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An examination of far-right IED attacks in the United States (2010- 2021)

Far-right attacks involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the US increased dramatically under President Trump’s leadership – raising questions as to whether his inflammatory rhetoric that appealed to an extremist base led to a rise in violence.

Since Trump’s departure from the White House, the recent number of attempted and successful explosive attacks appears to have fallen. 

There were 83 IED attacks or attempted IED attacks by far-right groups or individuals in the US over the last decade, according to research carried out by London-based charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). Nearly half (41) took place in the four years of Trump’s presidency; during his time in office the number of right-wing explosive attacks per year was double than under President Obama. 

Since Biden took office there have been three incidents of far-right terror IED attacks. 

2018 was the most violent year, with 17 IED attacks. There were just 2 in 2012.

Such attacks are of note as explosive violence is inherently indiscriminate.  According to AOAV’s data when explosive weapons are used in towns or cities, over 90% of people in the last decade reported being harmed by such weapons have been civilians. 

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Hate Extremism Anti-semitism Terrorism (HEAT) map, there was a noticeable increase in white supremacist propaganda and protests in 2018. 

The majority (33 or 40%) of the attacks were recorded as “anti-Government” incidents. A quarter (21) were carried out by known white supremacist movements, a further 16 were “pro-Trump” bombings and six (7%) were anti-abortion terror attacks. 

Rising bomb violence is part of a pattern of increased right-wing extremism fuelling terrorist violence in the US and the US. 2020 saw the highest number of overall right-wing terrorist attacks in the country for over 25 years, with the far-right movement currently posing the largest threat to domestic terrorism in the US.

Number of incidents

Who are the Bombers and their Victims? 

Across the 83 attacks, the perpetrators identified as being anti-police, anti-LGBTIQ, anti-Semitic, anti-abortion and anti-Government. One individual who identified as pro-Trump was responsible for 15 incidents in October 2018. 

While some of the incidents involved a person acting alone, groups linked to the attacks included Forever Enduring Always Read (FEAR) militia group; Sovereign Citizen; Veterans United for Non-Religious Memorials; White Rabbit Three Percent Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia; and United Aryan Empire.

Others were attached to the “boogaloo” movement – boogaloo is a code word for restarting the American Civil War in order to create monoethnic states. 

Six of the 83 foiled and successful attacks events resulted in someone being killed or injured, with four fatalities and 11 injuries. 

Half of those killed were murdered in an anti-abortion terror attack in North Carolina in 2010. The perpetrator was a member of the Army of God Anti-Abortion group. 

Overall, 10 people were harmed (one killed and nine injured) in attacks that targeted the police specifically.

Many of the attacks did not result in any casualties – in part because plots were foiled in advance of the incident, and also because perpetrators saw the IED attack as a way to “send a message” rather than to kill.

However, this is not to underestimate the deadly violence of the US far-right with numerous mass shootings linked to white supremacy, extremist misogyny, and right-wing groups. Indeed, just over 10% of the IED attacks also involved firearms.

Of the 83 incidents, 25 focused on Government buildings or infrastructure, with a further 12 aimed at the police. Religious buildings, such as mosques and churches, also proved to be targets. Seven of the attacks were targeted at abortion clinics, while a further four focused on businesses. IED attacks also targeted black and minority ethnic movements or spaces, as well as racialised violence against Mexican immigrants and threats against journalists. 

The attacks were widespread – occurring in over half of the states in the United States. Many took place in small towns, which could explain why they attracted far less attention than other forms of terrorism, most notably Islamic terrorism.