THE U.S. FAR RIGHT’S 2018 ELECTION RESULTS: A BLIND-ALLEY FOR THE ALT RIGHT

A large number of candidates with ties to the Far Right ran for office in the 2018 midterm elections, mostly as Republicans. They ranged from neonazis to mainstream Republicans who courted the Far Right for support.

This analysis looks at thirty-five candidates with documented Far Right ties. It found that eleven of them lost primaries, and twenty-four ran in the general election.* While a number of candidates won their primaries, no non-incumbents with clear Far Right ties won office on the state or national level. Of the incumbents, only three were re-elected. At the same time, the Democrats reclaimed the U.S. House, breaking the Republican’s two-year domination of the Executive branch and both national legislative bodies. Clearly, 2018 showed that the electoral arena was not an avenue the Alt Right—or others on the Far Right—could use to advance political power. While Donald Trump gives their movement leverage, his surprise 2016 presidential victory has not translated into electoral successes for other candidates.

All primary candidates listed ran in either the Republican or non-partisan primaries. Those that won their races, or ran in the general election as independents, are covered in the section below on the general election.

SPRING 2018 PRIMARY ELECTION
Many Far Right candidates ran in the spring primary. Two of those that lost received national attention. One was Patrick Little, an antisemite who has been described as a White nationalist, and has the dubious distinction of being one of the few people banned from Nazi-friendly social media platform Gab for making violent threats. He received 1.3 percent (just under 90,000 votes) in the California Senate primary. After the election, he travelled around the country doing antisemitic publicity stunts.

The other focus of attention was Paul Nehlen, who was initially supported by Breitbart in his bid to be the GOP’s candidate for U.S. representative in Wisconsin’s District 1. Originally he was running against  Paul Ryan, until the congressional speaker announced his retirement. During the primary, Nehlen veered further to the Right and took on open White nationalist and antisemitic positions. He received 11.1 percent (over 6,600 votes).

Keith Alexander, a member of the White nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens and host of The Political Cesspool radio show, lost the primary for GOP assessor of property in Shelby County, Tennessee. He was denounced by the party but still received over 10,000 votes.

Bryan Feste, who sought an “all white nation,” was expelled from the Hawaiian GOP. He nonetheless appeared on the ballot and received 24.9 percent (99 votes) in the primary for the Hawaii District 2 state representative.

Michael Peroutka, a Christian Reconstructionist and former member of the neoconfederate League of the South, lost the primary race for County Council chair in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. An incumbent, he received 47 percent of the vote.

James “Jamie” Kelso, the director of the White nationalist American Freedom Party, ran for a school board position in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He came in eighth of nine candidates in a non-partisan race, garnering less than 4.4 percent (over 1,000 votes).

In addition to candidates with openly White nationalist views, many others on the Far Right ran, including those tied to the Patriot movement and Alt Lite. Joey Gibson, the leader of violent Far Right group Patriot Prayer, ran for senator to represent Washington state. He received 2.3 percent (over 38,600 votes). Joey Nations, who had attended Patriot Prayer events, ran for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District seat and took 20.6 percent (almost 8,900 votes).

Shawna Cox, who participated in the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon in 2016, ran for Kane County, Utah County Commission. She received 24 percent of the vote.

In addition, a number of Republicans courted Alt Lite and Patriot movement groups, although they appeared not to be members of these movements themselves. They included Edwin Duterte, who appealed to the Alt Right by signing up for a premium account on Gab. He lost California’s U.S. House primary (43rd District) with 4.3 percent (over 2,700 votes).

Kelli Ward, who ran in the GOP primary to be a U.S. senator from Arizona, had said she wanted to go on a bus tour with Alt Lite figure Mike Cernovich. She came in second with 27.6 percent (over 180,900 votes). Disgraced former sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been pardoned by Trump in 2017, came in third in the same race, with 17.8 percent (over 116,500 votes).

Michael Williams, a Georgia state senator who sought to be his party’s gubernatorial candidate, lost with 4.9 percent (over 29,600 votes). His campaign stunts included a “deportation bus” tour—which promoted Trump’s anti-immigration policies—and posing with armed members of the Georgia Security Force III% militia. In December, he was jailed for filing a false police report.

Egregious behavior was not limited to candidates with concrete Far Right political ties tho.

Despite withdrawing before the election, Jazmina Saavedra received 10.1 percent (over 4,300 votes) to be a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from California. She had previously filmed herself harassing a transgender woman. Jeanne Ives, the GOP’s candidate for Illinois governor, received 48.6 percent (over 341,800 votes). She had received a $1,000 campaign contribution from a neonazi sympathizer after she aired a new campaign ad targeting the transgender and immigrant communities; she said she would return the money.

FALL 2018 GENERAL ELECTION
This analysis examined twenty-four candidates that participated in the 2018 general election who had documented ties to the Far Right. It found that three won re-election—two to the U.S. house and one to a state senate, all of which were incumbents. But all other Far Right candidates failed to win their seats, including all of the non-incumbents.

The most high profile winner was incumbent Republican Steve King, who squeaked by with 50.4 percent (almost 157,700 votes) in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District. King had received widespread media coverage for appearing on and promoting White nationalist and antisemitic websites and podcasts, as well as retweeting various White nationalists.

Matt Gaetz won re-election to the U.S. house in Florida’s District 1 with 67.1 percent (almost 216,200 votes). Gaetz had invited Charles Johnson, a Holocaust denier and White nationalist troll, to the 2018 State of the Union address.

Incumbent Washington state representative Matt Shea  (District 4, Position 1), won re-election with 57.7 percent (almost 39,600 votes). Shea has close ties to the militia and Patriot groups; in October, it was revealed that he had written the manifesto “Biblical Basis for War,” which said of his enemies, “If they do not yield – kill all males.”

The losers were many, even if some had disturbingly high returns. The most infamous was Arthur Jones, a perennial candidate who has been active in neonazi and other White nationalist groups since the 1970s. He won the GOP primary for Illinois District 3 U.S. representative after the party failed to field a candidate against him. Despite national media coverage of his views, Jones still received 26.2 percent in the general election (almost 57,900 votes).

Michael Santomauro, a longtime antisemitic activist who had previously booked lectures by Holocaust denier David Irving, ran as mayor of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. He received less than 2 percent (over 300 votes).

Everett Corley received 32.3 percent (over 3,000 votes) in the race for Kentucky State House, District 43. He had appeared on a White nationalist radio show The Ethno State in 2014, during which he denounced interracial couples who have children.

Russell Walker ran for state representative in North Carolina’s District 48, receiving 37 percent (almost 8,600 votes). He had stated that God is a “white supremacist” and that Jews are “satanic.”

Harry V. Bertram, a White nationalist in the American Freedom Union Party, ran for the West Virginia state representative in District 51. He received less than 1 percent (over 900 votes).

White nationalist Rick Tyler ran as an independent for both Tennessee’s governor and U.S. House. For the latter, he received 1.8 percent (over 4,500 votes).

Antisemitic conspiracy theorist John Fitzgerald ran for U.S. representative in California’s District 11. He received 28.1 percent (over 43,000 votes).

Another antisemitic conspiracy theorist, James “Jim” Condit, Jr., ran as a Green Party member for U.S. representatives in Ohio’s district 2. Denounced by the state Green Party, he received 1.2 percent (over 3,400 votes).

Islamophobe Seth Grossman ran as the Republican candidate for New Jersey’s U.S. House District 2. He received 46.2 percent (108,822 votes).

Corey Stewart, a Republican who had supported antisemites and White nationalists like Jason Kessler and Paul Nehlen, lost his Senate bid with 41 percent (over 1.3 million votes).

Antisemitic conspiracy theorist Bill Fawell received 38.2 percent (over 86,200 votes) in his race for U.S. representative in Illinois District 17.

Shiva Ayyadurai, an independent who appealed to the Alt Right for support in his run against liberal Senator Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, got 3.4 percent (over 91,700 votes).

The most high profile loss was Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who sought to become governor. He was plagued by Far Right associations, including citing a White nationalist on his campaign website and his campaign hiring three members of Identity Evropa as political consultants. He received 43.3 percent (443,300 votes).

Incumbent Dave Brat lost his re-election race for U.S. House in Virginia’s District 7 with 48.4 percent (almost 169,300 votes). He had previously publicized how VDARE—a White nationalist anti-immigrant website—had supported an amendment of his.

Dana Rohrabacher also lost his re-election bid for U.S. representative from California’s 48th Congressional District with 46.4 percent (almost 136,900 votes). He was linked to Holocaust Denier Chuck Johnson.

Mark Callahan has been a regular at Patriot Prayer events. He received 41.9 percent (almost 149,900 votes) in Oregon’s 5th District U.S. house race.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) lost his attempt to become a Pennsylvania U.S. Senator after receiving 42.6 percent (over 2.1 million votes). Before the election, it was revealed that he was interviewed in 2006 by the American Free Press, an antisemitic, White nationalist publication which had emerged from Willis Carto’s Spotlight newspaper.

Antisemite and Islamophobe Steve West received 36.8 percent (almost 5,400 votes) in his run for Missouri state representative in District 15. A radio host, he had proclaimed that “Hitler was right.” His own children campaigned against him.

Vickie Paladino, was a state senate candidate for District 11, in Queens, New York. A conspiracy theorist and supporter of the Proud Boys, she received 24 percent (almost 18,000 votes).

Ryan Bundy, a participant in the armed standoff at his family’s Nevada ranch in 2014 and a leader of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside of Burns, Oregon in 2016, ran as an independent for Nevada governor. He received 1.4 percent (almost 13,900 votes).

Seth Grossman received 45.2 percent (almost 116,800 votes) in the race for U.S. House in the New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District. The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) withdrew its support for him after he promoted various White nationalist websites.

In addition to candidates who withdrew—such as Virginia U.S. House candidate Nathan Larson, who promoted White nationalism as well as pedophilia—there were a number of other Republican party and government officials in 2018 who were connected to these issues.

In January, Tom Kawczynski was fired as town manager in Jackman, Maine for promoting the idea that the northeast should be a White homeland. In May, Fred Fleitz was appointed as the chief of staff of the National Security Council. He was previously the senior vice president of the Center for Security Policy, which believes that Muslims are plotting to take over the United States. In late August, emails revealed that a former Homeland Security Official, Ian M. Smith, was deeply enmeshed in White nationalist social circles. In November, Ray Myers, a member of the committee that helped write the Texas GOP’s platform, wrote on Facebook, “Damn Right, I’m a WHITE NATIONALIST and very Proud of it.” And also in November, Raw Story reported that at least five Jewish candidates had been targeted by also Republicans with ads that portrayed them as clenching wads of cash—an antisemitic stereotype.

*NOTE: Undoubtedly, many other candidates with Far Right links ran who are not included in this documentation. This list largely focuses on candidates who received media attention for their politics and weighs heavily towards those with White nationalist, Alt Lite, and antisemitic views and ties. A closer look would no doubt find many more candidates who, for various reasons, received less attention for their Islamophobic, Christian theocratic, misogynistic, anti-LGBTQ, and/or Patriot movement views and political associations.

The Future of the U.S. “Populist Radical Right” and White Nationalism: Looking at Cas Mudde’s The Far Right in America

Cas Mudde is the author of The Far Right in America (Routledge, 2017). Photo: Frankie Fouganthin.

Donald Trump did not invent nativism or right-wing populism, but he did provide those ideologies a more prominent platform than it has enjoyed in many decades. And, as scholar Cas Mudde warns, its claws in American society will ensure that it outlives his presidency. But will a revitalized White nationalist movement do the same?

The relationship between mainstream U.S. political currents and White supremacy is a complicated issue. Because the country was built upon slavery and Native genocide, the U.S. liberal political tradition has always been deeply connected to White supremacy—a contradiction with its own ideals of democracy and equality. The Civil Rights Movement was able to dismantle some of the explicit government rules that upheld this system. It secured voting rights for people of all racial backgrounds, abolished Jim Crow segregation laws, and propelled changes in immigration law.

Of course, these victories did not end White supremacy, and nor did Barack Obama’s election. It remains in effect in many institutional structures—such as home ownership, employment, and incarceration—as well as in cultural beliefs and interpersonal actions.

The Far Right is another beast entirely from this liberal system, and explicitly rejects its principles altogether. Instead, the Far Right relies on ethnocentric notions of the nation, conspiracism that sees treasonous secret elites conspiring against a hoodwinked people, looming apocalyptic scenarios, and worship of traditional social authority against democratic participation. Because of this, ounce-for-ounce the Far Right is far more dangerous than the White supremacy entangled with our current political and cultural life.

First, it is intertwined with antisemitism and overt misogyny—as well as other systemic oppressions, such as Islamophobia. Second, the Far Right is more than merely a concentrated form of institutional racism; it is qualitatively different. It seeks to drive the existing power imbalances forward. The Far Right also has a greater ability to innovate new political forms (including slogans, themes, and organizing structures), since it is not limited in its political imagination by the offerings of the present.

Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia and author of The Far Right in America (Routledge, 2018), has written about the variety in how right-wing groups are defined and offers insights to the current situation. In his book (which anthologizes essays written between 2009 and 2017), Mudde uses the term “far right” to cover groups that oppose liberal democracy, such as neonazis, and the “populist radical right,” including Breitbart, Pat Buchanan, and Trump, which works through the political system and is based on nativism, authoritarianism, and populism.1

Mudde defines nativism as “a combination of nationalism and xenophobia,” which sees all non-members of the national group as a threat. Authoritarianism desires a “strictly ordered society, in which infringements of authority are to be punished severely.” And he defines populism as “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, the pure people and the corrupt elite, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people. Populist radical right politicians claim to be vox populi (the voice of the people).”2

Breaking with the norm, however, Mudde is resistant to call Trump a populist: “Trump is not the vox populi (voice of the people) but the vox Donaldus (voice of The Donald).”3(Mudde does admit, however, that later in his presidential campaign Trump moved closer to a populist position.)

Instead, Mudde rightly says, “to accurately understand politicians like Trump and [Dutch Islamophobe Geert] Wilders, and the challenge they pose to liberal democracy, authoritarianism and nativism are at least as important as populism, if not more so.”4 In a December 2017 Guardian essay, Mudde argues “Why nativism, not populism, should be declared word of the year.” There, he says, “within the core ideology of the populist radical right, populism comes secondary to nativism, and within contemporary European and US politics, populism functions at best as a fuzzy blanket to camouflage the nastier nativism.”

Mudde also warns, rightly, that Trump has not created populist radical right sentiment in the United States. Movements and organizations embracing this perspective have frequently appeared suddenly, quickly gained large followings, and then just as rapidly deflated. Mudde’s list includes the anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement (1850s), the second-era Ku Klux Klan (1920–­30s), both pre- and post-war Nazis, the third-era Klan (1950s), the John Birch Society (founded in 1958), George Wallace’s presidential runs (1968 and 1972), and more recently the militia movement (1990s), the Tea Party (2000s), and today’s anti-immigration groups.5 (Many of these same groups are covered in Right-Wing Populism in America, by former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons, which Mudde recommends.)

More recently, however, the populist Radical Right has developed a strong base inside the Republican Party, which became very visible with the Tea Party’s rise and impact on the 2010 mid-term elections. Mudde says, “The success of Trump is in many ways the product of a decade-long radicalization of the grassroots and cadres of the party.”6 In a 2012 article, Mudde presciently quotes Richard A. Vigueri as saying, “Tea Partiers will take over the Republican Party within four years.”7 Vigueri was right in general—although it did not take the exact form he expected.

And in both his book and another December 2017 Guardian essay, “‘Trumpism’ is ingrained in white America,” Mudde identifies the problem as one not just in the present—but in the future, as well. In that later essay, he says,

for years surveys have shown that strong authoritarian, nativist and populist positions command pluralities, if not majorities, among Republican supporters. Positions on crime, immigration and Islam have hardened rather than weakened, while conspiracy theories that were at the fringes of the militia movement in the 1990s are now widespread. …

What the increasingly forgotten rise of the Tea Party indicated several years before was simply confirmed by the rise of Trump: the Republican establishment had radicalised its base to such an extent that it was no longer representative of its views. Trump didn’t hijack the Republican party, he provided the base with a real representative again. …

Populist radical right ideas such as Trumpism have always been widespread within white American society. Just as the Republican establishment couldn’t control Trump, Trump can’t control Trumpism. It has been here before him and it will be here after him, because it is part of American political culture and history.

This is important to emphasize because there seems to be an unarticulated assumption that this current wave of xenophobic nationalism will simply rise and fall, like these other past Far Right bubbles. But Mudde is right to show that this populist radical right sentiment has been a consistent and growing part of the Republican base for at least a decade, and is no flash in the pan—Trump or no Trump.

And rather than being too pessimistic, Mudde doesn’t go far enough in his analysis. His focus is on the populist Radical Right, and he has long emphasized its ascendance in Global North politics, but he misses the mark in dismissing the roles—and risks—of the openly White nationalist Right in the United States.8 This, too, has the potential to establish itself as a more permanent, and mainstream, part of U.S. political life.

In the media and mainstream political society, advocacy of open White nationalism has remained taboo since the Civil Rights Movement. Every breathless exposé of a neonazi implies this: the public titillation about the existence of Nazis in our communities—when in fact they have been in the United States since the 1920s—is reliant on their excluded nature. And this is what makes techniques such as doxing (publicizing private information about an individual) effective: the resultant social shunning and potential employment problems are based on the taboo remaining intact.

Will avowed White nationalism become a legitimate political discourse from here on out?

Mudde is correct that the populist Radical Right was not created by Trump, and it will continue to be a toxic presence in U.S. society well after he is gone. There is another goalpost: Will avowed White nationalism become a legitimate political discourse from here on out? With a slew of candidates running in Republican primaries, White nationalists are hoping to gain elected positions. The February 2018 CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) is a good bellwether. In addition to a variety of populist Far Right figures who were invited speakers, many White nationalists attended the conference itself unlike past years, including Identity Evropa’s Patrick Casey and Marcus Epstein.  And while the Alt Right has met a number of organizational stumbling blocks lately—with leaders like Richard Spencer cancelling his college speaking tour and Matthew Heimbach becoming embroiled in a sex scandal—the movement itself isn’t going anywhere.

Trump’s presidential campaign and victory had a clear energizing effect on White nationalists and other openly xenophobic Far Right activists such as Islamophobic and anti-immigrant groups. But will these groups, so visible in the present moment, simply slink off the national stage as they have in the past? Alternatively, will this be the opening of a new era in which avowed White nationalists will once again be part of mainstream political discourse?

Endnotes

1 Cas Mudde, The Far Right in America (London: Routledge, 2017), 1­–3.

2 ibid, 2.

3 ibid, 49.

4 ibid,116.

5 ibid, 4–8, 50.

6 ibid, 40.

7 ibid, 21.

8 ibid, 6, 13.

What Is ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorism in the Digital Age?

On July 23 of this year, John Russell Houser opened fire inside a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater, killing two women and injuring nine others before turning his gun on himself. Houser was a disaffected loner with a history of publicly expressing Far Right views, although most of his political activity had taken place online. In January 2014, reacting to the arrest of a Greek neo-Nazi parliamentarian, Houser wrote on one of the party’s affiliated websites, “you must realize the power of the lone wolf.”

Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof

The concept of autonomous “Lone Wolf” terrorism as a dominant strategy for U.S. political extremists has been widely discussed recently, especially after the horrific mass shooting in Charleston earlier this year, which was allegedly planned and carried out independently by Dylann Roof. It is also the focus of Naomi Braine’s research report “Terror Network or Lone Wolf,” published in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine. Braine demonstrates the tendency of U.S. law enforcement and media to frame Far Right terrorists as Lone Wolves, while Muslim militants who act similarly are usually described as part of international jihadist terror networks. She raises the question of whether the Lone Wolf paradigm is a realistic approach to combating right-wing terror: is a landscape of disparate Lone Wolves, standing apart from political networks, really the most accurate representation of domestic terrorism in the United States today?

Indeed, Roof’s case suggests that in the digital age, it may be easier than ever before for individuals to be turned towards political violence in a relative vacuum. But it also suggests that the very concept of what group membership means has shifted with technological changes, thereby blurring the distinction between Lone Wolves and traditionally organized political actors—a difference that is central to the Lone Wolf paradigm.

A long-running debate exists concerning what, exactly, a Lone Wolf is. The concept is linked to the notion of “leaderless resistance”—a tactic promoted by White nationalist Louis Beam in his 1983 essay of the same name. Beam suggests that, in order to avoid detection by the authorities, White nationalists should eschew traditional top-down organizational structures and instead form small “phantom cells,” which operate independently of higher leadership and are more difficult to track. To further enhance security, he also discourages communication between cells. In Beam’s formulation, both individuals and small groups can constitute cells. Lone Wolf terrorism represents an even more strictly decentralized variant of leaderless resistance: it refers to actions wholly planned and carried out by an individual working outside of any organized groups.

The best-known proponents of the strategy under this name were White nationalists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger; Metzger’s essay “Laws For The Lone Wolf” urges right-wing terrorists to avoid involvement with any and all “membership groups.”

While Lone Wolf terrorists are influenced by the ideologies of external groups, they cannot be affiliated with them in any significant way.

Defining and identifying Lone Wolf terrorism is important because, according to former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet, “different investigative techniques with different levels of government intrusiveness are required depending on the type of target. Therefore accurate descriptions of target terrorist formations and potential terrorist cells are crucial for the effectiveness of stopping actual acts of terrorism.”

The matter quickly becomes more confusing, however. It is impossible to determine how many White nationalist Lone Wolves have existed who were directly inspired by these doctrines. It is also unclear how much contact Lone Wolves can have with their political milieu, and what forms that contact can take.  Beam, for example, said they could keep abreast of their movement through “newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc.”

The notion of the Lone Wolf has been adopted by right-wing monitors and academics and applied more broadly to include other political movements; it has also changed meaning. Some extend the term to describe people who are members of political groups, but acted alone in their crimes (such as Michael Wade Page, the Oak Creek gunman, who was a member of a Nazi skinhead gang). Others use it interchangeably with leaderless resistance, referring to the actions of more than one person. Some insist that to be true Lone Wolves or members of phantom cells, participants can never have had prior involvement in political organizations. Could a Lone Wolf ever have belonged to a membership group, and if so, how long in the past—one day or twenty years? Finally, the mainstream media has recently tended to erroneously use the term to imply that Lone Wolves are not ideologically motivated actors.

So, does Dylann Roof qualify as a true Lone Wolf? Thus far, under the traditional definition, the answer seems to be yes. Although he self-identifies as a White nationalist in his so-called “manifesto,” Roof was not a member of any organized racist group. The closest he may have come to formal participation was potentially commenting on the White nationalist website The Daily Stormer. And while Roof had expressed White supremacist views in pictures on his Facebook page and personal website, he did not inform anyone in advance of his attack that he was planning to commit racially motivated mass murder.

Nonetheless, something is different here: Roof’s manifesto reads like the testimony of a committed racist partisan, referencing organized White nationalist groups by name and weighing in on some of the movement’s internal debates. Even if he acted alone and never held group membership or had in-person social ties, there is more to the relationship between Roof and the larger White nationalist movement than simply referring to him as a Lone Wolf would suggest.

Tom Metzger

Tom Metzger

There could, perhaps, be a more complicated relationship between Lone Wolf actors and the larger political movements they are aligned with. In 2003, Simson Garfinkel, a researcher who has studied domestic terrorism, wrote that the de facto outcome of leaderless resistance was the division of the Far Right movement into two parts: one seemingly innocent element that publically expressed Far Right ideals, using coded language to name targets for domestic terrorism; and the other an underground element made up of phantom cells, that derived its objectives and views from the first group. The only connection between the two is that the second group is aware of the first’s opinions; the two elements do not communicate directly. (Braine’s article goes further, showing how many so-called Lone Wolves have longstanding social and political ties to larger political movements.)

Newer, Internet-based groups further cloud these questions about what “group membership” means. The Internet is filled with groups and organizations of every conceivable ideology and belief set, but each can have its own version of what constitutes “membership.” For example, the “hacktivist” network Anonymous presents itself as a membership group, but has no formal membership protocols and no membership list, public or otherwise. Inclusion in the group is contingent only on one’s awareness of its cause and willingness to identify as a member—journalist Carole Cadwalladr wrote that “if you believe in Anonymous, and call yourself Anonymous, you are Anonymous.”

Despite well-reasoned claims to the contrary, Dylann Roof may indeed have been what is traditionally considered a Lone Wolf terrorist—but that distinction is based on analytical frameworks developed before the rise of today’s Internet.1

Determining whether an actor fits into the category of Lone Wolf, or is better described as a participant in leaderless resistance or organized terrorism, is based on an outdated binary definition of group membership, in which actors and larger groups are unequivocally either affiliated or unaffiliated with one another. In the digital age, now that belief in the cause and self-identification as a group member can be the only prerequisites for inclusion, it might be entirely possible for a Lone Wolf to act completely independently and still be fully politicized members of political movements, participating in movement debates and interacting with other members online—indeed, for Roof, this seems to have been the case.

To best represent the new nature of domestic terrorism, a new set of terms and a new model of these concepts and acts may be necessary.

*PRA associate fellow Spencer Sunshine contributed to this report.


 

[1] It’s important to note that early proponents of leaderless resistance tactics, such as Beam and Metzger, were no strangers to the Internet’s potential benefits for Far Right political actors. In 1984, one year after publishing “Leaderless Resistance,” Beam established a computer bulletin board system (BBS) called “Aryan Liberty Net,” affiliated with the Aryan Nations white supremacist organization. Soon afterwards, Metzger started his own BBS—the “W.A.R. Computer Terminal,” affiliated with his White Aryan Resistance group. By posting racist literature on their U.S.-based BBSes, Beam and Metzger were able to disseminate White supremacist ideas to people in foreign countries where hate speech was banned or restricted. Despite these computer networks’ connections to the progenitors of Lone Wolf terrorism, however, one aspect of their implementation and content distinguishes them from today’s Far Right Internet: unlike the ubiquitous Internet of today, the narrowly focused BBSes were explicitly affiliated with established hate groups and primarily intended for use by group members; in an article in the Inter-Klan Newsletter and Survival Alert, Beam claimed to be implementing “special electronic code access available only to Aryan Nation/Klu Klux Klan officers and selected individuals.” Although Beam and Metzger employed the Internet for political purposes at the same time that they were promoting leaderless resistance and Lone Wolf terrorism, the engagement of White supremacists with early Far Right BBSes is significantly different from the relationship between the contemporary Internet and Lone Wolf terrorists. Whether users of those BBSes constituted Lone Wolves, under Metzger’s original definition, remains an open question.