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The Far-Right Movement Has Been a Deadly Force In the U.S. For Decades

By LIDA TUNESI

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, the far-right movement has been responsible for over 70% of extremist murders in the U.S. over the last decade. The movement is old, violent, and expanding, and Ph.D. student Mason Youngblood (Queens College, The Graduate Center) thought it was time to take a closer look.

Youngblood’s new study, published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, analyzed the spread of far-right extremism in the U.S. from 2005 to 2017. He also identified social, economic, and political factors that make radicalization more likely to happen in a geographic area.

“The results push back against the portrayal of far-right extremists as ‘lone-wolves’ with some sort of psychopathology, when in reality most of them are part of a larger movement,” Youngblood said.

Using a database of radicalization events from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Youngblood determined that the growth of the movement happens through a process that requires a person to be exposed to far-right extremism multiple times before they are radicalized.

Looking at the data through the lens of disease and contagiousness, Youngblood found that far-right radicalization doesn’t spread quite as wildly as the flu, but outbreaks happen when the conditions are right. And while social media helps movements reach people who might not otherwise get involved, the spread is still geographically based.

The study shows that places are more likely to have far-right radicalization if they are majority Democrat, have high poverty, low unemployment, are mostly white, and have more hate group activity.

Though the model can’t explain the reasons behind these factors, Youngblood offers some ideas. For instance, many majority-Republican areas are rural regions with low population density where radical violence doesn’t often happen. And in an area where most people have jobs but the jobs are low-paying or have poor benefits, people might be more prone to radicalization than in an area with greater income inequality.

Overall, when far-right radicalization happens in a city or region, it makes it more likely for it to happen in the future, the study found.

Youngblood hopes that studies like this will pave the way for people to curb the movement.

“Interventions are urgently needed and should focus on fighting online and offline extremist organizing at the local level, as well as reducing some of the risk factors such as poverty.”