ANALYSIS - US Extremist Violence Rooted In Social Inequality, Polarizing Politics

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 02nd June, 2022) Social disruptions, polarizing political language, and widening economic inequality are the Primary drivers behind the substantial increase in violent extremism the United States has seen in recent years, experts told Sputnik.

Violent extremism came to the forefront in the US earlier this month after an 18-year-old white supremacist killed ten Black people inside 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 US is concerned these fighters may eventually become a domestic threat when they return to the United States.

"It's a clear and present danger. The economic fallout from the pandemic has been contributing to it, the economic recession of 2008 has been contributing to it, the immigration crisis in Europe and elsewhere has been contributing," University of Maryland Psychology Professor Arie Kruglanski told 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 the hate crimes committed last year targeted Blacks, followed by attacks against Whites (11%), Jews (8%), Gays (8%), and Hispanic or Latinos (6%).

Kruglanski, co-founder of the US Homeland Security-sponsored National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism, said the number of hate groups soared by 55 percent in the US from 2016-2019. He said uncertainties threaten people's livelihoods and social worth which creates a situation where masses of people are vulnerable to ideas that empower them and give them purpose.

"The narrative... promises you that through violence you will gain significance, and unfortunately the white supremacists nowadays have been proliferating (this) in recent years, primarily between 2016 and 2020, and they have been gaining legitimacy," Kruglanski said.

Some people feel that white supremacist theories identify who is responsible for their suffering and what to do about it, which mainly encourages violence against those alleged enemies, Kruglanski said.


People may be further encouraged when hateful white supremacist ideas are condoned by US politicians or lawmakers, Kruglanski said, adding that several far-right politicians have been riding this wave.

"The fact that they legitimize it gives it a lot of credence, a lot of authority," Kruglanski said.

The fact that the far-right has received so much legitimacy in recent years is definitely something that leads to greater violence on behalf of these ideas, he added.

Resolving this issue may depend on whether there is a political will to confront the issue head on. However, there is a lot of political advantage in exploiting these vulnerabilities, which US politicians have been doing to get votes, Kruglanski said.

Social media companies, he added, should also think about to what extent hateful messaging is allowed on their platforms.

Kruglanski said extremist violence may get worse in the United States if the political climate remains polarized and if the economy remains uncertain amid high gas prices and rising inflation.

Randall Rogan, terrorism expert at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told Sputnik that the different movements, such as Black Lives Matter, the racially-charged riots, and protests following George Floyd's death, the January 6 Capitol riot, and the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic created a sense of turmoil for all individuals.

"I would argue that's been so disruptive to our lives, but particularly for young men, who have been in high school during this time period, and probably are, in many ways socially inept. They have been bullied or they have been outcast," Rogan said. "And they have been alienated and they look for solace and look for a sense of, of definition, a sense of direction and purpose in their lives, and they're doing that online and they get sucked into these different websites."

The sense of white shame and white guilt coming from these social changes feeds into some of the potential negative stereotypes troubling these individuals, which may then be legitimized by content they find online, Rogan said. Individuals may get inspired online by conspiracy theories that advocate or promulgate ideas that are racist in nature, Rogan added.

He also said US politicians and lawmakers can partially be blamed.

"Let's dial it back a bit and the vitriol and the shaming and the canceling things that are going on in this country, dial back this aggressive behavior around everything that we're engaged in," Rogan said. "Let's start listening to other people and stop talking so much."

He also said we need to listen to what children are saying and really focus on their mental health needs.

The widening gap in social inequality in the United States also contributes to extremist violence in the country as well, Kruglanski said.

The compensation of CEOs rose by more than 900% between 1978 and 2018, according to the US Economic Policy Institute. The Federal Reserve said after the 2008 recession the top 10% got richer by 2016 while the remainder of America took losses.

The pandemic-induced economic fallout has caused consumer prices to increase 8.3 percent while Americans are paying all-time high record prices at the gas pump.

"There are several things society can do, one is try to reduce the inequality that exists in society that is widening in recent years," Kruglanski said. "Try to reduce the fears of the economic and the existential fears of masses of people. There are a lot people who are really suffering in this country and that has to be addressed and has not been addressed sufficiently."