Transnational RWE, right-wing-extremist threats arrested in Germany
They are related to our domestic threat by RWE
Here in the US, we awoke this morning to the news from Germany, that they had taken swift, decisive action to disrupt an armed coup by elements of Germany’s far right. Most Americans will shrug and think, “yeah, that’s great but what does it have to do with me?” The answer to this question is today’s TAT post.
The two RWE, right-wing-extremist groups/ movements mentioned were previously considered a bunch of crackpots. If this sounds familiar, it’s because prior to the Trump era, most Americans felt the same way about our fringe groups, right, left, or otherwise. As someone who has been professionally immersed in terrorism, CT/ counterterrorism for a couple or decades or more, I can assure you that this problem is directly tied to not only the US RWE community but with other similar globally. This connectivity has also bled over into the US political landscape, most notably on January 6th, 2021.
Since this is an extremely complex and dense topic, today I will only be able to address the most significant issues. Even so, it may still require some pondering on the part of readers to grasp the scale of the problem.
First, the good news, we have a new CT strategy for countering domestic terrorism as of June 2021 and data suggests that outside of January 6th’s armed insurrection, lethality is down from previous periods of violent extremist activity. Still, there are reasons for heightened vigilance regarding violent extremist activity.
To establish a few data-points, CSIS, one of the world’s foremost think tanks and US based, has provided us with a data-driven report on violent extremist activity in the US from 1 January 2020 through 31 August 2020.
That data from the CSIS report shows, 2/3 of US plots and attacks come from RWE while 20% come from Anarchists/ Anti-Fascists. The weapons of choice in this data shows that bombs, firearms and incendiary devices were primary among RWE and physical violence w/o weapons dominated Anarchist/ Anti-Fascist violence.
White supremacists and other like-minded extremists conducted two-thirds of the terrorist plots and attacks in the United States in 2020, according to new CSIS data. Anarchists, anti-fascists, and other like-minded extremists orchestrated 20 percent of the plots and attacks, though the number of incidents grew from previous years as these extremists targeted law enforcement, military, and government facilities and personnel. Despite these findings, however, the number of fatalities from domestic terrorism is relatively low compared to previous years.
22 Oct 2020
As the next graphic will show, most violence by both left and right, revolved around the civil unrest, post the George Floyd murder and related episodes. While that LWE violence around these events was primarily defensive, the incendiary devices used focused on buildings, vehicles and infrastructure almost exclusively. RWE violence was offensive against demonstrators and involved offensive use of firearms and incendiary devices against persons. Of course, there are exceptions on both sides.
These percentages, although heightened during the election year and George Floyd related protests, are somewhat representative of the building trends over the course of and post the former administration.
To put more of 2020’s unrest into perspective, CSIS went back and collected data from 1994 through December of 2021. The charts below will help to understand how dramatic 2016 – 2021 are relative to recent history. The biggest change from the Oct 2020 report is in the difference between RWE and LWE extremists in the use of firearms. Still, the dynamic of RWE being primarily offensive and LWE as defensive holds in the newer data from 2022.
May 2022 Report
Oct 2020 Report
Now that we have a rough idea that primary threats from terrorism exist in today’s US, based on today’s headlines from Germany, we need to put the US threat into global context or what the national security calls, a “transnational threat.” To begin with, with US RWE and LWE combined making up 86% of the threats it leaves little room for the dozens of other types of movements like anti-abortion, radical climate related movements etc. Even Islamist threats within the US are now almost unheard of and make up but a tiny fraction of the remaining 14%.
Globally, this is a different matter. Islamist threats still abound but are most often restricted to regions that are dominated by Muslim communities or where there has been a history of extremist violence, sometimes dating back hundreds of years. The Gulf States are good examples as is the Middle East and North Africa. The most common threats regarding violent extremist groups/ movements to the West revolve around transnational RWEs. This threat is not only violent but often accompanies the far-right political movements such as in Hungary where Viktor Orban is a RWE icon like Marie Le Pen in France and Italy’s new Prime Minister, Meloni along with a few others.
For a look at the transnational RWE threat, please see this interactive map courtesy of Stanford University: Global Right-Wing Extremism | Mapping Militant Organizations (stanford.edu). In an April 2021 report from the Lawfareblog, data shows a global increase of 320% by transnational RWE extremist movements.
Right-wing terrorism is a problem around the world, and international connections within the movement are growing. Although the Biden administration promises to step up efforts to fight this danger, most of the efforts are concentrated at home. Jason Blazakis and Naureen Chowdhury Fink of the Soufan Center present lessons from past efforts to fight terrorism globally and offer ways to use international organizations and action abroad to fight right-wing terrorism at home.
Since at least 2016 generally and in some circles dating to 2014, Russian efforts to influence politics in the US and other Western nations, has been known, to be acute. One of the supporting efforts to this objective was to embolden the far-right primarily and the far left to a far lesser degree. This was intended to cause violent friction within US society. Much of Russia’s Active Measures efforts directly focused on this friction. These type of Russian influence operations are called, Active Measures.
Please see this interactive influence tracker from the Alliance for Securing Democracy by the German Marshall Fund:
Russia has long been known to wield influence in support of Putin’s foreign agenda and quite often pursues a far-right agenda to do so. They either employ, create or use state resources to build, fund and implement RWE in target countries and in support of far-right agendas, candidates and movements.
Russia’s support to the transnational far right remains a key enabler of the global movement. In 2020, the U.S. State Department named the Russian Imperial Movement as a “specially designated global terrorist” group — the first time that the U.S. government has taken such measures against a far-right extremist group.
War on the Rocks
Putin’s advanced agenda against the West took on new urgency in or around, 2015 with Brexit and the US election on the horizon. At the same time, he was using a variety of Russian affiliated or created groups to push far-right elements of Europe to disrupt and undermine democracy. Please don’t kid yourselves, these far-right movements in the West, including the US knew full-well their affiliation with the Russian far-right. At least the leadership did. The rest were often unwittingly pawns of Putin who already held RWE beliefs.
Keyboard Warriors or Real Threat?
These disinformation narratives pushed by Russia and other foreign adversaries ultimately seek to exacerbate societal fault lines and erode the trust in liberal democracy and the government and should be considered a potent threat to international security.
- War on the Rocks
In this time period, the infamous IRA, Internet Research Agency, more commonly called the Troll Factory in St. Petersburg, Russia was churning out created RWE content 24/7 and daily. Much of this content is what we heard on the streets of the US, oozing out of the Trump campaign and most prominently after the election surrounding the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. This so-called rally cost lives, such as the death of a protester run over by a white supremacist. If the IRA didn’t create it, they helped amplify it online via fake accounts, bots and in-person operatives.
Ideological Affinity for Russia Among the Far Right
To this end, individuals and groups in the far-right extremist space in the United States have long shown support for Putin. Notorious white supremacist Matthew Heimbach — a key organizer of the 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville — has previously hailed Putin as the “the leader of the free world.”
War on the Rocks
This paper could easily turn into a long and exhaustive series on this issue and those related to it, such as the depth of Russian influence within today’s Republican Party. Again, Putin’s attempt to undermine democracy is a tool of his aggression, globally. As long as the West fights with itself, they are not unified in resistance when he turns aggressive. He uses the same tactics at home against his own people and sponsors RWE in Russia.
The threat today for us and our western allies is still potent, especially while he is deeply immersed in his genocidal war against Ukraine. As an example of his influence within US politics, especially the current version of the Republican Party is Trump’s initial praise of Putin’s invasion and Republican leaders like Kevin McCarthy in Congress threatening funding cuts to Ukraine. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/16/trump-administration-broke-law-in-withholding-ukraine-aid.htmlI’m sure we all remember Trump’s infamous phone call trying to coerce him into providing non-existent dirt on the Bidens and then illegally withholding aid when he didn’t get his way. The party’s MAGA movement was initially vocal in support of Russia until they were embarrassed into relative public silence. Their support still simmers under the surface.
On our streets, hate crimes, RWE violent incidents and related extremist narratives have all spiked beginning with Trump’s campaign through even today. The threats have not and will not abate until Congress, on both sides of the aisle standup to extremism equally… of all kinds. Still, even after January 6th, almost no Republican leaders will denounce the full spectrum of RWE elements at the Capital, assaulting law enforcement, attempting to hang the VP and Democratic leaders of Congress and nearly stopping the peaceful transfer of power. This isn’t leadership, it’s cowardice and selfishness.
For the record, our Republic thrives when moral and passionate leaders from all perspectives, factually debate how to run our nation. At the moment and with only two parties, one of which has lost its soul, we’re swimming upstream with only one arm. This is Putin’s dream, to render democracy impotent. January 6th, 2021, he almost succeeded. We will have another event like Germany had today, if we don’t dedicate ourselves to eradicating extremism, regardless of ideology. At the moment, we’re ignoring our primary threat. Shame on those who are too cowardly to lead on this issue. This is NOT politics. It’s national security.