Policy Pub: Intended Consequences: The Role of Fringe Movements in Civil Unrest

To learn about these topics in more depth, please navigate here to watch the full Policy Pub and Q&A from Dr. Casserleigh, presented by FSU’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

This policy pub details the organizational behavior of terrorist networks, and the role that fringe movements play in civil unrest. To begin with, the United States has a very dynamic political environment that gives way to a plethora of different ideas. This presentation is focused chiefly on the ideas and actions associated with violent extremist groups in the United States. Violent extremist groups not only advocate for the use of violence for their purpose or cause but also acts on that, too. Predominantly, right now, in the United States, when we look at violent groups, we are mostly talking about far-right movements.

Fringe movements in America are centered around two core ideas: the first being there is more going on than is reported in the media, and the second being that only their group can stop what is going on. This presentation focuses on three main violent extremist groups: Boogaloo, Sovereign Citizens, and The Proud Boys. These groups are considered some of the greatest domestic security threats by The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

Dr. Casserleigh, a professor in the FSU Emergency Management and Homeland Security program, examines the mainstreaming of domestic terror groups and fringe movements such as QAnon, the Boogaloo and Sovereign Citizen, with a look at their recent role in violent counter-protesting.

The Boogaloo Boys are individuals associated with an online community characterized by calls for civil strife and ownership of firearms and tactical gear– have advocated for an armed revolution online and at public rallies. The Boogaloo believe that the federal government has failed and they need to step in and create civil order. The Boogaloo subscribe to an accelerationist ideology. Meaning, The Boogaloo attempt to employ violence to stoke racial tensions and accelerate what they believe is an impending race war. These groups often use peaceful protests to cover up violent activities.

The Sovereign Citizens are a group of anti-government extremists that believe that even though they reside in the United States, they are separate or “sovereign” from the country. This group has been active since the early 1980s and has a membership consisting of mostly white supremacists and anti-Semites. Sovereign Citizens believe they get to dictate which laws to follow and which to ignore.

The Proud Boys are a self-described chauvinist organization that also subscribes to an accelerationist perspective. The Proud Boys believe it is their job to defend traditional white nationalist values. The Proud Boys have been banned from most social media platforms and are one of the FBI’s greatest concerns as far as right-wing radicals.

Many of the far-right extremists have taken to fighting against black lives matter. However, the majority of the people fighting against it are doing so because of the threat black lives matter poses to the status quo, not necessarily because of opposition to the movement itself. In the last two years, there has been a rise in violent extremist organizing, as well as incidents targeting specific groups or minorities. Anti-government, white nationalist extremist groups are on the rise. These groups employ violence to not only further their cause but draw people into the movement, as well. Certain websites, like QAnon, are used by these organizations to spread their messages as well as encourage others to spread disinformation across other social media sites.

Q: Old school terrorism just involved damage to property, and explicitly did not entail murder. Could a group that only commits property damage still be considered an extremist fringe group?
A: Absolutely. The threat of violence is enough to put you into the category of questioning your motives.

Q: Has there been a spike in the number of armed protestors under the current presidential administration, as compared to previous administrations?
A: I am not sure what the number of arm protestors was under Obama. But there was a rise in hate groups after he was elected. Although, it’s really unusual to see armed protestors at any event. In general, law enforcement and local communities do not approve of any armed protestors. It’s a very destabilizing presence, especially in an era of such extreme gun violence. It’s shocking to me the number of armed protestors we are seeing, and it is shocking to me that the police haven’t tried to step in and ask these people to put their guns away.

Q: What is the role of the internet in this?
A: The internet is just another forum. It’s just another way to communicate. If we weren’t on the internet, we’d be writing letters. If we weren’t writing letters, we’d be sending smoke signals. As humans, we are always inclined to communicate, and always inclined to spread our ideas and to receive validation. So, the internet is just another communication tool.

Q: What about economic inequality and how is this potentially influencing fringe groups?
A: There is some research that suggests that the majority of men who are attracted to fringe movements, like these particular alt-right, neo-nationalist movements, and I’m not being sexist, I say “men” because empirically, it is predominantly white men who join these movements and it is predominantly working-class men who feel like they have been disadvantaged economically and like other groups are surpassing them in economic attainment and like they are being left behind. So, economic drivers are a very credible variable when looking at why an individual is attracted to fringe movements.

If you would like to learn more about this topic more in depth, or hear more answers from the Q&A, please check out the full video.

Dr. Casserleigh is a professor in the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Department at Florida State University, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for Disaster Risk Policy. You can learn more about Dr. Casserleigh here.

The feature image is from Flickr.

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