By most accounts, right-wing extremism appeared to make a comeback in the United States during the 1990s. Although, this did not manifest itself in electoral success due in large part to the nature of the American electoral system, the far right seemed to gain ground as a social movement. What is more, recent trends in technology, such as the internet, have enabled the far right to reach out to a potentially larger audience than it has in the past. Finally, some high profile confrontations with law enforcement authorities and horrific acts of political violence—most notably the 1995 bombing of Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City—have seared the issue of right-wing terrorism into the public’s mind.
Previously, America was seen as relatively safe from a serious domestic terrorist threat. However, some high-profile terrorist incidents have done much to alter this image. And over the past few years there has been a flurry of new anti-terrorist laws and measures enacted. 1 The Clinton administration placed a high priority on counter-terrorism.
The pattern of domestic terrorism is in a state of flux. Left-wing terrorism is in retreat and Puerto Rican separatist terrorism, though still sporadic, appears to be attenuating perhaps due to the recent referendum in which Puerto Ricans decided by a large majority to reject independence and remain a part of the United States. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the US Department of Justice, has identified new actors that threaten to fill the void. First, are the so-called single-issue terrorists such as the eco-terrorists and extremist anti-abortion groups. Second, are the international terrorists who can take advantage of America’s porous borders and liberal immigration laws and conduct activities inside American territory. Finally, there are domestic right-wing terrorists who have captured much attention after the bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. Although small in numbers, right-wing terrorists are among the most active of all terrorist categories in the United States. 2 Moreover, the American far right is widely dispersed with adherents in all major regions of the country as Table 1.1 illustrates. 3 Finally, according to a 1996 Center for Democratic Renewal estimate there are roughly 25,000 “hard core” members and another 150,000 to 175,000 active sympathizers who buy literature, make contributions, and attend periodic meetings. 4