Isaac Kfir, Advisory Board, International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law and Adjunct Professor, Charles Sturt University
Over the last decade, research into radicalization and recruitment has become more sophisticated, including exploring the link between victimization and radicalization. The contemporary extreme far-Right has taken on a pseudo-intellectual, victimization master frame that uses liberal, democratic themes to call for the establishment of a racialist, neo-reactionary, machismo, and illiberal society.
The victimization narrative draws on two interconnected claims aimed at constructing a collective identity, resonating across the Right-wing pendulum. One of the first claims of the “Right” is that it is a victim of an illiberal society unwilling to countenance different ideas and values. They emphasize that they lack the social, economic, and political power to reverse the dominance of liberals, internationalists, and progressives. A second claim is that because mainstream society is illiberal, intolerant, and looks to cancel their rights, they must look to protect their identity, culture, and values. An additional component is the use of conspiracy theories to explain why they lack power and why their idealized society has not emerged.
A collective victimization narrative identifies victims — this is the in-group — who endure direct and structural violence from the out-group. Direct violence is an action taken by the state against a group. Examples of direct violence are colonialism, slavery, subjugation and the causing of specific harm such as physical injury or death. Structural violence refers to harm caused through the imposition of policies, systems and mechanisms resulting in inequalities that can, and often do, impact living standards, such as poor housing, employment opportunities, access to education, and so forth. These are all claims made by the “Right” against mainstream/liberal society.
Collective victimization has several features such as competitive victimization and moral disengagement. The former refers to the way the in-group sees the harm inflicted on it by the other groups, as well as stressing the injustice it has suffered is greater than victimized groups. The need to compare harm means that the in-group can claim it had experienced the worst harm.
In general, when individuals undertake action that they know goes against normative society, they look for ways to justify it, including constructing an alternative moral value system, which is where prolonged exposure to violence and insecurity, cognitive dissonance, and conspiracy theories help shape their disengagement from mainstream norms.
Selective Interpretation and Exonerating Comparison
The process begins through the selective interpretation of history, politics, and/or religion and the supposed “clash of civilizations” that is occurring because liberal internationalists are allowing too much foreign influence. An example of this is Brenton Tarrant — the white Australian terrorist who shot dead 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch New Zealand in 2019 — who tried to defend his actions through reference to The Great Replacement and White Genocide.
Linked to the selective reading of history, is the use of exonerating comparison. Extremists argue that the violence is reactive and not proactive — carrying a strong utilitarian justification. Put differently, the perpetrators recognize that their violence is horrific and that civilians are killed, but they defend their actions on two grounds: First, no action would mean that more would suffer and die, leading them to paint their immoral action as moral, and the only option that they have. Secondly, they argue that similar violence had been inflicted on them by liberal, international progressives. Thus, for Tarrant, John Earnest, Patrick Crusius, Robert Bowers, and other White supremacists, the Caucasian race is under attack from the “Other,” which is why they are taking action.
Another important mechanism of moral disengagement is dehumanization, which is the refusal to see the victims as humans. This is a relational process through which one group views another group as lacking humanness and, therefore, killing or torturing becomes more acceptable. Dehumanization is common in many ethnic conflicts and in many racialist narratives such as The Turner Diaries, where the protagonist claims that when the Organization clears “non-White” areas, it finds evidence of cannibalism and other horrific acts. Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela — a psychologist on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission — in her interviews with Eugene De Kock, a commander of Vlakplaas, which was a farm used by the South African security establishment to terrorize those opposed to the Apartheid regime, makes it clear that her breakthrough with De Kock came about when he began to see his victims as humans and not merely as enemies of the Apartheid State. In other words, De Kock was able to commit horrific acts of violence because he never saw those he tortured and killed as humans; he saw them as enemies of the Apartheid State (which had given him a purpose as he escaped from a very abusive, violent father).
Painting Perpetrators As Heroes
When it comes to the euphemisms, the extreme far-Right opts to describe the perpetrators of violence as saints or heroes willing to pay the ultimate price to help “save” civilization. Such hero worship is visible in The Turner Diaries. The narrator, Turner, is not executed for disobeying The Order’s instruction that he must commit suicide if captured because he agrees to carry out a suicide mission. The fact that the suicide mission was successful, enables The Organization to take over the United States, and later the world. Turner was viewed as a hero and a saint because he brought forth the desired outcome, even though he had stumbled by not following a specific order.
The victimization narrative appeals to many in the extreme far-Right because it lets them make sense of a world that they claim to no longer recognize. It explains one’s unemployment, lack of companionship, and/or lack of success. It is a mechanism through which the contemporary world is seen as being stacked against them and designed to support the Other. The victimization narrative also provides the extreme far-Right with a twisted moral defence for the indefensible, emphasizing that the only way they can be free from their victimhood is through violence because the political, social, economic, and legal systems support the Other against them.
The utilization of the victimization narrative stems from the far-Right’s increasing nativism, patriotism and romanticized notions of the past. Key to the narrative is the assertion that society is dominated by a liberal, internationalist and progressive agenda that rejects patriotism, communitarianism, and law and order.
To challenge the victimization narrative, there is a need to develop a counter-palingenesis narrative, bringing forth a truer account of the past that highlights the good and the bad. Untangling and exposing misdeeds and crimes does not mean that one is destroying, rewriting history or rejecting past achievements, but rather it recognizes how far society has come by rejecting those wrongs.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.