On Thursday, May 2nd at 10:00 AM, WIIS and the Embassy of Liechtenstein organized a policy roundtable on right-wing and religious violent extremism. In this roundtable, panelists explored the relationship between the global rise in right-wing/violent extremism and authoritarianism/ populism. Furthermore, the group discussed the role of gender and gender norms in explaining the movement.
LOCATION: Truman Center for National Policy
- Audrey Alexander, Senior Research Fellow, GW Project on Extremism
- Sarah Kenny, Program Assistant, Women In International Security
- Erin Miller, Program Manager, Global Terrorism Database, START
- Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, Associate Professor, American University
- Mary McCord, Visiting Professor of Law; Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, Georgetown
- Eric Rosand, Director of the Prevention Project: Organizing Against Violent Extremism
- Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, President, Women In International Security
- Maya Whitney, Program Assistant, Women In International Security
Dr. Miller started off the panel by discussing some definitional challenges in the extremism sphere. While religious violent extremism is rooted in relatively concrete systems and ideologies, far-right and right-wing extremism proves conceptually more challenging to isolate and distinguish. With the understanding that “nothing takes place in a vacuum,” Dr. Miller discussed her attempt to focus on the main beliefs driving actors and movements within the relatively non-descript umbrella category of “far-right”.
Professor Miller-Idriss expounded upon the definitional challenges that Dr. Miller raised. The term “far-right” does not translate neatly across variant national contexts; rather, right-wing ideology and organizing take place across a complex spectrum. She advised practitioners and scholars to ask stakeholders to explain the terms that they are using and the beliefs they attribute to those terms.
Audrey Alexander with the GW Project on Extremism noted that women have superior network capabilities although they make up a smaller portion of violent extremists. Furthermore, online platforms provide women with forums for organizing that they specifically have lacked access to. Women who participate in online extremist communities can also mainstream the movement in ways that male actors typically do not by softening, feminizing the dynamics of organizations.
Sarah Kenny, WIIS Senior Program Assistant, raised the questions that drove her to research women in the alt-right, such as ‘where are the women’ and ‘do the women matter to these movements’. Through her research, she has found that women can comprise 15-25% of alt-right organizations in the United States. Furthermore, gender is not just a lens through which to analyze far-right violent extremism, but it is fundamental to extremist ideologies.
Mary McCord with Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection began her remarks with a review of the resources she has seen allocated to countering terrorism over the course of her career in public service. McCord stated that the most common offense associated with terrorism is the material support statute. Due to first amendment challenges, this statute has not extended to domestic terror activity that is motivated not by foreign terror but instead by national political and social ideologies. Although the lethality of far-right violent extremism exceeds that of religious violent extremism, the US code does not punish or prioritize American citizens who carry out violence that she argues should be classified as terrorism.
Eric Holder, Director of the Prevention Project, spoke to the difficulties of defining far-right extremism across international, multilateral bodies when singular nations struggle to define the ideology and behavior within their own borders. In a growing number of governments, far-right actors have secured a sliver of political power, legitimizing their voices and tying them to parties in a way that further complicates codes that would condemn their ideology and behavior. Eric encouraged the audience to think of challenges and solutions that lay beyond the legal frameworks and social media companies that dominate the current discussion of the threat. Among the gaps in our current response toolbox, Eric stressed the concept of prevention as a theme that is almost entirely absent from our response.
Audience questions included queries about the difference between white nationalism and extremism, the religious composition of far-right organizations, the barriers to implementing a domestic terrorism statute in the US code, and what research projects each panelist dreams a unicorn fund would support to address the challenges broached over the course of the panel.
Find the link to the panel here.