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Domestic Terrorism and Extremist Groups Research Paper

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Right and Left Wing Terror Groups in America


Extremism in the U.S. is on the rise, based on the rise in polarization throughout the country as the Left and the Right become more and more opposed to one another ideologically, politically, socially, and emotionally. There is a strong rift between the two and little sense of common ground. Much of this rise has come on the heels of the rise in social media use, which allows individuals to promote their views to the rest of the world in a way that was literally unheard of prior to the digital revolution (Freberg, Graham, McGaughey & Freberg, 2011). As social media use has essentially risen exponentially since its inception in the 2000s, the level of ideologically-driven Influencers in the space is a reflection and facilitator of the level of extremism in the United States.

As both the popularity of groups like Antifa on the Left and Proud Boys on the Right show, young people are the ones most likely to be drawn into extremist groups. They are the ones to most likely be using social media, networking with others and falling prey to terror predators seeking to lure impressionable young minds into their cells (Chatfield, Reddick & Brajawidagda, 2015; Costello & Hawdon, 2018; Mouras, 2015). The politicization of views has only intensified with the clash of two cultures in 2016—a blue collar, mostly religious, anti-Establishment culture on the Right vs. a liberal, inclusive, mostly progressive, politically correct culture on the Left. Since 2016 there has been no movement within the country to close the cultural gap, and so a rise in violence has been seen on both the Right and the Left.

The future trends and threats as it relates to domestic extremist groups are that an increasing wave of polarization will lead to mounting tribalism, where groups splinter and fracture off from larger communities. Tribalism can lead to nests of pockets of extremist behavior and thinking, similar to terror cells. The Branch Davidians in Waco, TX, could be called a foreshadowing of what is to come in the 21st century. However, with the power of social media, the extent to which tribal groups can grow and develop is much higher than it was in early the 1990s. As Hamm and Spaaj (2015) point out, the relaxation of gun laws in the 1990s and the increase in mass shootings since that decade all indicate a breakdown in social order and an inflammation of extremist mentalities, extremist groupthink, and extremist tendencies. Since the ability to create havoc on a large scale using small-arms weapons is readily available, there is no need to believe that weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) should be the main focus of counter-terrorist activity. Rather, individual extremists or lone wolves are fully capable of wreaking extreme violence on a local populace. They may be stopped shortly afterwards, but because so many are being radicalized by social media and being invited to join radical groups, they are springing up everywhere like wasps in a swarm.

Preventing the swarm mentality is going to be the main challenge going forward, and it is not going to be easy as the main tool of indoctrination—social media—is difficult to police and the wider Internet with its various platforms where extremists can meet and gather online is even more difficult to monitor and control. Digital technology has allowed for unprecedented growth in communications, and the more connected people become, the easier it is for extremist groupthink to proliferate. For this reason, the trends of violence, domestic terror and extremism are likely to continue to rise unless totalitarian structures are put in place with respect to the Internet and to small-arms weapons acquisition.


A lack of a feeling of representation and a sense that politicians are trying to strip citizens of their Constitutional rights are two of the main factors that have contributed to the rise of political extremist groups in the US. Beinart (2017) notes for instance that Antifa has developed in the US in response to perceived authoritarianism by the US government. The members of Antifa associate today’s leaders with the Fascists of the 1930s and 1940s. The rise of the Black Panthers in the 1970s came about for similar reasons—particularly in response to the assassinations of the 1960s and especially the murder of Malcolm X, who had vitalized black America with rhetoric and actions that did not shy away from violence the way Martin Luther King’s black movement did. Black Nationalism today, particularly Black Lives Matter, is fueled by a contempt for law enforcement, which the group views as unfairly targeting and killing black Americans (Mulloy, 2014).

Thus, it can be seen that the rise of extremist groups in the US is essentially a reaction to policies and actions on the part of the government. The members of these groups feel marginalized and oppressed by the government and believe that there is no other choice or option left to them other than to take violent action against the government and its agents. For this reason, the Lone Wolf terrorist the Unabomber targeted Americans as a way to express his outrage for the authoritarianism of the US government (Barnett, 2015).

Part of the problem is that the political system itself in America does not lend itself towards overcoming the differences that these groups feel. It does not really foster and promote bipartisanship. The two sides—Right and Left, Republican and Democrat—create a political arena in which the members of the two sides adopt a competitive spirit and demonstrate active animosity towards one another. The Left vowed to stop President Trump upon his election, and the Right responded with equally contentious words and actions. The extremist group Proud Boys developed on the Right, for instance, to counter the Leftist extremist group Antifa in the streets, while their political representatives under Pelosi and Schumer and Graham and Paul, respectively, battled it out in Congress.

The spirit…

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…ideas of hostility and aggression are now amplified a hundred-fold thanks technological advancements in communication.

The situation is exacerbated by the patriotic zeal with which the message is reinforced (Vitolo-Haddad, 2019). The individuals involved in this marketing of extremist and domestic terror cloak their hatred in images of symbolic violence and thus make use of slogans like “Don’t Tread on Me!” or “1776 or Die!” or other similarly themed slogans that recall to mind the calls the of Founding Fathers and their fighting spirit. By associating their extremist views with the voices of the Founding Fathers they drape their ideology in patriotic zeal, which attracts others who also want to be patriots—but they also give a corrupted vision of patriotism that is slanted towards the ideological perspective of the extremist group, whether it is on the right or the left (Vitolo-Haddad, 2019). This in turn fuels the base as it grows and the group’s vision is conflated with the patriotic visions of others who are lumped in together with the extremist group even though their own ideas might not be extreme. This is what happened with members of Proud Boys, including the founder of the group, Gavin McInnes. Extremists are brought into the group and are associated with the group’s message—but the group itself is only loosely organized and is being pushed and pulled in various directions. Multiple people from multiple ideologies may approve of Proud Boys because they opposed Antifa, but others may object to them because they have been associated with White Nationalism. So there is a lot of confusion in and around the groups themselves and no one really ever knows what the doctrine of the group actually is (DeCook, 2018). To some degree, members of these groups simply post online in order to rile up the opposition: it is a form of trolling that people do on social media, such as Twitter, so as to provoke an angry response from one’s political opponent. President Trump himself often engages in this type of behavior and is known to try to trigger his political opponents by mocking them on Twitter.

This type of example, however, only enflames the environment in which extremism exists: it is like pouring fuel on a raging fire. Instead of calling for peace and solidarity, leaders are constantly trying to one-up one another, which only causes the spread of symbolic violence and imagery of that character to worsen (Vitolo-Haddad, 2019). In the end, the individuals of the nation have to realize that patriotism is about being American and that being American is about having a certain amount of freedom and respect for others. There is not a one-size fits all mentality that has to be arbitrarily applied to everyone—but people in extremist groups fail to realize this because they are indoctrinated from a young age by others online who want to advance their ideological ambitions and create a world in which terror is an acceptable form of vengeance (Hamm & Spaaj, 2015). Of…

Sample Source(s) Used


Barnett, B. A. (2015). 20 Years Later: A Look Back at the Unabomber Manifesto.  Perspectives on Terrorism, 9(6), 60-71.

Beinart, P. (2017). The rise of the violent left. Retrieved from

Chatfield, A. T., Reddick, C. G., & Brajawidagda, U. (2015, May). Tweeting propaganda, radicalization and recruitment: Islamic state supporters multi-sided twitter networks. In Proceedings of the 16th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (pp. 239-249).

Costello, M., & Hawdon, J. (2018). Who are the online extremists among us? Sociodemographic characteristics, social networking, and online experiences of those who produce online hate materials. Violence and gender, 5(1), 55-60.

DeCook, J. R. (2018). Memes and symbolic violence:# proudboys and the use of memes for propaganda and the construction of collective identity. Learning, Media and Technology, 43(4), 485-504.

Freberg, K., Graham, K., McGaughey, K., & Freberg, L. A. (2011). Who are the social media influencers? A study of public perceptions of personality. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 90-92.

Hamm, M &Spaaj, R. (2015). Lone wolf terrorism in America: Using knowledge of radicalization pathways to forge prevention strategies. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from

Klein, A. (2019). From Twitter to Charlottesville: Analyzing the Fighting Words Between the Alt-Right and Antifa. International Journal of Communication, 13, 22.

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