Discuss existing and potential governmental responses to right-wing nationalism and neo-Nazism in one or several countries. Are these punitive and preventive measures sufficient in addressing those ideologies?
The severity of the threat of right-wing terrorism has been debated in recent years, with many arguing that right-wing terrorism is rising, particularly compared to Islamic religious terrorism. Other analysts argue that the threat is overstated (Jones et al., 2020).
However, right-wing terrorism’s connection to right-wing nationalism and neo-Nazism, and the associated threat of violence, xenophobia, and political turbulence, presents a security threat to the United States and the rest of the world (Koehler, 2015).
It is essential that national governments introduce both punitive and preventive policies to address rising ideologies of hatred and violence.
I will briefly discuss the rise of right-wing nationalism and neo-Nazism in Europe (using the Pan-Nordic region as an example) and the United States of America. Next, I will compare existing governmental responses and assess the effectiveness of these measures. Finally, I will recommend additional policy efforts to consider.
Presence of right-wing nationalism and neo-Nazism
The resurgence of right-wing nationalism, a political ideology that combines right-wing politics and populist rhetoric and themes, desires to bring back power to the people and is typically antithetical to liberal democracy (Halikiopoulou, 2019).
Right-wing nationalism is typically hegemonic in its cause as a collective (Halikiopoulou, 2019), and extreme right-wing nationalism and activism are connected with neo-Nazi subcultures that exercise violence and racism (Mattsson & Johansson, 2021).
Some of these right-wing extremist groups are based within a certain region, while others are transactional in nature (and threat). By comparing extreme right-wing nationalism between Pan-Nordic countries and the United States, I hope to draw on similarities and differences between the threat.
Right-wing nationalism in Pan-Nordic countries
Much of the focus on right-wing nationalism is centered on Europe, home to several established right-wing terrorist networks. For example, Nordiska motståndsrörelsen (Nordic Resistance Movement, or NRM) is a transnational neo-Nazi organization that operates in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. The NRM has threatened and attacked minority groups such as homosexual communities, Muslim asylum seekers, and ideological rivals (Jones et al., 2020).
Consider Denmark in the 1980s. The country experienced increased immigration which led to the emergence of a xenophobic subculture and the strong presence of the radical right. Various political and social movements have evolved the radical right into a social movement that includes nationalist associations, militant skinheads, and neo-Nazis.
While there have been lulls in popularity as rival ideologies counter the efforts of the extreme right, national and international circumstances in the past two decades have offered new opportunities for the Danish radical right — both in the streets and as a parliamentary voice (Karpantschof & Mikkelsen, 2017). Similar trends and developments have emerged in other Pan-Nordic countries.
Right-wing nationalism in the United States of America
In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has assembled a list of 150 right-wing terrorist acts and attempts between 1993 to 2017 (ADL report, 2022).
Unlike European examples, where right-wing nationalists are often members of organized and/or political groups, many of these attacks in the United States are seemingly executed by lone perpetrators connected to (or inspired by) an underground network with leaderless resistance (Frontline PBS, 2020). Most right-wing extremist attacks fall under two categories: white supremacists (including neo-Nazis) and anti-government extremists (ADL report, 2022).
In recent years, organized groups branded right-wing nationalists in the United States, such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, have become more prominent. As in the Pan-Nordic region, certain international and social developments have created a platform for right-wing nationalists to gain momentum. For example, the strengthening of liberal political parties and their ideologies (Pahnke, 2021) and the military response to white-power activism (Frontline PBS, 2020).
Existing governmental responses and effectiveness
Political and social expression is fundamental in right-wing nationalism and extremist movements, and governmental policies are necessary to prevent and punish threats and acts of violence.
Governmental responses in Pan-Nordic countries
The NMR is pro-violence and uncompromising, spreading its political agenda and leveraging different kinds of violence, threats, and harassment to prevent retaliation. Yet the NMR remains a legal organization (in Sweden), and NMR members swiftly confront politicians who criticize the movement (Kenes, 2021).
NMR leadership dismisses illegal activities committed by members as isolated and independent acts. In response, the government has mapped out the most active members in the NMR. A minority percentage have been convicted or prosecuted for crimes, with almost a quarter of cases leading to imprisonment. The NMR is also on the radar of the Swedish Security Police (Säpo), who have classified the NMR’s violent tendencies as the second biggest threat in Sweden (after Islamic terrorism) (Kenes, 2021).
Apart from monitoring groups and punishing violent perpetrators, the government is also implementing policies that prioritize equality and promote equal treatment of all persons without discrimination based on gender, race, or ethnic origin. For example, Denmark has established the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR). In addition, the court has found discriminatory video statements by the leader of the Hard Line extreme-right party not to be protected by freedom of speech (ECRI, 2022).
Some European countries have banned right-wing extremist networks and placed sanctions on right-wing extremist groups that allow governments to freeze financial assets and criminalize group members. However, the internet and social media forums remain important platforms for right-wing extremists to spread propaganda and coordinate their actions (Jones et al., 2020).
Other efforts to strengthen democracy against extreme right-wing nationalism in Sweden include initiatives to increase election turnout to enhance democratic awareness, implement democracy-promoting initiatives in civil society, promote democracy in schools, and protect human rights by combatting discrimination, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance. Culture is prioritized as part of the democratic system, and there are initiatives to reduce exclusion among young people and foreign-born individuals (Björklund & Ohlsson, 2011).
Governmental responses in the United States of America
In the United States of America, the comparable right-wing movement is composed of a “highly diverse and loosely connected network of individuals and groups who reject U.S. laws, taxation, currency, and the government’s legitimacy, especially regarding the control of firearms.” (Koehler, 2015).
The fluid and underground nature of these groups makes it difficult for law enforcement to detect communication and group structures before a violent event occurs. Even so, the United States has not banned any far-right organizations (Jones et al., 2020), and the focus remains on religious terrorist networks such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
Although not always apparent, the early warning signs of violent right-wing actions are often ignored, as was the case with the January 06 storming of the Capitol Building, which revealed the lack of preparation for the event and the failure to translate operational intelligence into an effective preventative plan (Perliger, 2023).
Policy recommendations focus on better communication and coordination between the federal government, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies to prevent future events of a similar nature. Public education and awareness of the threat of domestic terrorism is also a priority (Perliger, 2023).
As punishment, civil lawsuits for damages by the victims of far-right violence have been an effective tool (Perliger, 2023). The Biden Administration has also introduced a new unit within the Justice Department that consists of a team of attorneys dedicated to investigating domestic terrorism and tightening the focus on U.S. national security within the borders (Bergengruen & Hennigan, 2022).
Effectiveness of governmental responses
While these preventive and punitive measures acknowledge the threat of extreme right-wing nationalism and neo-Nazi movements, the threat remains understated and debated.
Both the loose and fluid nature of these networks in the United States of America (as well as the country’s strong policy on free speech) and the political authority of these organizations in Pan-Nordic countries suggest that greater effort is needed to focus on preventing the threat of violence.
By studying the United States and the Pan-Nordic region as two Western regions with differing politics and cultures, it is apparent that nuanced efforts are needed to address the cause of right-wing nationalism and the triggers that inspire growth in each region. Some of these efforts will overlap, while others are more specific to the political and social climate.
Potential governmental responses
Mattsson and Johansson (2020) report on the role school and teachers play in handling racism in schools to prevent the growth of the neo-Nazi movement in Sweden. Results show that attempts to isolate troubled students lead to resistance and stigmatization, which fuel the radicalization process. To prevent this from happening, schools and their staff should be educated on the difference between promoting an anti-racist agenda and satisfying the cognitive and emotional needs of racist students.
A long-term approach is recommended by Perliger, who suggests the development of socialization and behavioral processes can prevent political polarization in the United States (2023). A push for developing mechanisms and solutions that address the spreading of hate speech, misinformation, and extremist rhetoric in online spheres should also be a key focus (Perliger, 2023).
In both regions, public education on immigration and its implications are crucial for improving tolerance for migrant communities. Reeskens & van Oorschot suggest that public opinion toward migrants originates from “aspirations about citizenship, as well as perceptions about its realization” (2017). Policymakers should be concerned about the impact of misinformation and how it correlates with immigration policies to nurture a public opinion of tolerance.
Finally, the origins of violence should be considered and intercepted. Mattsson and Johansson study how violence is reproduced and how a violent upbringing and a violent environment during childhood create ideal conditions for a violent neo-Nazi lifestyle (2021). Effective prevention strategies are essential to promote awareness about child mistreatment and to foster a commitment to social change, especially for at-risk children in schools.
- ADL Report. (2022). A Dark and Constant Rage: 25 Years of Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/CR_5154_25YRS%20RightWing%20Terrorism_V5.pdf
- Bergengruen, V. & Hennigan, W. (January 24, 2022). Prosecuting Domestic Terrorism is Notoriously Difficult. This New Team of Lawyers Has a Mounting Caseload. TIME. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://time.com/6140308/domestic-terrorism-justice-department-unit-joe-biden/
- Björklund, J. & Ohlsson, B. (2011). Action plan to safeguard democracy against violence-promoting extremism. Government Offices of Sweden. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://www.government.se/contentassets/b94f163a3c5941aebaeb78174ea27a29/action-plan-to-safeguard-democracy-against-violence-promoting-extremism-sr.-20111244 ECRI. (2022).
- ECRI Report on Denmark (sixth monitoring cycle). Council of Europe. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://rm.coe.int/6th-ecri-report-on-denmark-/1680a6d5e4
- Frontline PBS | Official. (November 03, 2020). Documenting Hate: New American Nazis (full documentary) | Frontline. [Video]. YouTube https://youtu.be/-XFBVAAzXjc
- Halikiopoulou, D. (2019) Right-wing populism as a nationalist vision of legitimating collective choice: a supply-side perspective. The International Spectator, 54 (2). pp. 35-49. ISSN 0393-2729 doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/03932729.2019.1588544
- Jones, S., G., Doxsee, C., and Harrington, N. (March 2020). The right-wing terrorism threat in Europe. A report of the CSIS Transnational Threats Project. Center for Strategies and International Studies.
- Karpantschof, R., & Mikkelsen. F. (2017). The rise and transformation of the radical right movement in Denmark 1980–2015. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40, 8, 712-730.
- Kenes, B. (April 2020). NMR: A Nordic neo-Nazi organization with aims of establishing totalitarian rule across Scandinavia. ECPS. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://www.populismstudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/ECPS-Organisational-Profile-Series-4.pdf
- Koehler, D. (2015). Right-wing extremism and terrorism in Europe. Current developments and issues for the future. Prism 6, 2, 85-104.
- Mattsson, Ch. & Johansson, Th. (2020) The hateful other neo-Nazis in school and teachers strategies for handling racism, British Journal of Sociology of Education 41, 8,1149-1163,
- Mattsson, Ch., & Johansson, Th. (2021). “We are the White Aryan Warriors”: Violence, homosociality, the construction of masculinity in the National Socialist Movement in Sweden. Men and Masculinities 24, 3, 393-410.
- Pahnke, A. (March 31, 2021). How the far right got a stranglehold on the West. Aljazeera. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/3/31/how-the-far-right-got-a-stranglehold-on-the-west
- Perliger, A. (January 02, 2023). Contextualizing the Jan 6th Report: Contemporary Trends in Far-Right Violence in the US. ICCT. Accessed on May 20, 2023, from https://www.icct.nl/publication/contextualising-jan-6th-report-contemporary-trends-far-right-violence-us
- Reeskens, T., & Van Oorschot, W. (2017). Conceptions of Citizenship and Tolerance towards Immigrants. In Oxford University Press eBooks (pp. 177–198). https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198795452.003.0007