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Rise of the Reactionaries: Comparing the Ideologies of Salafi-Jihadism and White Supremacist Extremism

Both movements share a similar underlying diagnosis for the ills of their respective societies, placing blame primarily on the forces of liberal progress, pluralism, and tolerance.

Salafi-jihadism and right-wing white supremacist extremism are two of the most visible, active, and threatening violent extremist movements operating in the West today, responsible for dozens of attacks throughout North America and Western Europe. With the increased threat of white supremacist terrorism in the West have also come questions about its relationship to jihadist terrorism. This study provides an assessment of the ideological similarities between the two movements, concluding that they share key traits and political outlooks, some of which have become increasingly widespread over recent years in the Western world and beyond.

Firstly, these forms of extremism are the most violent iterations of their respective movements. Jihadists are the ideological fringe of the wider Islamist movement, while white supremacist extremists emerge from more mainstream, right-wing white identity and supremacist politics. They are both reactionary political movements. They treat any form of social or political progress, reform, or liberalization with great suspicion, viewing these chiefly as a threat to their respective ‘ingroups’. In this sense, jihadists too are extreme right-wing actors even if they are rarely referred to in such terms. Both movements share a similar underlying diagnosis for the ills of their respective societies, placing blame primarily on the forces of liberal progress, pluralism, and tolerance.

Connected to this are white supremacist and jihadist constructions of chauvinist and hypermasculine collective identities and their dehumanization of ‘out-groups’. Both movements have developed a strong, historically grounded collective identity coupled with a sense of superiority and a requirement that the in-group view those on the outside as both inferior and inherently threatening. While these identities differ in their content, there are similarities in their underlying structure. What is on offer in both cases is not only a strong sense of identity and belonging which is rooted in a glorious past, but also new meaning derived from seeing oneself as a historic project to save or cure humanity. Thus, while the term ‘supremacist’ is generally reserved for the extreme right in popular discourse, it too is an accurate description of how jihadists view their position in the world. As both movements share an ultra-conservative reactionary outlook, they also hold similar views on the traditional gender roles of men and women in society. Both movements rely heavily on reinforcing these roles, with a particular interest in supposedly recapturing ‘true’ masculinity through hypermasculine portrayals of their most heroic members.

Read the report at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University

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