Dr. Kamran Bokhari, the Director of the Center for Global Policy’s program on Governance in Muslim-Majority States, sat down with Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, author of “The Extreme Gone Mainstream,” to discuss the rise of far-right or white supremacist nationalism. Miller-Idriss is a professor of education and sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the International Training and Education Program in the School of Education at American University. Miller-Idriss says that the Christchurch attack was “utterly predictable” and that most scholars who study far-right extremism were “shocked but not at all surprised” by the event. She notes that in the United States, far-right or white nationalist extremism has long been considered a fringe movement, but it now has a much broader base.
Three factors contributing to the rise of far-right extremism are structural conditions, ideological factors, and emotional vulnerabilities, Miller-Idress says. The perception of economic vulnerability or marginality, demographic changes that play on fears or perceived threats, and a need to have a sense of belonging or purpose all make people — particularly young people — vulnerable to any kind of extremist ideology. With language categorizing immigrants or “the other” as a kind of disease or invasion becoming more common in the political landscape, those susceptible to white supremacist ideology become even more vulnerable to it.
Though white nationalist ideology rarely mentions the nationalists’ ideology, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are both thick strands running through the movement, Miller-Idriss says. The most crucial step for the United States government to take in fighting far-right extremism is to provide funding and support for research, Miller-Idriss says. Other countries, such as Germany and Norway, have committed great resources to researching far-right extremism and ways to prevent it, such as social intervention programs. The United States has no kind of intervention programs in place except for multicultural education in schools.
Miller-Idriss says that the United States needs to spend time learning about the far right, understanding it, and looking at different potential outcomes for young people. Starting intervention programs for young people — something to give them a sense of purpose or belonging — is another step, but the government needs to find experimental designs for implementing such steps. Miller-Idriss says that before any meaningful work can begin on the issue in the United States, policymakers need to take it seriously.