Skip to main content Accessibility
The Intelligence Report is the SPLC's award-winning magazine. Subscribe here for a print copy.

Reshaping Extremism

The 1990's was a remarkable decade on the American radical right with events such as Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City, and the birth of the 'New World Order.'

Ruby Ridge. Waco. Oklahoma City. The birth of the "New World Order" and the modern militia movement. By almost any account, it was a remarkable decade on the American radical right.

There was a sea change in the attitudes of the insurrectionists. In the 1980s, white supremacist groups like the Posse Comitatus and The Order murdered a number of people. But their targets seemed focused: law enforcement officials, a radio talk show host who had insulted extremists, alleged informers.

In the 1990s, all that changed. Suddenly, with the blast that shook Oklahoma City awake at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, massive "collateral damage" had become acceptable. Children, Social Security recipients and other innocents — all were fair game. For a stunning number of radicals, there were no regrets. As several wrote: "Hail McVeigh!"

Testifying against his former associate, Michael Fortier could have been speaking of much of the contemporary extreme right as he described Timothy McVeigh's thinking: "[H]e explained to me ... that he considered all those people to be as if they were the storm troopers in the movie 'Star Wars,'" Fortier testified.

"They may be individually innocent. But because they are part of the, the evil empire, they were, they were guilty by association."

The Patriot Decade
Throughout the 1990s, the pace and severity of domestic terrorism picked up, only dropping back at the very end of the decade. Where the FBI typically worked about 100 domestic terrorism cases at a time in the early 1990s, it was investigating close to 1,000 as the millennium came to a close.

The decade was remarkable in other ways as well. The Internet fueled the growth of hate and helped radical groups recruit among the young. Antigovernment "Patriot" groups grew tremendously, peaking in 1996 before starting a steady decline. Softer-line groups grew harder as weekend revolutionaries went home.

Hate groups like the Klan grew through the latter half of the decade despite a booming economy, only beginning to fall in 1999 as many retreated to cyberspace. Hundreds, if not thousands, were sent to jail as authorities cracked down on the far right — many in revolutionary conspiracies that included planned mass murders.

At decade's end, it was the extremists who cowered in fear. Anticipating widespread problems caused by the Y2K computer bug, large numbers expected the imposition of martial law at midnight on Dec. 31. Others saw an opening for revolt. But the apocalypse was a no-show: no martial law, no revolutionary violence, no computer-driven societal collapse.

Symbolically, Y2K marked the end of an era — the petering out of the 1990s, a decade that may well be remembered as the Patriot Decade. Now, as we enter the new millennium, important new trends are shaping the future.

'Hate Has Its Reasons'
Neo-Nazism, once shunned, is increasingly important — a fact reflected in the growth of the National Alliance, a group led by the author of The Turner Diaries, the novel used by McVeigh as a blueprint for his attack. The white supremacist movement is more international.

Racist variants of neo-pagan religions like Odinism are on the rise, while the more entrenched and specifically American racist theology of Christian Identity declines.

Many small hate groups are consolidating into larger ones. More "mainstream" groups and politicians are picking up on racial themes once confined to the fringe. Overall, the movement is showing a remarkable resiliency.

And then there is globalism.

In a report on the extremism of the new millennium, the Intelligence Report details a remarkable convergence of traditionally "left" and "right" political doctrines — a volatile mix that could define the shape of things to come.

Increasingly, the far right is keying in on "left" issues like the environment and animal rights and supporting "national liberation" struggles of even non-white peoples against "imperialism" — or more specifically, transnational capitalism.

Globalism makes an inviting target. As non-white immigration increases in most Western countries, nativist resentment is growing. At the same time, the new global economy has pressured many working people, adding to the rage.

"As economic globalization has accelerated, producing definite losers and winners, so too has the momentum of neofascist and right-wing extremist organizations," says Martin Lee, an expert on fascism.

Lee's point is an important one. Difficult economic conditions do not by themselves create extremists — but they do provide fertile ground for the recruiting pitches of the radical right. For those who seek to battle the spread of hate, it is worth remembering that some underlying causes are real. Hate, as The New York Times Magazine pointed out recently, has its reasons.