Analysis of rising far-right terrorism in the country often focuses on the threat it poses to minority communities, the political left, and liberal democracy. The danger it poses to institutions generally cherished by the broader American right and conservatives has not attracted much attention. In this three-part series, CFR researcher Jacob Ware assesses the threat of violence from far-right terrorists against entities including the Republican Party, the U.S. military, and U.S. law enforcement.The first post can be accessed Gentlemen.
The summer of 2020 will be forever remembered for the relentless protests and riots against police brutality in the United States and abroad.
Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism
Peaceful protesters took to the streets following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, May 25, 2020, to express their outrage at continued police brutality against young black men and women. At night, however, peaceful protesters are sometimes replaced by militant far-left anarchist rioters who often commit terrorist violence against federal targets — a police union building in Washington, D.C., was firebombed, while a police union building in Oregon The federal courthouse in Portland was also attacked. Riot attack.More than 2,000 police officers were injured throughout the summer. As the Black Lives Matter movement dominated the airwaves, an adjacent movement fought back under the moniker “Back the Blue,” loudly supporting police and often calling for George Floyd’s killer and accomplices to continue free.
Just days into 2021, that narrative has been turned upside down. On Jan. 6, a U.S. Capitol police officer died of a stroke after being sieged at the Capitol when he was sprayed with chemicals and then collapsed. In the days and weeks that followed, several people committed suicide. More than a hundred officers were wounded. The violence against the police that day was not collateral damage in a larger conspiracy; for some, the police were legitimate targets, complicit in the apparent election theft of the rioters. A post on TheDonald.win forum warned: “Police are not ‘standing’ if they are lying on the ground, in a pool of their own blood.” Rising tensions are also being felt outside the US capital: a An Idaho police trainer, a former oath-keeper, has called for the execution of government employees who were disloyal to former President Donald Trump, declaring, “We’re on the brink of civil war.”
Days after the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago last August, law enforcement once again found itself the target of the violent far right as part of an investigation into Trump’s handling of classified information. Conservative Politicians Lead Against Police, Congressman Ronnie Jackson (R-TX) tweet, “Tonight the FBI is officially an enemy of the people!!!” A Florida House candidate added, “According to my plan, all Floridians are allowed to shoot the FBI, IRS, ATF and all other federal troops ’” In Cincinnati, a gunman approached an FBI building, causing a mass lockdown and stoking fear among the bureau’s rank-and-file employees. The attacker, a Trump supporter who was present on January 6, was shot dead after a police chase. “I’ve always been concerned about threats to law enforcement,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in response to increased threats after the raid. “No matter who you are upset with, violence against law enforcement is not the solution.”
conservative The fear of violence against law enforcement is absolutely valid. Police officers risk their lives every day to protect their own safety and keep the public safe. In 2022, more than 200 police officers will die in the line of duty. But, despite popular claims, when ideologically motivated violence is considered, far-left extremist violence has not resulted in police deaths in the United States. Historically, most domestic terrorism violence against police has come from the far right. No American anti-government extremist has caused as much terror and bloodshed as Timothy McVeigh, a military veteran who killed Alfred Mullah in Oklahoma City in 1995 A large truck bomb detonated outside the building. McVeigh intended his attacks to do the utmost damage to the country’s law enforcement agencies — especially the Agency for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has offices in the building — which he viewed as authoritarian and Excessive. “When the aggressor force is constantly attacking from a specific base of operations, it is sound military strategy to engage the enemy,” McVeigh wrote in a letter to Fox News weeks before his execution.
Recent acts of domestic terrorism against the police have often been carried out by far-right elements. In June 2014, two Las Vegas police officers were executed by an anti-government couple aiming to start a revolution. Additionally, the deadliest terrorist incident of the 2020 summer protests targeted several police and security personnel in California, killing two. The perpetrator, Steven Carrillo, was a champion of the nascent “boogaloo” movement, a largely right-wing anti-government extremist movement aimed at starting a second civil war. “The Boogaloo revolution was against the government,” Carrillo explained in an interview, “but the police are basically the government’s dogs on a leash.”
Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism
Violent far-right extremists have also become increasingly adept at manipulating social justice protests for their own ends. The May 2020 attack on the 3rd Minneapolis Police Precinct was perhaps the most notorious incident of anti-police violence that summer, a stain on any legitimate protest against police brutality. But that attack was carried out in part by violent far-right extremists. A 26-year-old antigovernment extremist from Texas has been arrested and charged with rioting after he helped set fire to a police precinct and fired 13 rounds into the blaze. Another particularly aggressive mob smashed the AutoZone’s windows. Known as “The Umbrella Man,” he was found to be associated with the white supremacist Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood prison gang. “This is the first fire that sparked a spate of fires and looting throughout the precinct and other parts of the city,” Sheriff Erica Christensen wrote of the Umbrella Man’s incitement tactics, which included vandalism and other acts designed to anger the mob. “Until . . . the ‘Umbrella Man,’ the protests were relatively peaceful.”
Those warning of violence against police by the far left often cite two ambushes against police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas in July 2016. Eight police officers were killed in unrelated shootings that followed another summer of Black Lives Matter protests. But even those incidents of domestic terrorism cannot be easily classified as “left”. For example, the Baton Rouge killer was a black supremacist associated with the cause of so-called sovereign citizenship. Antigovernment movements accounted for 15 percent of domestic terrorism incidents listed by the FBI between 2015 and 2019, and Sovereign Citizens are often cited by police groups as the most dangerous threat to police more consistently correct. The online activity of the Dallas terrorists showed support for the New Black Panther Party and the Islamic State group, which the Anti-Defamation League explained “has maintained a record of anti-Semitism and racism since its founding in the 1930s”—suggesting that they can actually be linked to Find more common ground with the average left-leaning American than with their far-right white supremacist counterparts. The fact that the FBI lists white supremacists and black supremacists under the same category — “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism” — is a nod to their similar approaches, despite ideological opposition. Then, like violent far-right extremism, the far fringes of the political left don’t necessarily align with the views of ordinary voters.
Of course, far-left violence often targets law enforcement. One particularly notorious case involved two New York lawyers who admitted to throwing Molotov cocktails at an NYPD car in May 2020. In July 2019, an Antifa activist was shot and killed while trying to firebomb a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Tacoma, Washington. The incident, which may have been the closest Antifa followers have come to a terrorist murdering a law enforcement officer, did not result in any major police casualties. Conservatives, who have condemned the arrest of far-right extremists for the Jan. 6 riots, often complain about a two-tiered justice system in which conservatives appear to be arrested for certain activities while liberals are not. But in the summer of 2020, at least 17,000 protesters were arrested for crimes, more than seventeen times the number arrested on January 6.
A recent analysis of incidents of domestic terrorism in 2020 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that far-left extremists were more likely than far-right extremists to attack the “government, military and police” — 58% of far-left attacks occurred between January and the year Far-right attacks accounted for only 18% of attacks against the government in August. But far-right violence is far more pervasive and more lethal than far-left attacks. Rhetorically, grievances against law enforcement and government may be more central to far-left and anarchist extremism—but violent far-right extremists are more likely to act on such grievances, and more likely to claim casualties. At the same time, extremists in law enforcement pose a threat to the integrity of the entire institution itself, not to mention the general public.
Ordinary American citizens are quite right to fear violence against the police officers tasked with protecting them. But the notion that the threat to the police comes exclusively from the far left and not the far right is simplistic and partisan, if not outright false. If conservatives are really interested in pro-blue, they should also fear, condemn and work to end violent far-right terrorism.