On 8 June, a man ran over a Muslim family of five with his pickup truck on the streets of Ontario, Canada, murdering four and gravely injuring a child. The suspect, a 20-year old caucasian Nathaniel Veltman, is thought to have committed this crime out of racial hatred.
Even though it came as a shock, such violence towards minorities - especially Muslims, Blacks and Jews - is hardly an anomaly in the West.
Instances of domestic terrorism and especially, right-wing violence has become increasingly frequent in the past decade. The epicentre of this phenomenon is the United States, where over 100 occurrences of domestic terrorism took place last year.
Almost 70% of these crimes were committed by either members of far-right groups or individuals who held similar beliefs. But their policymakers still inexplicably perceive violent Jihadists as the prime threat to their nation, even though far-right extremists have killed twice as many people in the US than any Muslim terrorist groups since 9/11.
This isn't a new threat either. According to the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Centre for Excellence, right-wing violence has been the most lasting and persistent form of terrorism in the country's history and it is only increasing.
Who are these homegrown right-wing terrorists?
Understanding the alt-right can be very difficult, mostly because they do not believe in one specific, concrete ideology. Instead, they can be identified by their end goal of creating an 'ethnostate', where people of only one ethnic identity will reside while other races will be segregated, subjugated or annihilated.
In the West, this means creating a white and often Christian ethnostate that suppresses people of all other ethnic origins and religion. This predictably translates into racist, xenophobic, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant, anti-Sematic, Islamophobic, ultra-nationalist, religiously intolerant and often fascist rhetorics and actions.
Baptized on the web: Conspiracies and free speech
On 17 June 2015, the then 21-year old Dylann Roof killed nine African-American worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest Black-run churches in the US.
During his trial, federal prosecutors stated that he was 'self-radicalized' online and was not associated with any white supremacist groups. However, he managed to heavily influence another man on the opposite side of the globe.
On 15 March 2019, Brenton Tarrant entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, armed to the teeth and started shooting. When his spree had ended, 51 people were dead.
A very common trend can be seen among perpetrators of hate crime in the West: most of them spend much of their time on websites like 4chan, 8kun and Gab, where very little is generally censored. These websites have been the breeding ground of White supremacists for a long time.
As there is no oversight; misinformation, conspiracy theories or even outright lies can be circulated with impunity. Online media outlets have also played a significant role in spreading misinformation in favour of the alt-right.
For example, Breitbart ran a news article that said Muslims celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 in New Jersey. Even though such lies may seem inconsequential, they have huge destructive capabilities.
All of the aforementioned terrorists believed in the conspiracy theory called 'Great Replacement' which states that minorities will become the dominant population in the West by 2050. Even though it has been debunked countless times, it did not lose any traction, even outside the usual White nationalist bubble.
Conservative media personalities like Lauren Southern, Shawn Hannity and Tucker Carlson have repeated it countless times on Youtube and on national television.
When platforms do try to censor such blatant lies, they are accused of restricting free speech and even though many entities have debunked their claims, these lies continue to fuel racial tension and perpetuate a cycle of violence.
Conservatives parties: bringing the alt-right to the mainstream
Donald Trump's election as the President of the US was a day of victory for the far-right. During his campaign, Trump had repeatedly espoused outrageous statements like Mexicans are 'drug dealers' and 'rapists' or "I think Islam hates us". Not even multiple sexual assault allegations could prevent his victory.
This was conclusive proof for the alt-right that their agenda and messages had an appeal among the populace. Seven months after Trump's inauguration, they decided to hold one of the most consequential events in recent history, the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville, where white supremacist showed up carrying the literal Nazi flag. They later attacked anti-fascist protesters, killing one by running him over with a car.
Association with the far-right is certainly nothing new conservative parties in the West. Both Hitler and Mussolini came to power after allying with conservatives. In 2017, Austrian conservative chancellor Sebastian Kurz allied with the far-right Freedom Party to gain a majority.
Similar tendencies have been seen recently in Poland and Italy too. Alliance with conservative parties allows the far-right to have more political legitimacy, to widen their base of support and to obtain popularity. Their ideas become more mainstream and acceptable, making discriminatory policies more agreeable.
Prosecuting domestic terrorism
As the leader of the 'War on Terror', the US pours the most resources into fighting extremist groups around the globe, providing its allies with intelligence and infrastructure. But they have chosen to overlook far-right terrorism in the past.
The present terrorism laws do not include White supremacist organisations and the FBI does not mark them as terrorist organisations. The San Bernardino shooting and the Pulse Nightclub shooting were classified as domestic terrorism and the FBI investigated the Muslim perpetrators' possible link to terrorist organisations, which were not found.
But the aforementioned Charleston massacre and the White supremacist shooting in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue were only designated as hate crimes and no further investigation were conducted about their link with White supremacist organisations.
As they are labelled only as hate crimes, law enforcement organisations do not get as many resources to monitor and purse them as they would get if they were labelled as domestic terrorism.
The Department of Homeland Security proposed to add White supremacist terrorism to the national security and counter-terrorism strategies and increasing the threat level of such groups after Charlottesville. But the Trump administration refused. These policy decisions, coupled with systemic racism makes Western countries especially vulnerable to such violent entities.
A paradigm shift
But things have started to change, especially after the Capitol riot. The Biden administration is planning to release its national strategy for fighting domestic terrorism, focusing on White supremacists and right-wing militia groups. But the long-standing socio-political problems that have led to the popularity of the far-right have not abated. Combating them will certainly take more time and resources but ensure the safety and security of Western nations.