Introduction to Political Terrorism

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Introduction to Political Terrorism

Political terrorism relies on violent acts to influence public opinion on political issues or to vie for political power. Political terrorists sometimes harbor nationalistic aims, but these motivations are more clearly considered as separatist terrorism. Political terrorism may be waged by extremist groups on either end of the political spectrum, more often described as "left wing" or "right wing" terrorist groups.

In the United States, right-wing groups are most often aligned with ideologies of religious fundamentalism or racism. Many right-wing extremists also view federal governments as unnecessarily intrusive on personal property rights, or are isolationist, calling for the withdrawal of the United States from global economic markets, treaties, and the involvement in the United Nations. Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist responsible for the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, claimed that his attack was in retribution for a siege-ending deadly raid by federal agents against the Branch Davidian cult exactly two years earier. McVeigh also had contacts in several right-wing extremist groups.

Neo-fascists, neo-Nazis, or skinhead groups are also right-wing extremists. Neo-Nazism blends the desire to recreate a fascist state with a racist social hierarchy and strong anti-Semitism. The most violent neo-fascist groups operate in Western Europe.

Left-wing terrorists are most often aligned with ideologies of anarchism, anti-globalism, or anti-capitalism. Left-wing terrorists seek to destroy capitalist economic structures, most often with the intention of replacing them with socialist or communist systems. The most violent left-wing terrorists currently operate outside of the United States.

Globally, both right-wing and left-wing extremist groups are often paramilitary. Such paramilitary extremist groups often vie for power in regions torn by ethnic conflict or civil war; some are even state-sponsored by their own government or the governments of neighboring nations. Most of these groups conduct terror campaigns against civilians.

This chapter provides primary sources on both right-wing and left-wing terrorism. Extremist groups and terrorist organizations are not synonymous. Not all extremist groups have committed acts of terrorism, and only those that have are included in this volume. The representative sample of acts of political terrorism spans both the political spectrum and the globe.

As in the chapter on anarchist terrorism, the editors have included primary sources on the assassinations of heads of state. Although some definitions of terrorism exclude political assassinations, these acts are sometimes carried out by members of terrorist networks with the intent of supporting terrorist aims. The assassination of foreign leaders is prohibited under the Geneva Conventions. However, political assassinations sometimes carry similar social consequences as a terrorist act.

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Introduction to Political Terrorism

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Introduction to Political Terrorism