influencers and right-wing populists.

In the United Kingdom, for example, this applies to the activist Tommy Robinson (bourgeois Stephen Yaxley-Lennon): As the former head of the right-wing extremist "English Defense League" and "Pegida UK", Robinson became an advisor to the populist UK Independence Party on group rape issues rape gangs and penal reform. Robinson uses various social media platforms, through which he reaches an audience of millions worldwide with his videos, and is one of the ten most popular personalities in the United Kingdom according to the polling institute Yougov. The example of Darren Osborne shows that there is a connection between such influencers and right-wing extremist violent criminals: the Finsbury Park assassin was obsessed with Robinson. And also Brenton Tarrant mentioned Robinson in his "Manifesto".

A relevant platform, which was also used by Robinson, is "The Rebel Media". The online portal set up in 2015 by the Canadian journalists Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley aims at a global audience and offers its authors a wide-reaching medium for disseminating right-wing extremist and Islamophobic content: the associated YouTube channel "Rebel News" currently has over 1.2 million Subscribers. In addition to Robinson, the platform has attracted a number of other popular influencers, such as Gavin McInnes, founder of the right-wing extremist "Proud Boys". This American group, which glorifies violence and is at times also prepared to use violence, adheres to the conviction that white men and Western culture as a whole are in a state of siege.

Other influencers include the writer Jack Buckby, who used to belong to the British National Party and recently joined the far-right For Britain, and the journalist and reality show participant Katie Hopkins, who - as one of many - after the attack on Manchester Arena 2017 called for a "final solution". Together with influencers from Canada and Australia, they not only spread right-wing extremist ideas on "The Rebel Media" and other platforms, but also inspire appropriately motivated acts of violence and terrorist attacks. For example, after he shot four people in Fredericton, Canada on August 10, 2018, Matthew Raymond praised "The Rebel Media" not only for its inspiration but also for being the only media channel in a video uploaded shortly after the attack who is not "biased".

Pick-and-mix networks
The third manifestation is what I call "pick-and-mix networks". Those who are in it use a wide variety of sources to form, justify and support their ideological standpoints - an approach that corresponds to that pick and mix corresponds to a candy bar. [5] TV presenters and fictional characters serve as inspiration as well as internet memes, films and books. For example, William L. Pierce's novel "The Turner Diaries", published in 1978 under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald - about a violent revolution in the USA that led to a race war and ultimately to the extermination of all Jews, non-whites, liberals and politicians - and Michel Houellebecqs in 2015 published novel "Submission" - about a seizure of power by Islam in France - just as important and influential for today's right-wing extremist sympathizers as the more historical texts were for the traditionalists of "National Action".

The activities in these networks happen covertly and cannot be seen by the mainstream; They are hosted on image boards and social news aggregators such as "Reddit", "4chan" and "8chan" as well as on other platforms in the Darknet. They are frequented and managed by people who are attracted to right-wing extremist ideologies and ideas, but most of which have probably never been active in offline groups or movements. In their existence on the edge of the Internet, these networks are not only platforms for some of the most extreme and hideous forms of right-wing extremist thought, they all too often provide recognition and validation for those caught up in that thought. So it is not surprising that, in addition to extreme readiness to use violence, terrorist atrocities with a right-wing extremist background are also glorified there.

Contemporary through and through, the first example of this pick-and-mix approach was found in Breivik's "Manifesto". In addition to long stretches in which he reproduced traditional nationalist and right-wing extremist sources, Breivik was also inspired by the so-called Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who killed three people and injured 23 people from letter bombs between 1978 and 1995. He also referred to the British journalist Melanie Phillips, who wrote a book called "Londonistan" in 2006 about the supposed Islamization of the British capital, to the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who campaigned for a ban on the Koran in the Netherlands. British television presenter Jeremy Clarkson, who was fired from the BBC and repeatedly attracted attention with derogatory expressions such as the racist N-word, and Belgian author Koenraad Elst, an advocate of Hindu nationalism with ties to the far-right Flemish group Vlaams Blok.

This approach was similarly evident in Tarrant's pamphlet. He referred both to Oswald Mosley, who founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932, and to the terrorists Dylann Roof and Darren Osborne, but also to the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump. Tarrant also made use of "shit posting" - the deliberate misleading through irony in order to provoke the uninformed - when he claimed that through the computer game "Spyro the Dragon 3" he had everything about ethno-nationalism and through the game "Fortnite" that Learned to kill. The fact that Tarrant streamed his attacks live on Facebook after he had already published photos of his arsenal in his networks illustrates not only the relevance of these networks, but also the completely new way in which such terrorist incidents are planned today and made available to a wider public Be brought to know.


As I have pointed out, right-wing extremist terrorism is real and tangible. It is misleading to see many of the attacks that make up this transnational phenomenon as isolated cases - it means misunderstanding the problem itself. If we look at the long series of acts of violence and terrorist attacks, the clear connection between them, based on right-wing extremist ideologies, cannot be overlooked. To put it more precisely: The perpetrators of these acts were clearly inspired and motivated by the various components of right-wing extremist ideologies described. Be it through the ideas of white supremacy, nationalism or a combination of other components or narratives derived from them such as the "great exchange" - each and every one of these cases is motivated by right-wing extremist ideologies. And the mutual connections go even further, as many perpetrators inspire others to do similar acts. Seen in this way, we are undoubtedly dealing with a transnational, global phenomenon.

If that is not enough evidence, you only need to remember the most recent right-wing extremist attack in Halle an der Saale. On October 9, 2019, 29-year-old Stephan B. tried to break into the local synagogue, where believers had come together to celebrate the Jewish festival of reconciliation, Yom Kippur. When he did not succeed, he murdered a passer-by and a guest in a kebab restaurant. Like Tarrant, B. also filmed his act and broadcast it live on the Twitch streaming platform. And like Tarrant, Crusius and Breivik, he also put a "manifesto" online showing him as a supporter of the conspiracy theory of the "great exchange". Written in English, he hoped to inspire others, and at the same time added another resource to the unofficial database of freely accessible ideological material and relevant instructions.

This begs the question of how this transnational phenomenon could have remained under the radar for so long. There are two possible explanations for this: On the one hand, a large part of the public and political attention is directed exclusively to Islamist-motivated terrorism, which means that the occurrence of violence and terrorism with a right-wing extremist background is not given due attention, let alone given due importance is assigned. On the other hand, it may be more convenient for one or the other not to even notice right-wing terrorism or not to call the child by name. After all, in view of the possible connection between right-wing populism and right-wing extremist terrorism at a time when politicians and governments are increasingly focusing on increasingly populist agendas, it is entirely possible that they will be held responsible for legitimizing certain right-wing extremist ideologies, if not even for potentially resulting acts of violence makes.

Whatever our explanation, it is hardly likely that right-wing extremist violence and terrorism will decline or even disappear in the foreseeable future. In view of the increased opportunities for access to right-wing extremist ideologies and the fact that these ideologies are becoming more multifaceted and complex from day to day, in order to be able to respond appropriately to terrorism from the right - with whatever success - we have to identify the obvious connection between apparently Both admit and understand isolated and unrelated incidents. Likewise, we must be careful not to continue describing the perpetrators as "lone wolves". And finally, it is important to recognize the true extent and extent of these connections. Far from being the solution, this would at least be a first step.

Translation from English: Bernhard Schmid, Nuremberg.