Hot periods of anti-minority activism and the threat of violent domestic extremism: Towards an assessment framework
This project, headed by Joel Busher from Coventry University, is funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST).
Violent domestic extremism is not a linear or evenly-spaced threat. Rather, it is more likely to emerge during ‘hot periods’, concentrated in geographically defined ‘hotspots’, in which movement and countermovement actors intensify their efforts to outmanoeuvre one another and influence policy and public opinion, often giving rise to a series of demonstrations, counter-demonstrations and confrontations.
Hot periods might develop during the build up to a large rally, in response to a contentious legal hearing or piece of legislation, or around a breaking news story that resonates with prominent grievance narratives. During such periods the ‘violent opportunity structures’ can open up, increasing the possibility of violent escalation. For example, emergent revenge dynamics between activists and their opponents can make violence appear, for some activists, not just legitimate, but a moral or strategic requirement. Where violent escalation does occur, this can open the violent opportunity structures further still by, among other things, expanding the parameters of ‘appropriate’ violence and intensifying processes of societal polarisation.
Yet hot periods of activity do not always lead to violent escalation, and often, when they do, it is limited in degree or only short-lived. Furthermore, even during those hot periods that are characterised by significant violent escalation, there are usually movement actors who seek to limit the use of violence by their fellow activists or innovate away from violence.
If we want to be able to assess accurately the threat posed by violent domestic extremism it is imperative that we understand how and under what conditions hot periods do or do not lead towards substantial violent escalation, and how and under what conditions instances of escalation beyond established action repertoires give rise to further violence.
For the purposes of this project we focus specifically on hot periods of anti-minority activism. This is because in recent decades in Europe and North America, periods of heightened anti-minority activism have often provided the focal points for escalation dynamics, usually involving a combination of extreme right actors and their various opponents. The case studies are based on documentary analysis, key informant interviews and social media analysis.