chapter  1
12 Pages

Introduction

WithSABINE VON MERING AND TIMOTHY WYMAN MCCARTY

In recent years scholars have begun to recognize the surprising growth of various forms of international cooperation and identification among radical right-wing movements, especially in Europe. This book aims to explore this phenomenon further by opening up new directions for scholarly inquiry following trajectories of radical or extremist right-wing activity and thought across the European continent and even across the Atlantic to the US.1 Although right-wing groups have for the most part avoided formally organizing across borders, there is a surprisingly long tradition of international networking of texts, ideologies, and tactics going back at least to the widespread distribution of such anti-Semitic texts as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Henry Ford’s The International Jew. Contemporary developments suggest that such international networking is on the rise, and formal international cooperation among right-wing extremists may indeed be on the horizon. Scholars rightly have been critical of journalistic accounts that tend to overestimate the internationalization of right-wing extremism. However, recent studies have demonstrated the existence of some troubling trends. In particular, globalization and the rise of Islamophobia have provided renewed motivation for transnational cooperation and an increase in populist movements, while the simultaneous introduction of the Internet has supplied the medium. The studies in this volume investigate various manifestations of such trends and show that these developments are not restricted to the European continent alone. Almost 25 years have passed since the Berlin Wall fell, which the communist

regime had called the “anti-fascist protection wall” (Antifaschistischer Schutzwall ). At the time the fall was hailed as the end of decades of fierce antagonism between the two opposing political ideologies in East and West, and expected to usher in a period of peaceful unification (first in Germany, then in Europe, and finally around the globe). Contrary to these expectations, Europe and the US are confronted today with radicals and extremists on multiple fronts. A time of global financial and economic uncertainty likely goes hand in hand with political radicalization, as those who see parallels between the present developments and those of the late 1920s are eager to point out.2 However, speculations about the exact role of the Internet, Islamophobia, and globalization also raise many new questions and require readdressing questions we

may have thought previously settled. Who are the people who join radical right-wing parties and extremist movements? What makes them join? What unites extremists’ perspectives across national boundaries?What are they hoping to accomplish? Where are the boundaries between radical right-wing thought and extremist violence? How much more dangerous is this extremism in an increasingly interconnected world? Understanding and responding to these explosive political fringes has become increasingly difficult with rapid changes in the mechanisms of activism, recruitment, and communication. In this book we will focus primarily on what is generally described as a radical right-wing phenomenon and its extremist forms, although we are aware that the distinction between radicals on the left and right has always been blurred, not only in former communist countries, but also among radical elements in the US. In Europe the growing influence of such parties as the French Front National,

the Austrian Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid, and the Belgian Vlaams Blok proves that right-wing extremist thought is becoming a mainstream phenomenon. As David Art, who studies recent successes and failures of right-wing parties in Europe, observes in his book Inside the Radical Right: The Development of Anti-Immigrant Parties in Western Europe, “it is now difficult to imagine West European politics without radical right parties” (Art 2011: xi). Political developments in Hungary and Serbia suggest that former communist territories in Eastern Europe are equally if not more likely to embrace radical right-wing ideology. Compared to Europe, the US has seen relatively few radical challenges to its dominant two-party political system. Instead, developments in the US follow a different pattern, where individual radical acts seem more likely than radical movements. Scholars warn, however, that such acts must be understood as parts of a larger context, as Pete Simi argues: “When small groups and even single individuals commit acts of violence on behalf of a larger cause, these incidents should be viewed as part of a larger strategy of violence and not simply as random acts of isolated violence by deranged individuals” (Chapter 9, this volume). In response to these developments, this volume draws together the work of

scholars from Europe and the US, each of whom investigates contemporary radical right-wing activity from a distinct geographic and methodological perspective. This volume seeks to begin a transatlantic conversation among scholars of extremism across disciplines with deep regional expertise in the hope that their specialized knowledge may be brought to bear on what appears to be an increasingly prevalent problem. Through this conversation, we hope our readers gain an understanding not only of the particular trends of right-wing radicalism in Europe and the US, but also of the broader global context for these trends and their potential future direction.