Terrorism & Social Movement Concepts

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White anti-racists rescue Black youth being attacked by neonazis and White supremacists in the mob in the background. Rescuer in white shirt is being punched by a racist thug.

Leaderless Resistance

The terms “Leaderless Resistance” or “Phantom Cells” refer to spontaneous, autonomous, unconnected cells seeking to carry out acts of violence, sabotage, or terrorism targeting a government or occupying military force. These acts may or may not involve targeting civilians. When incidents do target civilians as part of an attempt to shift societal policies, the term terrorism is appropriate.

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Organized White Supremacist Groups

===White Supremacist groups in the United States share certain common elements and characteristics. In addition to a view of racial hierarchy, there is usually some form of antisemitism, dualism, apocalypticism, a reliance on conspiracy theories, a masculinist perspective, and antipathy towards gays and lesbians. They also share some common elements with all social movements. At the same time, there are distinctive differences among White Supremacist groups. There are several ways to illustrate these differences. In order to better explain how these groups operate in the public sphere, we separate them into the categories of: political, religious, and youth cultural (racist skinhead, racist gangs, etc.) This typology, proposed by Vysotsky (2004), focuses on how these groups recruit and mobilize supporters around specific ideologies or cultural frames.

===Organized White Supremacist groups in the United States evolved from their historic base of various predecessor Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi organizations (Schmaltz 1999; Trelease 1995; Chalmers 1965). Over time, they spread into a wide range of competing forms and ideologies.

===These groups and organizations constitute what some have broadly termed the "radical right." While there are some areas where the extreme right White Supremacist movement and right-wing dissident groups (usually listed as being part of the Patriot or armed militia movements) overlap, we do not include the latter in this study because there are important boundaries separating them from White Supremacist race hate groups (Durham 2000).

--Chip Berlet and Stanislav Vysotsky. 2006. “Overview of U.S. White Supremacist Groups. Journal of Political and Military Sociology,

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The Armed Citizens Militia Movement

===It was in [the] context of resurgent isolationism and unilateralism that a self-conscious Patriot movement coalesced [in the 1990s]. It involved some 5 million persons who suspected--to varying degrees--that the government was manipulated by secret elites and planned the imminent imposition of some form of tyranny. This suspicion has been the basic theme of the John Birch Society since the late 1950s.

===The Patriot movement was bracketed on the reformist side by the Birch Society and the conspiracist segment of the Christian Right, and on the insurgent side by the Liberty Lobby and groups promoting themes historically associated with White supremacy and antisemitism. A variety of preexisting far-right vigilante groups (including Christian Identity adherents and outright neonazi groups) were influential in helping to organize the broader Patriot movement. The Patriot movement, however, drew recruits from several preexisting movements and networks:

  • Militant right-wing gun rights advocates, antitax protesters, survivalists, and far-right libertarians.
  • Christian Patriots, and other persons promoting a variety of pseudo-legal "constitutionalist" theories.
  • Advocates of "sovereign" citizenship, "freeman" status, and other arguments rooted in a distorted analysis of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth Amendments, including those persons who argue that a different or second-class form of citizenship is granted to African Americans through these amendments.
  • White racist, antisemitic, or neonazi movement, such as the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, and Christian Identity.
  • The confrontational wing of the antiabortion movement.
  • Apocalyptic millennialists, including those Christians who believed the period of the "End Times" had arrived and they were facing the Mark of the Beast, which could be hidden in supermarket bar codes, proposed paper currency designs, implantable computer microchips, Internet websites, or e-mail.
  • The dominion theology sector of the Christian evangelical right, especially its most militant and doctrinaire branch, Christian Reconstruc­tionism.
  • === The most militant wings of the antienvironmentalist "Wise Use" movement, county supremacy movement, state sovereignty movement, states’ rights movement, and Tenth Amendment movement.

    === Multiple themes intersected in the Patriot movement: government abuse of power; fears about globalism and sovereignty; economic distress (real, relative, and anticipated); apocalyptic fears of conspiracy and tyranny from above; male identity crisis, backlash against the social liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and more.

    ===Patriot movement adherents who formed armed units became known as armed citizens militias. During the mid-1990s, armed militias were sporadically active in all fifty states, with total membership estimated at between 20,000 and 60,000. Both the Patriot and armed militia movements grew rapidly, relying on computer networks, fax trees, short-wave radio, AM talk radio, and videotape and audiotape distribution. The Patriot and militia movements were arguably the first major U.S. social movements to be organized primarily through overlapping, horizontal, nontraditional electronic media [such as online computer networks]

    --Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. RightWing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

    Read the rest of the chapter online.

    See Bibliography

    Social Movements

    "A social movement is “a collectivity acting with some degree of organization and continuity outside of institutional channels for the purpose of promoting or resisting change in the group, society, or world order of which it is a part.” (McAdam and Snow, 1997, xviii).

    See Bibliography

    Civil Liberties

    Government agencies are reportedly analyzing secret intelligence data
    scanning for networks, patterns of interaction, etc. in a search for different
    kinds of underground terrorist cells.

    Tracking an actual "Leaderless Resistance" cell that is truly spontaneous, autonomous, and unconnected would require a much deeper level of intrusiveness and penetration of a larger community in which these cells achieve some level of anonymity. Everyone in the community would need to be suspected until their innocence had been proven.

    But if in fact the "Leaderless Resistance" model is not how potential homegrown Muslim terrorist cells are actually organized, then different techniques would be needed to locate the would-be terrorists--techniques that are, ironically, much more similar to those advocated by Marc Sageman in his first book.

    If our understanding of domestic terrorist tendencies is more properly modeled as an outside contagion, rather than as something spontaneously generated, then it would be more proper to monitor known terrorists, rather than
    conducting sweeps of all potential terrorists.

    See Bibliography

    Leaderless Counterterrorism Strategy:
    The “War on Terror,” Civil Liberties, and Flawed Scholarship

    The Public Eye Magazine. Read it Here!


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