Domestic-born hate and extremism has gone global

Kindred Motes is the founder KM Strategies Group

Reckon is collaborating with KMSG and Candid, two groups that consult with non-profits, to profile some of the challenges facing philanthropic organizations across the country. Read more about this series here.

From the United States, Poland and Hungary to Sweden, Italy and Brazil, far-right extremism is on the rise globally. Reports indicate that extremist groups are more interconnected than ever, with U.S.-based groups increasing their efforts to export their hateful ideologies across international borders. The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism is a non-profit founded in 2020 by Heidi Beirich and Wendy Via. Beirich previously ran the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which publishes the Intelligence Report and the Hatewatch blog. Via served as the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Chief Communications and Development Officer. They are two of the world’s foremost experts on extremism and nationalism.

Since its founding, GPAHE has shone a light on transnational hate and far-right extremism movements on a global scale. As part of our ongoing series about philanthropic organizations, I sat down with Via and Heirich for a discussion about their new organization and the challenges they face. We discussed the state of far-right extremism in the American South, how these groups are working to foment similar movements across the globe, and what can be done to push back against these hate ideologies.

Reckon: In terms of what’s happening on the ground across the South, what should people be focused on right now that isn’t getting enough attention?

Heidi Beirich: For those who haven’t spent a lot of time in the South, they may not realize that the South is packed with progressive advocates working for civil rights and racial and social justice. The advocacy community is strong and communities are connected. While the media pay a lot of attention to candidates and the election cycles (as it should), too often not enough attention is paid to the people on the ground, coming together and working every day to call out hate and racism, building community and bringing people together, and working to improve the lives of their neighbors. The poverty and discrimination people experience is generational and deeply and systematically connected to the long and ugly history of slavery and racism, and the more we can connect current issues of hate and extremism with the history, we will be in a stronger position to identify systems that need changing. That said, the stranglehold of the GOP on the South and the impact of its demonizing policies and voter suppression is a serious challenge to changing those historical patterns. The bigoted actions by governors like Ron DeSantis against immigrants and the LGBTQ population are a challenge.

Reckon: What’s the biggest misconception about your work and the issues you’re trying to address?

Wendy Via: Far-right hate and extremism is not a problem unique to the South. It’s everywhere - across the world. And it’s organized. In recent years, far-right extremist and hate movements motivated by white supremacy, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs, antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, religious discrimination, anti-woman activity, and gender bias have been growing across the globe. And, these movements are interconnected. While these viewpoints were formerly in the fringes, they are becoming mainstreamed and increasingly connected with politicians and political parties. In addition to these movements being influential in creating discriminatory policies and laws, they are dangerous and violent - the racism that is behind global conspiracy theories, like the white supremacist Great Replacement, the lie that immigrants and people of color are purposefully replacing white populations, has motivated mass murders in numerous countries, including the U.S. From mass violence to huge political and public influence, today’s growing far right—from white supremacists to far-right populist movements—poses an existential challenge to a more just and fair world. These far-right extremist movements are a root cause for why we cannot move forward on so many global challenges from racial and social justice to critical issues such as the climate crisis.

Reckon: We’ve seen a reported spike in domestic hate groups and extremism in the United States over the past decade, but y’all have also been tracking the rise in far-right hate groups on a global level. Are these phenomena related?

Beirich: These two things are most certainly related. Hate and extremist movements share underlying discriminatory ideologies, and too often have been exported from the U.S. The consequence of the growth in these movements is violence and the dangerous integration of bigoted and racist ideas into societal discourse, government policies, and political platforms. Increasingly, as far-right extremist movements have gained in strength, established taboos around far-right extremism have collapsed as mainstream political parties from the U.S., Poland, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, and Brazil among many others, cooperate with and are influenced by extremists once considered out of bounds for mainstream politics.

Reckon: Over the last few years, donors of all kinds have entered the fray to support democracy and racial justice, giving tens of millions to shore-up civic participation and civil rights. At the same time, we’ve seen a surge in attacks against many marginalized communities, including people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Do you think organizations that are working to better understand, track, and counter the rise of hate and extremism are receiving adequate attention and support? If not, what might a better philanthropic strategy to support counter-extremism look like?

Via: Countering far-right hate and extremism doesn’t get enough consistent attention from philanthropic organizations, the media, or from the U.S. and other governments.This is especially true in the democracy context where funders don’t often connect rising far-right extremism to the actions that threaten our systems like elections deniers, obvious racists on the ballots, voter suppression effort, the war against LGBTQ+ people, and anti-woman legislation. All of these things link back to rising far- right extremism, in the U.S. and abroad.

When tragedies occur, like in Buffalo or Colorado Springs, some lawmakers call out the hate behind the occurrence, and there is media attention and maybe targeted funding for a short while, but this is a long game as well as efforts to combat extremism in the short term. But to really stop the spread of far-right hate and extremism, and the discriminatory policies, violence, and threat to democracies that stem from it, we need more understanding of the core problem from the philanthropic community and we should all be incorporating ways to stop it into our daily work. That starts with understanding the phenomenon and the players. Also, tech companies are to blame for the widespread hate and disinformation, instead of stepping up their practices for lifting up the truth, these platforms have become cesspools for hate and extremism. This is why we aim to educate policy makers, the media, and other influencers about threats from far-right extremist movements, and hold tech companies accountable for their role.

Reckon: If you could only ask one thing of people reading this piece – if you could give them one action item to take with them – what would it be and why?

Beirich: Stay engaged! From funding this work, to spreading awareness, to your community, to staying informed, there are all sorts of levels in which people can be engaged. Be engaged all the time, not only when there is an emergency, because the fact of the matter is that we are living in a crisis situation right now. As we saw with the recent elections in the U.S., while far-right and election-denying candidates didn’t win all their races, it was a razor-thin margin that has to be addressed. In other words, our democracy is extremely fragile, and until we come together to root out far-right extremism, there is a grave risk that it could topple. In recent years, we’ve seen demonstrations for racial justice, women’s rights, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and so many more, and so we know there is a global will to oppose far-right extremism and support thriving and diverse societies. Get and stay involved!

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