Perspectives on Terrorism is an initiative of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. Visit website
VOL. XII, Issue 6

Explaining the Spontaneous Nature of Far-Right Violence in the United States

Racialist, Anti-Federalist, and Christian Fundamentalist ideologies drive adherents of the American Far Right. Terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Roof exemplify the damage, to property and life, caused by planned, calculated acts of terrorism motivated by far-right sentiments. Nevertheless, a growing number of American Far Right ideologically motivated attacks occur spontaneously and without premeditation. The stabbing to death of Richard Collins III by Sean Christopher Urbanski at the University of Maryland is a case in point, as it occurred without warning and no evidence suggests the victim or offender knew each other. This murder and similar incidents drive us to question what drives affiliates of American Far Right groups to commit spontaneous, unplanned attacks? More specifically, we develop a theoretical framework that strives to explain how personality traits and the characteristics of the offender’s community, may facilitate such incidents. To test our theoretical framework, we utilize a dataset of 1,000 spontaneous far-right attacks between 1990-2012 as well as a dataset of a control group of approximately 300 planned attacks driven by adherents of the American Far Right. We find that locations undergoing demographic diversification, related to ‘other’ racial categories, and which have an increasing median individual income, will have a higher chance of spontaneous attacks. Coincidentally, spontaneous perpetrators are less socially connected to their community than planned perpetrators. We argue spontaneous perpetrators react spontaneously because they observe their community changing and react criminally without an element of planning.

About ICCT

The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) is a think-and-do tank based in The Hague, Netherlands. We provide research, policy advice, training and other solutions to support better counter-terrorism policies and practices worldwide. We also contribute to the scientific and publi.…