Intelligence Report on “Extremism” Equates Anarchists With Right-Wing Militias

Intelligence Report on “Extremism” Equates Anarchists With Right-Wing Militias

From Truthout by Kristian Williams

Mainstream Democrats are in a hawkish mood when it comes to “domestic terrorism.” That is bad news for the left.

Immediately upon taking office, President Biden “tasked the director of national intelligence, in coordination with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, with compiling a comprehensive threat assessment on violent domestic extremism,“ according to The Washington Post. This request was prompted by the right-wing attack on the Capitol on January 6.

The resulting report, “Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021,” was submitted on March 1, and its executive summary was released publicly a few days later. While its list of findings include some obvious observations — for example, that extremists are “motivated by a range of ideologies” and use the internet “to recruit, plan and rally support for in-person actions” — the final page of the executive summary, listing “Categories of Domestic Violent Extremists,” reveals a concerning typology. It identifies five classifications: “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists,” “Animal Rights / Environmental Violent Extremists,” “Abortion-Related Violent Extremists,” “Anti-Government/Anti-Authority Violent Extremists” and “All Other Domestic Terrorism Threats” (“including a combination of personal grievances and beliefs with potential bias related to religion, gender, or sexual orientation”).

The most striking thing about this classification system — which seems to have been developed by the FBI during the Trump years — is its perverse refusal to divide between left and right, instead grouping opposing sides together under other categories. Right-wing militias, sovereign citizens and anarchists, for example, are all listed under “Anti-Government/Anti-Authority Violent Extremists.” Racist and anti-racist violence is compressed into “Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists.”

“Abortion-Related Violent Extremists” includes both those “in support of pro-life and pro-choice beliefs” — despite the fact that the FBI cannot point to any pro-choice violence that escalated above the level of online threats, while anti-abortion fanatics have murdered 11 people and attempted to kill 26 more since 1993.

The classification system obscures a profound asymmetry in the distribution of violence as it is employed across the political spectrum, implying an equivalency between left and right. That presumption is contradicted by the evidence.

Those on the right resort to violence far more often, and with more deadly effect. According to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Between 1994 and 2020, there were 893 terrorist attacks and plots in the United States. Overall, right-wing terrorists perpetrated the majority — 57 percent — of all attacks and plots during this period, compared to 25 percent committed by left-wing terrorists, 15 percent by religious terrorists, 3 percent by ethnonationalists, and .7 percent by terrorists with other motives.” It should be noted that even this assessment overestimates the left’s share of terrorist violence, since it includes the Earth Liberation Front’s purposefully non-injurious destruction of property; and it underestimates the right’s violence, as it separates out “extremists with other motivations (such as supporters of the Boogaloo movement) and Salafi-jihadists,” which each committed 7 percent.

In a separate report, CSIS calculates that “white supremacists and other like-minded extremists conducted 67 percent of terrorist plots and attacks in the United States in 2020,” as opposed to “20 percent of terrorist incidents” involving “anarchist, anti-fascist, and other like-minded” leftist groups.

Conflating antagonists does not just wrongly suggest comparable levels of violence but implies a shared culpability, displacing responsibility for right–wing violence onto the left. It also reinforces existing police biases, thus legitimizing the cops’ heretofore lax attitude about racist violence and their hypervigilance with regard to all variety of left-wing activism. Unfortunately, this bias does not disappear when the police begin cracking down on right-wing militants.

We have to expect that the authorities will take the present opportunity to escalate their attack on the left as well as the right. History has shown that when repression intensifies, even when precipitated by an attack from the right, it tends to fall disproportionately on the left, and on people of color regardless of their politics. Most obviously, the U.S. government responded to the terror attack of September 11, 2001 — another instance of right-wing violence, albeit originating overseas — with not only a set of endless wars, but also a crackdown on immigration and a racist campaign against Muslims. The U.S. also used 9/11 to justify the expansion of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces, thus building the infrastructure for the years-long crackdown against environmental activists, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which nearly two decades later would be mobilized to brutally attack racial justice protesters. Likewise, the main legislative response to the 1994 Oklahoma City bombing — when white supremacists killed 168 people — was the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. That law expanded capital punishment, limited appeals, reduced prisoners’ access to the courts and laid the groundwork to undermine habeas corpus — all measures that disproportionately harmed people of color.

This is a longstanding pattern: Within months of its passage, the 1968 Civil Rights Act was used to prosecute antiwar organizers, including Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, the pacifist Dave Dellinger and Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale. Even laws against lynching — enacted after decades of agitation from the Black community — are now sometimes used to prosecute people caught trying to help others escape from police custody.

This dual effect makes perfect sense, given the liberal tendency to frame right-wing violence as a problem with “extremism.” Implicit in an anti-extremist approach is an identification of the extremes: The militancy of the left and that of the right are not only treated as equivalent, but as essentially the same thing. We’ve seen that that is wrong empirically, but it is wrong morally as well: For the evaluation of violence cannot be separated from the intent behind it. (Even the law recognizes this, with important exceptions to the general prohibition on violence, for reasons such as necessity and self–defense.) The project of the left, in principle, is the pursuit of human equality; the project of the right is the defense of inequality. That does not mean that left-wing violence is always tactically sound, strategically wise or morally justified, but it does mean that even at its worst it must be judged differently than right-wing violence. There can be no equivalency between the violence of a slave revolt and the violence of a slave master, between the violence of anti-fascists and that of the Atomwaffen Division. Even if we accept the pacifist line that violence always represents a bad means, in the case of right-wing violence, it additionally pursues bad ends. By obscuring the differences in the scale and the purpose of violence, anti-extremist rhetoric uses the violence of the right to justify repression against the left.

That is not an accident; it is inherent to the “anti-extremism” framework. As Jane Kinninmont put it, “states usually define extremism in relation to their own existing political system.“ In liberal democracies, then, “extremism is in effect defined as ideology opposed to liberal democratic values.“ Political Research Associates’ Chip Berlet put it more simply: “Extremists are people that folks in the center don’t like.” Anti-extremism is simply centrism in battle dress.

For the last half century liberalism — politically, if not always philosophically — has demonstrated a bias toward centrism; centrism, in turn, develops its own illiberal biases, resorting to authoritarian measures and seeking to stifle dissent. The point of anti-extremism is to narrow the range of political discourse, to foreclose on radical ideas in advance of their consideration.

The lesson for the left — and the challenge — is that we cannot rely on the state to neutralize the right, and that we must resist the expansion of the state’s repressive apparatus, even at moments when it is targeting our enemies. At the same time, we must not be drawn into alliance with the insurgent right, though we may on occasion find ourselves facing similar assaults at the hands of the same government agents. This is not a matter of choosing lesser evils or balancing competing needs. Instead, we must recognize that we are fighting a war on two fronts.


Kristian Williams is the author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (AK Press, 2015), and an occasional contributor to Three-Way Fight.

There are 20 Comments

Isn't this the sort of shit that Alexander Reid-Ross is up to these days?

Yes, he works with the Network Contagion Research Institute.
Any entity with a name like that can not be good.

"retard" as an insult, but i think the insult perfectly applies to ARR. I mean, i a week ago i was researching all his work, and it's just amazing how much stupid stuff he writes and does but he's just a machine...and i apply the "retarded" label to anyone who reads "against the fascist creep" and thinks its a good book! How does that shit not attack your intellegence?? This is pretty much the left's QAnon/trump-insurrectionist followers. They are not any less dangerous!

The system wants peaceful integrated obedient citizens. Everything outside that is a menace to the system, so it does not matter if it is left right or whatever...

considering that anarchists have stockpiles of assault rifles and automatic weapons, lol, geez...never say you are an anarchist in a public place...

there was that guy ted kaczinsky who never explicity associated himself with anarchism, but has killed more people than every single anarchist in the US and probably in fucked posturing. I can see it now: some anarchist is going to get 20 years in jail for flipping off a cop.

i'm wondering: has the Oklahoma bomber ever said he was an anarchist?? Or boogaloo?? People associate both with anarchism because of their anti-state rhetoric but to me you aren't much of an anarchist until you say you are.

Chomsky says he is an anarchist. Obviously saying you are an anarchist is not much of a clue to one's actual anarchist beliefs.

McVeigh was an old-school White supremacist of the Turner Diaries type. Don't help the Feds further conflating whack jobs like him to anarchists.

I know you might be attempting it on purpose, tho...

I was just wondering whether there was any reason to equate him with anarchists other than the fact that he was against the government...

anyways...Noam Chomsky is an institutional anarcho-communist, he praises communist dictators and wants an "equal society". My impression is he doesn't understand any of the differences between leftist ideology and anarchist philosophy...he has admitted to not being a fan of your more crust-punk publications, which is strange because i don't see how one can appreciate anarchism without being skeptical of upper-crust people and writers outside of academic institutions...

He's like, the polar opposite of nihilists...

"there was that guy ted kaczinsky who never explicity associated himself with anarchism, but has killed more people than every single anarchist in the US and probably in europe..."

Really? Since when? Could be true, for millennials, or for someone considering only the 21st century...


'September 16th, 1920: Mario Buda (an anarchist of Galleani’s crew) detonated the first car bomb (or rather a carriage bomb) in history. He left a deadly bomb consisting of 45 kilos of dynamite that detonated by timer in a carriage parked in front of Wall Street. The bomb destroyed the carriage, killing the horses, employees, messengers, bystanders, and everyone else in the vicinity of the blast. The bomb also destroyed the offices of Morgan Bank. 38 people died'

Well one can understand the bad name anarchism has inherited 2when leftist extremists infiltrate the anarchist milieu assuming they are the militant wing of the same ideology and conduct their binary war from there.

was interested in anarchist attacks on US soil, i knew i was probably wrong since my history knowledge is somewhat lacking...anarchists in europe have certainly killed a lot of people, but that's a bygone era, now they're relatively harmless, yet certainly more likely to rob a bank than US anarchists

...individualists shall always miss creative folks like Renzo Novatore...but luckily, his spirit has NOT died!!!

ever notice when you infer that "successfully killing lots of people" is your metric for political relevancy?

what i said, and the article is about them being a "threat", which is what i've been talking about. I don't see how US anarchists are in anyway a threat "national security" or whatever dumb crap the FBI wants to believe in.

well I meant the royal "you" rather than necessarily YOU you although I'm happy to hear you don't do that? anyway, the FBI has always vastly overestimated threats from the left. it's hard coded in to their ideological lens, that DUH DAMNED COMMIES are always seconds away from punching all the babies and drinking their blood

commies b da type to wanna head the PTA without having kids nor being a teacher in dat skool

One should watch the Wire.

It's a numbers game. Getting cases. Juking the stats. Looking productive, since they can only really work backwards after the fact (unless we're talking the handful of entrapment cases).

As most crime is survival crime and the rest mainly happens through people with a prior or existing relationship the idea of prevention through enforcement is a joke. Patrolling has been known to not work since the 1970's. Such measures just shift where crimes happen away from regularly targeted areas. Donald Black wrote a good book on this type of stuff. Reducing early lead exposure would do more than any budget for people in costumes that abduct and hold others for ransom in metal cages...

how could lead exposure be reduced tho? you'd have to evacuate entire cities

The feds are often idiots. Read up on the history of how they went after organized crime. Heck, a surprising amount of murders go unsolved (something like 40%). Tips, and regular footwork are needed.

It's just that they can cast a wide net, with unlimited funds.

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