The American Spectre: White Terrorism and Violence in Contemporary America

Avery Benton is a third year undergraduate studying Ancient History BA. Even though her academics right now are pertaining to the ancient world, she is heavily involved in and keen on researching contemporary world events. She is particularly interested in nationalism and manifestations of democracy and their effects on state’s domestic and international policies, US foreign policy, and trans-atlantic relations. This essay highlights the growing problem of white terrorist violence in America and puts a spotlight on who exactly is buying into the idea of white violence.


Today, white terrorism is the largest threat to America domestically. In the past 5 years alone, there have been 238 terrorist attacks on American soil. If you were to ask the average American what the biggest threat to American security is, there would be varying answers, yet slim to none would choose white, homegrown terrorism. However, recent rhetoric has pushed the popular attention away from how real the threat actually is.

Recent anti-immigrant rhetoric and the manufactured illusion that there are more criminal immigrants have created a false panic that they are overrunning the country. Facts tend to lean towards immigrants being largely peaceful. While discussing anti-immigration rhetoric may seem tangential to the threat of white terror in America, it is actually a central part of the discursive elements that go into white militias’ mantra of having to “protect the homeland” from the government, immigrants, or anything else they view as a threat to America.

The mainstreaming of anti-immigration rhetoric, even the creation of “Americans Killed by Violent Immigrants” days, should not be seen simply as a means of garnering political support by the alt-right, but as purely racist discourse and fuel for white supremacist terrorism. The ultimate impact of such racist and xenophobic rhetoric is that it emboldens white supremacists, who in recent years have gained the support of militias as protection when protesting for their “inalienable rights” as Americans. Emboldened white terrorists, whether they act alone or in concert via militias and armed groups, are the more imminent threat on American soil, and America is not winning the battle. White males have been found to be statistically more likely to carry out such acts of terrorism on American soil. Since 1972, 65% of lone wolf offenders have been white. White terrorists recently seem to be inspired by and “feeding off” of each other, underscoring the ideological interconnectedness driving its proliferation. Despite this, lone-wolf attacks are still broadly ignored as a threat to domestic security, with jihadist terror being covered 357% more by the US mainstream media than any white terrorist attacks. 

Who is the White Terrorist?

Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who killed two people in 2020 during a protest, being touted as a “hero” who was “innocent” in local American settings spells a dangerous trend for the attitudes of Americans towards the white perpetrator. Kyle Rittenhouse was across state lines, with a semi-automatic weapon, primarily to clash with anti-police protestors. This vagrantly blind rhetoric is similar to that pushed on terrorist Dylann Roof, a far-right extremist who was initially portrayed in the media as “mentally ill” as a means of garnering public sympathy. Countless other terrorists who have taken lives in Las Vegas Nevada, Aurora Colorado, Newton Connecticut, and most recently before the Rittenhouse incident in Wisconsin, in Parkland Florida.

While “lone wolf” terrorism may result in mass shootings in the United States, more organized supremacy groups also contribute to the threat of white terrorism. The most recent examples of loosely organized pro-white groups inciting violence would be in Charlottesville Virginia. White nationalist groups, as they are usually referred to, have become an ever increasing terrorist threat. The choice of usually referring to them as “white nationalist” or “white supremacy groups” in media coverage often however dilutes the extent of the threat that they pose to American national security: they are, in fact, white terrorists. The Ku Klux Klan is referred to as a white nationalist group, even though their decades of violence clearly demarcate them otherwise as white terrorists. Similarly, the Unite the Right movement, while a looser association of many groups than something more consolidated as the KKK, is still a terrorist threat in itself not only because of its ideology, but also because of the violent incidents it incites.

Both sets of white terrorism in the United States pose a serious domestic threat to the country. The alt-right ideology shared by both types purports white supremacy in its most extreme form: violence. Many Americans are opposed to racial violence and organized terrorism. However, many still forget how many armed “lone wolves” and white supremacy groups exist and operate on American soil. These groups have been further emboldened to carry out extremist terrorism with the rhetoric pushed by Donald Trump, who did not condemn white supremacy when directly asked to on live television during the first debate with Democrat Joe Biden. The direct result of Trump refusing to condemn white supremacy and therefore white terrorism, and his direct mentioning of the Proud Boys, has only promoted white militia extremist groups and encouraged them to enact further extremist acts, such as the alt-right terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.


Despite what may be seen by some as having similarities, the alt-right and right-wing conservatives remain ideologically divided. One refuses to compromise on dangerously violent rhetoric and President Trump has even refused to condemn that ideology in any which way, only spelling further encouragement for white alt-right terrorist organizations. This ideological split in terms of those already active in politics and supporting divisive and racist discourse, and those on the ground violently pushing for some kind of change, threatens to overtake the main issue that white terrorism is a home-grown problem. Many American right-wing conservatives may push rhetoric that supports violence, but they are ultimately not the ones enacting it. They are only prepping popularity for the fall guy, aka the lone wolf or militia group, only to take a step back and place blame on those who have been indoctrinated by more openly racist conservative leaders. Incumbent conservatives politicos are ultimately putting on a false front for supporting, or at least turning a blind eye, to white terrorist violence. However, they are not absolved from their blame in their passivity to the festering problem of white violence. 

It is important to note the specific rhetoric Trump pushed in his 2 campaigns, “Make America Great Again” and “Build The Wall”. Both are very isolationist and essentially patriotically chauvinistic with overtones of racism, it is the populist finding someone to “blame” so that the “pure” people (white Americans) can rally against them. White terror in the United States is not only a domestic security issue, but the continued divisiveness and the allowance and continuation of them to operate sets a dangerous precedent for other Anglo-Saxon nations in the tolerance of “hate” and other ethno-nationalist groups abroad.

As America braces for the consequences of the election and the transition of power to president-elect Joe Biden, it is extremely relevant for the lifespan of the rhetoric of white supremacy, terrorism, and militarism itself and also the threat that it generates through realized militia groups and lone wolf terrorists. Even with a Biden presidency, the threat of violence will remain especially with Trump pushing the rhetoric of him “refusing to concede”. This rallies the more violent portion of conservative and alt-right supporters alike. The consequences of this for US domestic security remain ominous, as it is unknown just how far some “Trump supporters”, alt-right militias, or lone wolf actors may go to achieve their objectives. This ultimately leaves white terrorism as one of the largest, and unresolved, threats domestically to the United States.


What is the probability that the risk will materialize? – 3/3

What is the predicted size of impact? – 2/3

What is the expected speed of onset? – 3/3

Will regional or non-regional actors be involved? – 2/3

What is the probability of spillover? – 3/3

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