US Politics

Who is Free in America?

Data indicates that in 2017, there was a significant increase in the number of right-wing terror attacks, with over 50% of attacks being inspired by racist and xenophobic rhetoric. Yaela Collins examines the freedoms afforded by the bill of rights in the face of American extremism.


As hate speech and far-right principles become mainstays of political campaigns and backbones of domestic policy in different countries around the world, individuals with convoluted perspectives of society are seizing the opportunity to become outspoken and active to achieve their goals.

In the United States, Americans are experiencing frequent outbreaks of violence motivated by an increasingly large proportion of right-wing extremists. According to an analysis completed by the Global Terrorism Database, there was a significant increase in the number of right-wing terror attacks in 2017. More than 50 percent of attacks carried out last year were inspired by “racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, anti-government, or xenophobic” beliefs. Between 2010 and 2016, Anti-Muslim extremists, White extremists, anti-Semitic extremists, Right-wing extremists, and the United Aryan Empire executed 30 attacks. Over the same period of time, there were 21 acts of violence committed by Jihadi-inspired extremists.

The use of online messaging platforms to mobilize support and connect like-minded individuals has been equally important to these nefarious groups as it is for those looking to grow benevolent rights-based and equality driven movements. Seditious actors have posted publicly on social media like Facebook and Twitter, but these major platforms began to make concerted efforts to stem the reach of propaganda through measures like content take-down policies and more stringent terms of service. Extremists have adapted by migrating to end-to-end encrypted messaging services like Telegram, WhatsApp, Signal, and Wickr or by finding uncensored public platforms like Gab.

Gab, modeled after Twitter, was created as a “free speech” alternative to the popular social media site with a mission to “defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people.” Gab has become a playground for social media users banned from other sites for terms of service violations, like Milo Yiannopoulos, “banned from Twitter for targeted harassment.” With little central oversight for content monitoring, Gab is a free for all where users can essentially vote to choose which posts will reach the most people. Banned content is simply limited to  “direct threats of violence, child pornography, pornography and doxxing.”

Adherence to liberal democratic principles and the preservation of human rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution have been defining characteristics of American domestic and foreign policy.

Americans regard for “inalienable rights” continue to be a main motivator of political action and the proliferation of alternative paths for human expression. In theory, safeguarding human rights is a great concept that all citizens should benefit from. However, it seems as if we may be living in a world where the innocent have a decreased ability to exercise their freedoms because the volume of the voices on the far right have been amplified.

Religious institutions, airports, movie theaters, night clubs, and even shopping streets have all become places where we pay a little bit more attention or avoid altogether because of fear of violence. We now tuck in the religious pendent on our necklace, opt out of wearing Hijab, and stay in our little corners because the threat of what is outside of our familiar safe zones is dangerous and imminent. Our freedom of movement, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly are all limited, but racism and xenophobia are loud and get to roam free.  So, who is really benefitting from the human rights protections in the Constitution? I would argue that the Kentucky man who enthusiastically dressed as a Nazi for Halloween is reaping more benefits from the First Amendment than most Americans, and that is a major issue.

Yaela Collins is currently working at The Bassiouni Group where she engages in security and development research and business management consulting focused on sustainability. She received her BA in International Relations with a focus on Developing World from the State University of New York College at Geneseo and a M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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