Nonproliferation
Op-Ed

A threat to confront: far-right extremists and nuclear terrorism

The far-right extremist nuclear terrorism threat is amplified today by an ideology focused on accelerating the collapse of society
By Nickolas Roth  ·  Rebecca Earnhardt  ·  Brendan Hyatt

This article was originally published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Last March, neo-Nazi Timothy Wilson was killed during a shootout as he was planning to bomb a hospital treating COVID-19 patients. Like other neo-Nazis, Wilson viewed the pandemic and increased unrest among the American public as an opportunity to popularize Nazi ideas, spark further chaos, and accelerate societal collapse.1Mike Levine, “FBI learned of coronavirus-inspired bomb plotter through radicalized U.S. Army soldier,” ABC News, March 26, 2020, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/fbi-learned-coronavirus-inspired-bomb-plotter-radicalized-us/story?id=69818116 (accessed December 22, 2020) This past week, Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed while storming the US Capitol as part of a right-wing uprising; several years earlier, she was an employee of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, exhibiting violent behavior during this period.2Lilly Price and Tim Prudente, “Woman fatally shot during riot at U.S. Capitol formerly lived in Annapolis, worked at Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant”, Associated Press, January 7, 2021, https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/bs-woman-shot-capitol-ashli-babbitt-maryland-20210107-ayn7y45vbbamnmneqrq3ao4ta4-story.html and Peter Jamison, Hannah Natanson, John Cox, and Alex Horton, “The deadly path of Ashli Babbitt’s radicalization,” Washington Post, January 10, 2021, http://thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx. Acts of violence by far-right extremists are on the rise in the United States. Until now, most of these incidents have lacked sophistication, but a critical question for national security experts is whether US far-right extremist groups that espouse violence can carry out something catastrophic.

Every president serving in the last two decades has said that nuclear terrorism is a significant national security threat. Analysis of this threat has been, for good reason, mostly focused on foreign extremist groups, but recent events raise questions of whether there should be greater focus in the United States on far-right, domestic extremist threats. These extremists represent a unique danger because of their prevalence in federal institutions such as the military and the potential that they might infiltrate nuclear facilities, where they could access sensitive information and nuclear materials.

The far-right extremist nuclear terrorism threat, which has some history, is amplified today by an ideology focused on accelerating the collapse of society and a documented interest in pursuing nuclear terrorism. Officials need to act decisively to better understand and mitigate this threat.

Read the full article on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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