During the rise of right-wing extremism in the United States, the FBI examined the likelihood of suicide attacks by white extremists, according to a 2007 report, one of 38 documents recently released by the National Security Archive last month.
“The white extremist movement would likely need to experience an extreme sense of crisis before it would adopt the tactic of suicide terrorism.” However, the report states, “Lone offender attacks post the most likely scenario for suicide terrorism.”
The movement lacks the leadership and organization to carry out “well-orchestrated campaigns of violence,” says the report which is dated two years before a Department of Homeland Security assessment on the resurgence of radicalization on the right. Experts say right-wing extremists lack the conviction and community support that make suicide attacks more prevalent in other cultures.
“I think you have to have a very strong belief system or ideology to even contemplate a suicide attack. Within American white supremacist ideology, there is no promise of 72 virgins or guarantee of martyrdom after death,” said Mark Potok, extremist expert at the Southern Poverty Law Center and editor-in-chief of the Intelligence Project by phone Tuesday morning. “A huge proportion of white supremacists out there are atheist so the promise of something in the afterlife is not terribly appealing to them.”
Both Potok and the FBI report note that white supremacist literature has mentioned suicide attacks, including The Turner Diaries, a tactical manual for white supremacists suggesting the creation of a Record of Martyrs “to provide suicide operatives a legacy within the movement,” but both say the chance of suicide attacks by right-wing extremists is remote.
Right-wing terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, and James Von Brunn, the Holocaust Museum shooter, were prepared to die carrying out their attacks, but “this is more suicide-by-cop than jihadist-type bombings,” Potok said.
Martyr culture in that form exists to some extent among white supremacists, but the interest in suicide terrorism had been sporadic as supremacists see it more as of a means of uniting the movement rather than a strategy of advancing the movement’s causes, according to the report. Groups that use suicide attacks as a tactic typically have long-range goals, extensive training, and at least some level of community approval.
Right-wing extremists lack national, regional, or local sympathy that would support suicide attacks, the FBI says.
“In [countries where suicide attacks are more prevalent] there’s a whole ideology that backs this. You have at least a portion of the society behind you, and that’s not true at all in the American radical right. Most of the people on the radical right are isolated from their own families or have broken off from their original set of friends,” Potok said.
They also lack the heart, according to Potok. “There is an enormous amount of secret doubt of the ideology in the world of white supremacists. They all act like they're committed but as soon as their crowd doesn’t treat them right or their girlfriend breaks up with them, they quit the movement and they decide it was wrong.”