A memorial honoring the six victims of a shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The shooter was Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist and U.S. Army veteran. (John Gress/Reuters)
Before last week's bombing attack in Boston, there was a growing anxiety in the United States not only about homegrown violent Islamic extremism, but -- especially after Nidal Hasan killed 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, and then further after Eric Harroun was accused of fighting alongside a terrorist group in Syria last month -- about the specific and particularly frightening prospect of such extremism developing among members or trainees of the U.S. military. It's an understandable anxiety, and it may again be vindicated. But there's meanwhile a more worrying danger: that right-wing extremists who have served in the U.S. military will use their training in carrying out terrorist violence.
Right-wing extremists are more likely than violent Islamist extremists--or, as they are sometimes called, jihadists--to have military experience. They are also better armed, and are responsible for more incidents. The past two decades have seen multiple attacks from right-wing extremist veterans, from Wade Michael Page, who trained at Fort Bragg, to the group of former and active-duty soldiers in Georgia, who collected weapons to carry out a plan to assassinate President Obama. In 2011, Kevin Harpham, who had served in the army, placed a bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade. During the 1990s, violent extremism in the militia movement and other right-wing movements relied heavily upon those who served in the military. Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil before 9/11, was a military veteran whose libertarian views were also heavily influenced by a novel by a former American Nazi Party official. Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion extremist who bombed the 1996 Olympics, had also enlisted in the army.