The Normalisation of White Supremacist Terrorism

Last week’s horrific attack on two Shish bars by a far right extremist in Germany has led to several questions relating to concerns around motivation, activation and implication. It was the third attack by far right extremists in nine months, this by far the deadliest.

In many respects, Eugenicism is making a comeback of sorts. Increasingly, politicians across Western Europe are feeling comfortable with expressing sentiments that would ordinarily be defined as racist. These views espoused the idea that there is the inherent difference between particular racial categories, with the white category at the top of this tree. Invariably, it places people of a darker skin at the bottom of this hierarchy. The historical attempts behind these efforts were to maintain the status quo concerning slavery and later colonialism, but it subsequently developed into the concept of scientific racism, the zenith of which is the Nazi Holocaust programme. Too many believe that Adolf Hitler introduced a policy of elimination targeting Jews, communists, leftists, homosexuals and all others who would reject the values of the Third Reich. The reality is that this was merely the peak of that was in play in North America and Europe for the greater part of a century leading up to.

Last week, Number 10 had to move very quickly to dismiss Andrew Sabisky who had been appointed in response to Dominic Cummings calls for ‘weirdos and misfits’ to join the heart of government to help government outside of the box in developing radical policy interventions and solutions. It was quickly revealed that Sabisky posted racist messages online, with some of his writing confirming that he viewed particular minority groups as somehow inferior and undesirable, including where depopulation through sterilisation would be seen as a viable policy. This was no aberration, however. Numerous Conservative party politicians have been accused of Islamophobia, which is akin to racism. The current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written on minorities as ‘piccaninnies’ bearing ‘watermelon smiles’, while recently he described Muslim women as ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’. It is also well-documented that President Donald Trump favours the ideas of eugenics, even applying it to his marital relations, suggesting that in mating with Eastern European stock, he would be producing superior children. All of this suggests the normalisation of racism and a particular logic of white supremacism.

For what is currently known about the incident in Hanau, A 43-year-old German man shot and killed nine people while injuring five others in two shisha bars. Most were Turkish and Kurdish men and women, with a Bosnian, Bulgarian and Romanian in the mix. He later returned to his home, first shooting his mother before committing suicide. This suggests a combination of problems relating to ideas of the self and the other, and the internalisation of a particular kind of racism that pertains to the view the white groups are superior but they are under threat due to growing minority populations in particular urban centres, with their respective high birth rates and in-marrying. The motivations of this particular man were to prevent the dilutions of whiteness, as he saw it. But it is also clear that the assailant had particular mental health issues, something that is significant amount Islamist extremist actors, although the emphasis on reporting in the media is on ideology and religion when it comes to far right extremists in their attacks against particular religious minority groups. The emphasis is less on ideology and more on individual concerns regarding their mental health or other personal matters for far right aggressors. This is a fundamental failure of reporting, especially in the mainstream press, although the reality is that with more and more examples, ie, Breivik in Norway in 2011 and Tarrant in New Zealand in 2019, it is now impossible to ignore what is palpably clear and apparent. The Hanau attacker, Tobias Rathjen, published a manifesto citing fear of immigrants and disdain towards women.

In trying to understand how far right extremists become motivated, activating an organised, there has been much emphasis in the recent past on the idea of lone-wolf extremists. That is individuals who operate at the fringes of society, but effectively on their own. It is now clear that many of these attackers have an online presence, which allows them to develop their ideological perspectives as well as learn of methods and processes concerning attacks. But while this radicalisation occurs online, real-world connectivity is nevertheless important to understand. It is clear that we live in an era where racism towards minorities, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment targeting a particular category of a minority that is already facing a host of social, cultural and political pressures, has become the new normal. This racism fuels the fire right ideologies of white supremacism, cultural superiority and notions of exclusivity which is seemingly threatened by the realities of migration and the settlement of minorities. Politicians in the global north are routinely demonising such groups for political gain, but it is clear that those at the very fringes of society are mobilising these sentiments into far more sinister outcomes. Invariably it reflects on the individuals who face the consequences of rapid transformations to the local economy and society, and who are invariably men who no longer receive the trappings of advantage associated with their gender. It also reflects on an ideology that receives broad acceptance elsewhere in social life. There will be many in Europe, who are increasingly becoming worried by these recent developments, where random Muslims are seemingly targeted where they are collected, whether it is shisha bars or praying in mosques. These people are being pursued because it fulfils an existing agenda driven by hatred, intolerance and racism. While Muslims are naturally going to be fearful about these issues, the vast majority will carry on regardless.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier: “Let us take the responsibility that we all have: watch our language in politics, in the media and everywhere in society. And oppose the deprivation of dignity of individuals or minorities in our country”.

In understanding what is happening concerning far right attacks against Muslims, three factors remain important in appreciating the nature of the problem. First, these far right attackers are finding fuel for their ideological predilections from the machinations of mainstream society and politics. Second, the counterterrorism and counter-extremism policy frameworks that currently receive considerable attention across the global north are ill-equipped to deal with the growing threat of far right extremism because so much attention was historically placed on the idea that the most sinister forms of extremism are only of the Islamist kind. Finally, the reporting on these issues remain skewed, biased or is entirely invisible. It is wholly incumbent upon observers to report on matters fairly and obsequiously. Only then will this topic get the wider recognition it deserves. And that it will encourage those working in this field to understand that extremism and terrorism among different actors share common characteristics. And that, as societies, if we concentrate on those social development concerns for all, then there is a real chance of eliminating the threat of terrorism for all because it is clear that there are patterns of reciprocal extremism in the current climate, and to break this vicious cycle, a focus on local area community development concerns and issues of social inclusion remain paramount.



Academic and commentator

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store