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date: 21 July 2018

The Non-Party Sector of the Radical Right

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines radical right publishers, intellectual schools, parallel organizations, voluntary associations, small groups, political sects, and families. Party and non-party sectors of the radical right share common projects. They interact with each other, and the boundaries between their memberships, social networks, and formal or informal organizations overlap. Yet the non-party sector retains important specificities. Apart from identifying its social bases, main activities, organizational forms, and ideological orientations, this chapter attends to variations across Europe and between Europe and the United States. The conclusion proposes directions for future research: (1) fill in empirical gaps that emerge from an overview of the literature, (2) examine if interaction between economic globalization and welfare protection explains the strength of the non-party sector, and (3) test the hypothesis that a centripetal party system with a weak boundary between moderate and radical right favors the non-party sector of the radical right.

Keywords: radical right publishers, intellectual schools, parallel organizations, voluntary associations, small groups, political sects

This chapter avoids treating the realm of the radical right outside of political parties as a mere residual category—as a marginal and amorphous jumble of organizations and networks whose activity unfolds primarily or solely outside the party system. Instead we consider the non-party sector as a challenger for political and cultural hegemony in contemporary liberal democracies alongside—if not in practical cooperation with—parties of the radical right. Whether party and non-party sectors of the radical right actually cooperate, common projects and opponents unite them. Their struggles are directed vertically as well as horizontally. Pushing upward, so to speak, one struggle pits the radical right against the hegemon: liberal democracy. Pushing sideways, another struggle pits the radical right against counterhegemonic rivals such as communism. So conceptualized, the object of our study assumes diverse forms. To our knowledge, no previous scholarship has attempted to synthesize the geographically broad, cross-disciplinary research on these forms. In an effort to identify noteworthy elements, relationships, and research problems, we therefore tack back and forth between induction and deduction. This approach seems appropriate given the current state of knowledge, which is uneven and fragmented.

Some will recoil when we call the radical right a counterhegemonic contender. Antonio Gramsci—cofounder of the Italian Communist Party and originator of the theory of cultural and political hegemony—died of poor health after years of confinement in fascist prisons. Later, from Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and the Birmingham School of cultural studies through to Slavoj Žižek, left-wing intellectuals have claimed the struggle against hegemony as their own. Some four decades ago, however, Raymond Williams did not restrict himself to the left when referring to “forms of alternative or directly oppositional politics and culture” or “efforts and contributions of those who are in one way or another outside or at the edge of the terms of the specific hegemony” in theorizing the unsettled dynamic between hegemony and its challengers (Williams 1977, (p. 286) 113). Indeed, intellectuals of the New Right have made a “Gramscianism of the right”—an ethnocentric and elitist critique of liberal economics, politics, and morality—their explicit objective:

The path to power presupposes an earlier conversion of a small number of decision-makers, of members of the bourgeoisie sublimated into aristocrats. The value it gives to ideology, to culture, to intellect, to style – all this orients the Nouvelle Droite quite naturally toward the intelligentsia, who are blessed with social capital, capable of exercising an influence across society, and sometimes occupy positions of political power. This was the strategic objective they adapted freely from Gramsci. (Duranton-Crabol 1988: 168)

How has the non-party sector of the radical right—not just the intellectual schools of the New Right, but other elements as well—responded to hegemonic pressures and problems in capitalist liberal democracies by dissenting with ideas and opinions to which the majority acquiesce, if not consent?

Mapping the Non-Party Sector

Elements of the non-party sector are located within a two-dimensional space defined by (1) the continuum of civil society between the intimate sphere and public life and (2) the continuum of social interaction between the market logic of capitalism and other, non-market logics (such as those of politics, leisure activity, group solidarity, or the family). Table 15.1 situates the elements of the non-party sector of the radical right according to their position along each of these two axes.

This map provides a point of entry into a subject more complex, fuzzy, and heterogeneous than a schema suggests. Before digging deeper, we simply list the main elements examined in this chapter:

  • Publishers

  • Intellectual schools

  • Party parallel organizations

  • Voluntary associations

  • Small groups

  • Political sects

  • Families

Each of these is a supra-individual reality. Hence we exclude lone-wolf terrorism because the extent to which perpetrators belong to extremist networks or receive logistical support from others varies widely (Gruenewald, Chermak, and Freilich 2013; Becker 2014; Berntzen and Sandberg 2014; Spaaij and Hamm 2015). (p. 287)

Table 15.1 Map of the Non-Party Sector of the Radical Right

Logic of exchange




Location in civil society

Public realm


Intellectual schools

  • RRP parallel

  • organizations

  • Interest groups

  • Religious groups

  • Voluntary

  • associations

  • Social movements



Small groups

Private realm


  • Political sects

  • Friendships

  • Families


1. Other chapters in this volume examine in more detail the relations with religion and social movements, respectively.

2. Interest groups, neighborhoods, acquaintances, and friendships are included out of a concern with comprehensiveness but not examined in this chapter due to a paucity of relevant research or their lack of formal organization.

Source: Adapted from Hicks, Janoski, and Schwartz 2005, fig. 1.2.


The sheer volume of research on radical right communication through the Internet far exceeds the amount of research on its use of print media. One reason for this disparity is the ease of collecting Internet data that are quantitative or readily quantifiable (e.g., site hits or links to other websites). Yet dissident newspapers, books, journals, and other printed matter persist as alternative media, as vehicles for circumventing corporate-owned media with sympathies—if not interests—tied to mainstream parties, liberal democracy, and the capitalist economy. In the United States, publishers of books and journals that promote Holocaust negation, conspiracy theories, and opposition to immigration include Social Contract Press and American Free Press. Occupying the overlapping spaces of cultural conservatism, opposition to globalization, and admiration for fascism or Nazism, established publishers in continental Europe include Arktos (London), Krisis (Paris), Áltera (Madrid), Settimo Sigillo (Rome), and Antaios (Steigra, Germany). New information technologies have reduced the trouble and cost of designing, printing, and copying on paper, while radical right websites promote paper-based publications in part because the very qualities that make the Internet easier to study also (p. 288) make it easier to monitor (Berlet 1998). Because they help in avoiding public reprobation, official censorship, and legal prosecution, print media thus persist as alternative forms of radical right communication.

Intellectual Schools

The self-proclaimed intention of intellectuals of the radical right is not to influence voting but to oppose dominant ways of thinking and to reframe the terms of public debate. In part these thinkers are engaged in a cultural battle against the ideals and legacies of the 1960s social movements. Perhaps their main contribution has been to subvert the left-liberal celebration of difference, which in the hands of the radical right provides a justification for anti-immigrant politics on the grounds that multiculturalism undermines the human variety (Taguieff 1989).

In the United States the New Right and the Christian right of fundamentalist Protestantism overlap considerably. Conservative think tanks such as the Free Congress Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation provide a well-funded institutional base for ideologues whose enthusiasm for capitalism is not shared by their counterparts in Europe. Given the bipartisan structure of American politics, not radical right parties per se but the extreme right fringe of the Republican Party (embodied most recently in the dissident Tea Party or the activists and cadres around Donald Trump) as well as right-wing independents provide the New Right with its allies (Minkenberg 2000; Gross, Medvetz, and Russell 2011).

In Europe (with the partial exception of Great Britain, where the audience for the radical right includes the right wing of the Conservative Party), radical right parties provide the main political interlocutor for New Right intellectuals even if relations between the two are not always smooth. Unlike most of their American counterparts, the religious stance of the European New Right includes a mixed and even unsympathetic view of Christianity, honored as an essential component of Western tradition by some thinkers but derided as a slave morality by others more inspired by Nietzsche. The European New Right also displays a greater sympathy toward certain alternatives to Christianity: the pantheism of the ancient Greeks or the pagan cults of the Celts and Norsemen. Out of anti-Semitism or a celebration of the globe’s core civilizations, some thinkers even accept Islam. This should not to be confused with a celebration of ethnoreligious pluralism or multiculturalism, which the New Right equates with bastardization, weakening, and decadence.

Unlike the New Right in the United States, the same logic by which the European New Right attacks the excessive materialism of today’s Western world leads it to discern in capitalism as well as communism the same fundamental flaw: both are said to neglect the higher, more “spiritual” realm of human needs and aspirations. Attracted to Holocaust denial and readier to admire Nazism and fascism, the European New Right is more völkisch (ethnoracialist). Whereas the American New Right, which tends to be libertarian, (p. 289) decries the power of the state, its European counterparts call for a stronger, more protective state capable of enforcing boundaries against international migration, cultural Americanization, and global economic competition (Bar-On 2008; McCulloch 2006). Instead of furthering the ideal of a politically autonomous Europe that protects citizens and upholds the distinctiveness of peoples, the European Union is derided as a Jacobin, anti-federalist institution too wedded to the global free market (de Benoist 2014).

National context affects the spread and reformulation of the ideas of the New Right. Unlike the Groupement de recherche et d’études pour la civilisation européenne (GRECE) in France, the Neue Rechte backed the idea of a conservative revolution and contributed to debates about “a new German national consciousness derived from a collective historical identity outside the ‘shadow of Auschwitz’ ” (Minkenberg 1997, 74). Born as a dissident youth faction within the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI, the leading neofascist party of postwar Europe before its self-dissolution in 1995), Italy’s nuova destra rejected the violence of the anni di piombo in favor of an eclecticism that transcended the left-right cleavage in addressing issues such as environmental degradation (Casadio and Masterson 2014). The anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism of the continental New Right fit uneasily with more entrenched beliefs within the British radical right about a hierarchy of races or an international Jewish conspiracy (Copsey 2013). Wariness toward Europe on the part of the National Bolsheviks in Russia—for whom a stronger Eurasia should oppose a unipolar United States—also affects the international cross-fertilization of radical right ideas (Whine 2012). Even the Internet sets limits on the spread of radical right discourse. Three-quarters (74 percent) of the more than 100,000 visitors to a right-wing French website, Blog Éléments, have accessed it from France; followed by Belgium (5 percent), the United States (4 percent), Switzerland (3 percent), and Canada (2 percent); with Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Tunisia, and Germany at around 1 percent each. Although this website has been accessed from other countries as well, its global reach remains uneven (Blog Éléments 2016).

The autonomy of intellectuals from the market varies too. American conservatives attack the academy as a bastion of liberalism, socialism, and political correctness, yet in some cases they control small colleges or operate from “academic business schools and free market–oriented departments of economics” (Gross, Medvetz, and Russell 2011, 333). In addition to well-funded think tanks, others belong to media organizations, business groups, legal foundations, or associations favoring home schooling. From these institutions, they have contributed to the sharpening of the post-1960s “cultural wars” as well as the hardening of a conservative identity within the American electorate (Gross, Medvetz, and Russell 2011).

Institutions of higher education seem to have provided a more congenial home in Europe. Admittedly, Alain de Benoist, the French intellectual who originated the European New Right, is a non-academic whose professional career unfolded from a base in the world of publishing (Bar-On 2008). Yet the three thousand members of GRECE, the group he led, consisted especially of “students, teachers and the academic middle class” (Minkenberg 1997, 71). Outside France the influence of GRECE seems to have radiated among academics who function as public intellectuals: Marco Tarchi (p. 290) in Italy, Aleksandr Panarin, in Russia and members of the Neue Rechte in Germany (Minkenberg 2000; Peunova 2012). Possible exceptions are Denmark and Great Britain, where the social background and institutional location of New Right intellectuals seem more diverse (Macklin 2015; Rydgren 2004).

Intellectuals and parties of the European radical right oppose the European Union and share in a common project of shaping debates on immigration, minorities, and integration. Above all, intellectuals such as de Benoist have given parties such as the Front National and the Lega Nord a lesson in how to combat ethnoreligious diversity: not through the discredited discourse of biological racism but instead via the more palatable celebration of difference and authenticity. According to this rhetorical strategy, cultural survival justifies closed borders, restrictions on social welfare for “foreigners,” and public referenda on immigration. Underlying tensions set limits on collaboration between intellectuals and parties, however. Emerging during the 1970s as a rejection of party and extra-parliamentary politics alike, the New Right instead chose a “meta-political” battle. It is wary and even pessimistic about what, under current historical conditions, can be achieved by radical right parties even if elected to power. Although the economic stances of radical right parties vary widely, they alienate the New Right whenever they embrace the free market. Consistent with his plea for cultural diversity, de Benoist has even “defended the right of Muslim schoolgirls to wear the hijab in the liberal, secular French school system against what he called ‘the ayatollahs’ of the assimilationist, French Republican tradition” (Bar-On 2008, 337). Parties of the radical right wish to tear down the European Union by bringing back state sovereignty. The intellectuals, by contrast, envision a Europe composed of small “ethno-democracies”: independent regions, not nation-states, within a single European polity (Bar-On 2008; Spektorowski 2016).

Party Parallel Organizations

Parallel organizations are sponsored by parties but have no juridical relation with them. The hoped-for benefits are multiple: training potential cadres, upholding partisan or activist identity, and disseminating the party’s message within specific segments of society (Ignazi 1989, 299). Although not a radical right party per se, the MSI provides an apt example. This neofascist party was divided into local, provincial, and regional sections, each nested hierarchically into the level above and all subordinated to the national offices. The MSI also ran a youth wing whose leaders were chosen by the party executive. Alongside these official structures, however, parallel organizations targeted specific social categories: students, workers, and military veterans. This linked the party to right-wing nationalist currents in civil society, which responded to events in national or international affairs by forming committees, leading rallies, or brawling with leftists. Over the longer run, parallel organizations kept the MSI in tune with generational change, student unrest, worker grievances, and veterans’ interests. Parallel organizations not (p. 291) only aided the party’s penetration of society: as antennae, they helped the neofascists to avoid irrelevance by adapting to citizen concerns (Ignazi 1989, 262–306).

An unprecedented surge in support for the MSI in 1972 inspired the foundation of the National Front in France that year. The two parties remained friendly, and eventually the French party implemented the neo-fascists’ model of societal penetration. The youth wing of the National Front gathered momentum in 1984 by exploiting the broad right-wing mobilization against the Socialist government’s plan to suspend funding for Catholic schools. By the 1990s the youth wing operated in Catholic and public high schools as well as the state universities, where it combated not only the left but also the anti-racist movement. Enjoying a more arm’s-length relationship with the party were its student organizations, which competed in elections for university student councils. Just as the MSI had focused on Italian veterans who fought on the losing side in the Second World War, the National Front created a parallel organization for French veterans of the wars in Indochina and Algeria. Equally autonomous from the party hierarchy were organizations for members of the police force, officers in the military reserve, and repatriated settlers from France’s former North African colonies. Other “circles” close to the National Front grouped together small-business owners allergic to taxes and state bureaucracy. While some groups competed against Catholic and left-wing unions in recruiting among workers, others reached out to farmers, women, environmentalists, or traditionalist Catholics (Birenbaum 1992, 220–252).

The foregoing illustrates the overlap between radical right parties and interest groups, on one hand, radical right social movements on the other. In Australia and the United States, some environmental groups have used widely accepted premises (which treat environmental quality as a function of technology and lifestyle, multiplied by population size) as a justification for nativist, anti-immigration politics (Veugelers 2006, 100–102). After 1995—when France experienced its greatest wave of labor protest in almost three decades—the National Front tried to channel anti-globalization and anti-European Union sentiments into parallel organizations for employees of prisons, postal services, and public transportation (Igounet 2014, 273–278). The anti-union stance of the radical right sets harsh limits on such initiatives, however.

Voluntary Associations

Despite their greater distance from us in time, we know more about relations with voluntary associations for the interwar far right (particularly in Germany) than for the contemporary radical right. According to the mass society thesis, Nazism relieved the psychological anxieties of atomized individuals, people uprooted from community and no longer guided by tradition. Against this thesis, research by Hamilton (1982) and Koshar (1986) has shown that (1) to spread their message and recruit supporters, Nazi activists targeted the local leaders of clubs, associations, and Protestant or farmers’ groups; (2) if an association leader joined the Nazi Party, then ordinary citizens and (p. 292) organization members were likely to follow; (3) strong Protestant voting for the Nazis reflected the party’s success in infiltrating Protestant organizations; and (4) early opposition to the Nazis came from within social networks anchored in the Catholic Church or working-class organizations. Not atomization but social ties—notably those embedded in voluntary associations—explain the spread of Nazism.

Supporters of radical right parties harbor intolerance toward religious or ethnoracial minorities. Tolerance, in turn, depends on exposure to diversity through cross-pressures. Putting these pieces together, we can expect that association membership will have a heterogeneous effect on radical-right support. Membership will boost support for the radical right if it tightens the bonds among members of a social category, thereby insulating them from contact with other social categories, and it will dampen support if diversity of membership builds bridges across different segments of society (Oberschall 1973).

Conventional indicators of social capital, such as association density, fail to capture the crucial distinction between bonding and bridging. This might explain why most studies of social capital and the radical right find only weak support for the hypothesis that active involvement in voluntary associations dampens the support for these parties (Coffé, Heyndels, and Vermeir 2007; Rydgren 2009, 2011; Jesuit, Paradowski, and Mahler 2009; Poznyak, Abts, and Swyngedouw 2011). Research that instead differentiates between associations that ward off cross-pressures and those that do not reveals a strong relationship with radical right support, even after controlling for factors such as gender, class, education, and union membership (Veugelers, Menard, and Permingeat 2015).

Small Groups

The radical right overlaps with small groups such as fan clubs that support European football teams as well as bands of neo-Nazi skinheads that engage in violence against minorities. Although their size and level of formal organization vary, these groups provide milieus for a culture of machismo that tends to exclude women. From a sociological perspective, these are “defensive reactions to limited opportunities by young (predominantly male) adolescents” that occupy the intersection between gangs, youth subcultures, deviant behavior, and peer groups (Abercrombie et al. 2000, 148). Patterns of recruitment suggest that networks of football hooligans and racist skinheads can overlap considerably (Miller-Idriss 2009, 98).

Football hooliganism is “the competitive violence of socially organized fan groups in football, principally directed against opposing fan groups” (Spaaij 2006, 11). The terms “gang,” “firm,” or “crew” are used interchangeably to refer to groups consisting of football casuals—avid fans who may or may not be hooligans (Redhead 2015). Research has concentrated on Britain (in particular England), where football hooliganism has provided a privileged terrain of recruitment for parties of the radical right (the National Front during the 1970s, the British National Party since the 1990s). This research favors (p. 293) an ethnographic approach to what Poulton (2012) refers to as a “hyper-masculine subculture”—one that “involves a great deal of symbolic opposition and ritualized aggression” (Spaaij 2006, 22). Field notes by one researcher of an English firm includes these quotes from members:

“See that [points at St. George’s flag flying above a church], that makes me proud, it’s what being English is all about, but where I come from that isn’t seen anymore. The Pakis have taken over the churches and turned them into mosques, now what the fuck is that about, eh? [sings] Give me bullets for my gun and I will shoot the Muzzie scum, No surrender to the Taliban.”

“I am sick of the lot of them [Muslims] and their demands, all take, take, take. They take the piss out of us, bringing in hundreds of them over through arranged marriages and that, looking after one another and fucking us over. It has to stop; this is England, not Afghanistan!

They can’t live like us cos they are not evolved for it, they are simple, made for awkward villages in the mountain where they can sit around eating stinking curries and raping chickens. They come over here and ruin England, I mean, would you want to live next to them? I don’t, but they are taking over. That is why I want them gone.” (Garland and Treadwell 2010, 13)

Rivalries are neutralized by alliances in which crews join together to exacerbate interracial mistrust and violence. Working with white supremacist groups, British football firms have engaged in violent conflicts against minorities and anti-fascist activists. Sometimes their patriotic, anti-Islam protests have escalated into riots (Garland and Treadwell 2010).

In France, Portugal, Spain, and Italy, the organized fans of football teams are known as ultras (Spaaij 2006, 22). In Italy, where the ultras come from a broader class base than in Britain, the link between fans and politics is long-standing and widely understood. Some groups have a working-class, leftist following; others have a middle-class membership that leans toward conservatism and neofascism. Political differences that tear apart older groups of ultras may spawn spin-off groups. Inspired by Britain’s hooligans and skinheads as well as the tense political climate in their own country, during the 1970s Italian fans adopted distinctive fashions as well as banners and chants modeled after political movements. Although less closed to women than their British counterparts, the ultras show a similar concern with territoriality (down to their seating in stadiums, where they dominate the curved stands behind the goals) and defense of a common space against the encroachments of outsiders (fans for rival teams, supporters of opposing political orientations, and, since the 1990s, non-European migrants). This has led to the orchestrated heckling of nonwhite players on the playing field, violent street clashes between leftists and rightists, and links between the ultras and neofascist groups as well as the radical right Lega Nord (Podaliri and Balestri 1998).

European football hooliganism overlaps with skinhead subculture, which extends from Britain to Russia. Nazi skins differ from traditional, apolitical, anti-racist, or gay (p. 294) skins. Thus not all skinheads in Britain, Germany, or the United States are political racists (Borgeson and Valeri 2005; Watts 2001). In Russia, by contrast, “the overwhelming majority . . . are racist or neo-Nazi” (Shashkin 2008, 100). By comparison with football fan groups, this subculture exhibits a lower level of institutionalization, for skinheads are embedded in loose and fluid structures at the local level while remaining open to outside and even international influences. Yet two similarities with football hooliganism remain: both originated in Britain and then spread to the Continent, and both engage in violence toward ethno-racial minorities (Brown 2004; Szayna 1997, 124–125).

Although various symbolic practices (e.g., the color of boot laces worn) provide markers of difference within this subculture, an international style connects skinheads (Miller-Idriss 2009, 98; Watts 2001, 608). Concerts by white power bands provide a meeting place for right-wing skins (Brown 2004). Partnerships with other organizations are possible:

In the United States, racist skinhead groups may be allied locally with neo-Nazi groups, with traditional organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, or with such groups as Aryan Nations or the World Church of the Creator. In Germany, rightist skinheads may find political partners with neo-Nazi groups or with Kameradschaften and political “discussion groups.” (Watts 2001, 608)

The fluid organizational structure of the skinheads makes it difficult for parties to form enduring relations with them. Some radical right parties hire skinheads as security guards or provocateurs for rallies or meetings. But such arrangements are mostly episodic. Skinheads provide radical right parties with allies who are unreliable and possibly damaging. Skinheads may know little about a party’s platform nor care for its discipline. Their presence may become a liability for a party seeking an image of respectability. When skinheads move into middle age and exit the subculture, however, their relationship with party politics may tighten as they become radical right voters, activists, or cadres.

Political Sects

Due to its secrecy and exclusivity, the sect lies on the intimate side of the public-private divide. Like churches, political parties find strength in numbers. For sects, be they religious or political, the number of members matters less than their worthiness. Purity, solidarity, and devotion place sect members among the elect, whose uncompromising fidelity to a higher morality sets them against the wider society (O’Toole 1976, 150–151). Elements of the non-party radical right with sect-like characteristics include the groupuscule and the paramilitary unit or militia.

Organizationally, extreme-right groupuscules exhibit both differences and similarities with the world of skinheads. They impose tighter boundaries around membership (p. 295) and stricter rules over action. Yet like the skinheads they are modular, hence available for pragmatic alliances with others:

The groupuscule has the Janus-headed property of combining organizational autonomy with the ability to create informal linkages with, or to reinforce the influence of, other such formations. This enables groupuscules, when considered in terms of their aggregate impact on politics and society, to be seen as forming a non-hierarchical, leaderless and centreless (or rather polycentric) movement with fluid boundaries and constantly changing components. (Griffin 2003, 30)

Modularity—which the Internet promotes—has enhanced the adaptive capacity of the anti-hegemonic right. After 1945 the liberal capitalist system rendered the language of national rebirth suspect by identifying it with the losers of the Second World War. Absent more favorable conditions for the reactionary or revolutionary right, postwar groupuscules prevented these political traditions from dying out.

Seen this way, the watered-down version of ultra-nationalist politics now on offer by parties of the radical right shows their readiness to forfeit principled resistance in exchange for compromise with the status quo. Rhetoric does not always match practice, however, for groupuscules do cooperate with radical right parties. CasaPound in Italy has promoted the Lega Nord by joining the party’s rallies, endorsing its candidates, and placing activists onto its electoral slates (Castelli Gattinara, Froio, and Albanese 2013; Froio and Castelli Gattinara 2015). Other groupuscules have fielded their own candidates in elections or provided advisors to radical right politicians. Disseminating propaganda, organizing protests or boycotts, and populating the Internet with anti-Semitism or Nazi-fascist apologia, groupuscules thus show considerable variation in their accommodation to the norms of liberal democracy (Griffin 2003).

The American militia cloaks itself in the language of activist patriotism. Reflecting on relations between citizen and political authority, Tocqueville wrote:

The inhabitant of the United States learns from birth that he must rely upon himself to combat the ills and trials of life; he is restless and defiant in his outlook toward the authority of society and appeals to its power only when he cannot do without it. (Tocqueville 1969, 189)

Along with this “defiant outlook,” the American militia reflects another national peculiarity: as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” Upholding the anti-authority tradition in American society, militias insist that in areas such as gun control, federal taxes, and jury nullification the government has stripped citizens of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Conspiracy theorists add the mass media, international Jewry, large corporations, and the United Nations to “the establishment” that threatens the American way of life. To resist government monitoring, militias keep their membership lists secret (Van Dyke and Soule 2002, 504). Like the Nazi skins, loose affiliations with like-minded groups link (p. 296) them to the Ku Klux Klan; unlike the skinheads, these links have extended to a broader fringe of anti-tax or anti-immigrant groups as well as the Christian Identity movement and predecessors such as the Minutemen and Posse Comitatus (Chermak, Freilich, and Suttmoeller 2013; Perry 2000; Pitcavage 2001).

Communication and recruitment occur through informal social networks, radio talk programs, mail-order catalogues, leafletting at gun shows, and the Internet. Members are not subsumed within a single national organization. Instead they belong to either “above-ground” organizations, which have “a centralized command that follows a paramilitary structure and employs military style ranks,” or “below-ground” organizations, militias closer to the ideal type of the political sect that “strive to be secretive underground cells” and evade government infiltration by limiting membership to fewer than fifteen people (Freilich, Pienik, and Howard 2001, 187). Bonding activities include public displays of military bearing, secret initiation rites, and private paramilitary maneuvers. Norms of traditional masculinity are involved in other ways as well. Membership is stronger in states that have more law enforcement personnel, ardent gun owners, or veterans of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, and militia activity tends to be higher in states with a greater gap in wages between men and women (Freilich, Pienik, and Howard 2001).

Fascist paramilitary units inspired by Mussolini’s squadristi operated in interwar Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, and Lithuania. Today the paramilitary groups of Eastern Europe fall into two types: combatant units fighting the post-communist wars and vigilante formations with a racist orientation (Mareš and Stojar 2012, 160). After 1989 and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, extreme-right paramilitary units recruited among football hooligans at home as well as among skinheads and extreme nationalists in Russia and Western Europe. Armed units of Russian nationalists also formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union, particularly in former republics with significant proportions of Russians. By comparison with combatant units, the geographic extension of vigilante units is much greater—it encompasses Russia, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Members wear uniforms, belong to hierarchical structures, and attend training camps. Some units overlap with the skinhead subculture. In certain localities they organize vigilantes who take the law into their own hands by mounting a kind of community policing. Apart from distributing propaganda, members attack leftists, gays, drug users, and homeless people as well as Roma, Muslims, Albanians, and other “undesirables.” A cell structure inspired by the decentralized organizational model of paramilitary units in Germany has become widespread (Koehler 2014; Mareš and Stojar 2012).

Political sects link to the party sector as halfway houses for activists, who may withdraw into the groupuscule or paramilitary group because the party lacks ideological purity (as shown by a watering down of its image or message, a pragmatic alliance with another political party, or a disappointing record if elected to office) or move into the party because the sect lacks wider influence or relevance. They can also serve as laboratories for ideas later adapted or adopted by radical right parties. The groupuscule or militia may provide an abeyance structure that keeps networks and identities alive during a lull (p. 297) in radical right party organization, or they may offer a fallback position for cadres and members during a period of party transformation (when members move from an old radical right party to a groupuscule or militia before proceeding to a successor party if one should form). Groupuscules and militias also provide parties with temporary activists at election time; security personnel at rallies, marches, and other public events; and shock troops for physical confrontations with left-wing, anti-racist, or anti-fascist activists.


After hitting a peak during the 1960s and 1970s, research on the family’s role in political socialization is enjoying a comeback. Much of this research studies the kind of upbringing that encourages democratic aspirations and citizen involvement. Other research examines the intergenerational transmission of partisan preferences: correlations between the partisan choices of parents and their adult children are high, yet parents tend to bequeath not a preference for a particular party but a heuristic that simplifies choice. A product of trust and frequent interaction between family members, this heuristic rules out certain parties while others stay inside the set of possible alternatives. In sum, parents transmit cognitive shortcuts that reduce complexity and narrow options at electoral time, when the crucial question is whether to maintain or withdraw support for the party the voter supported previously (Zuckerman, Dasović, and Fitzgerald 2007).

Research on Western Europe suggests that the intergenerational transmission of partisan heuristics may help to explain support for the non-party radical right. In Italy, neofascist activists of the 1960s and 1970s tended to come from families that had encouraged their political orientation (Veugelers 2011). Studies of radical right activism in contemporary Italy, Germany, France, and the Netherlands provide further evidence of parent-to-child continuity (Dechezelle 2008; Klandermans and Mayer 2005). According to Miller-Idriss (2009), by contrast, anti-racist education in Germany may be failing due to differences in the generational experiences of teacher and student. The prevailing public narrative of German identity

is characterized by a continuing sense of institutionalized shame resulting from the Holocaust and an accompanying antinationalist consensus that invalidates national pride as a legitimate expression of national belonging. Teachers’ well-intentioned efforts to enforce the illegitimacy of national pride and German identity, I argue, coupled with resistance to the taboo on pride among younger Germans, have the unintended consequence of increasing the appeal of radical right-wing groups. (Miller-Idriss 2009, 172)

Yet students also may be less receptive to a teacher’s message if it clashes with what they hear at home. Parents who are activists in the white power movement in the United States use home schooling and control over their children’s friends and television programs to construct a counterhegemonic home setting in which they “play white power (p. 298) music, use racial epithets, or reiterate the Aryan struggle for their children” (Simi, Futrell, and Bubolz 2016, 19).

Racial prejudice is one of the strongest predictors of support for the radical right. In turn, families either encourage or discourage the kind of cross-cutting influence that—like membership in voluntary associations—affects tolerance. People whose immediate family, in-laws, or circle of friends includes “immigrants” are much more likely to have a positive attitude toward minorities (Martin 1996, 23). In addition to shaping partisan orientations, therefore, family relations affect the likelihood of being attracted into the non-party sector by shaping attitudes toward those who are different.


Research on the non-party sector of the radical right reveals much variation in terms of the geographic and substantive areas covered. Table 15.2 sets forth our assessment of this variation, but it is biased by an almost exclusive focus on English-language publications. A review of research published in other languages would likely show that our assessment is too harsh (particularly with respect to Eastern Europe). Our assessment may also exaggerate the extent to which the volume of research on the non-party radical right in North America (particularly the United States) exceeds that for Europe. Nonetheless, we feel some confidence in asserting that there is relatively more research on football hooliganism in Britain, groupuscules in Europe, militia groups in the United States, racist skinheads, and intellectual schools in Western Europe and the United States. Research directed at English-reading audiences can contribute by filling in gaps in our empirical knowledge as set forth in Table 15.2.

Table 15.2 Current State of Research on the Non-Party Sector of the Radical Right

North America

Western Europe

Eastern Europe





Intellectual schools




Party parallel orgs.




Voluntary associations








Small groups




Political sects








Legend: ++Much research;+Some research;-Little research; n/a Not applicable

(p. 299) The accumulation of more information can provide only a favorable condition for the advance of knowledge. Bringing facts to bear on knowledge—and vice versa—will require comparison across time and place, in dialogue with theory. Although we cannot predict with precision how researchers who study the non-party sector of the radical right will proceed, we are inclined to believe they will uphold the interdisciplinary approach so evident in previous research.

So pervasive is the integration of the Internet into social relations in Europe and North America that the radical right has not been spared. Recent work suggests the non-party sector benefits from the anonymity, geographical compression, and low entry barriers that Internet communication allows (Caiani and Parenti 2009, 2013; Jackson and Feldman 2011; Perry 2000). The Internet has made it easier for the radical right to share ideas, coordinate activities, disseminate propaganda, form alliances, sell merchandise, and recruit members. This enables some groups (such as neo-Nazis or Holocaust deniers) to survive in inhospitable environments, and others (such as the English Defence League) to persist without formal organizational structures. Online networks can foster collective identity among participants with little or no connection to offline mobilization, so virtual communities have emerged within the online milieu itself (Caren, Jowers, and Gaby 2012). But the effects on organizations remain varied: some radical right groups seem to thrive on isolation and autonomy, while others gain from the exponential growth in potential interconnection offered by the Internet.

This raises the question of historical variation in sociopolitical structures. Have the Internet and related technologies changed either the non-party sector or its relations with parties of the radical right? Hiding behind this question is the issue of political involvement. For those who claim the Internet will encourage citizen engagement, democracy is treated as synonymous with wide and active involvement in public affairs. Consideration of the radical right suggests this assumption is debatable: the Internet serves anti-democratic tendencies too. To resolve this question requires not a focus on new technologies in isolation but rather a comparison of past and present. Care must be taken in such work to distinguish recent advances in the ability to measure and observe the radical right—especially over the Internet—from changes in the form and substance of groups in the non-virtual world. Intellectual schools may respond differently from skinheads or football hooligans, moreover. Under the assumption that effects are not uniform, domain differences in the temporal effect of the Internet must be taken into account.

A second historical comparison might examine not change but continuity. Research on families and voluntary associations, discussed above, shows them to be milieus in which affinities toward the radical right are transmitted. Presumably other elements of the non-party sector also keep the past alive, albeit selectively. Carriers of collective memory with an affinity for the radical right include organizations in the southern United States that glorify the Confederacy and treat the state with suspicion, as well as voluntary associations in France that maintain nostalgia for empire and antipathy toward the Fifth Republic, which is held responsible for the “loss” of colonial Algeria in particular. Many more such groups must fill the role of what are labeled variously as (p. 300) “submerged networks,” “halfway houses,” “free spaces,” “protected spaces,” or “sequestered social sites”—namely, “social networks, organizations or small-scale settings beyond the direct control of the powerful that allow the communication of an oppositional culture” (Veugelers 2011, 244). Studying these hidden subcultures—which unite the unique losers of history who populate different countries, such as the victims of decolonization, democratization, national unification, international partition, or post-communism—provides insight into how a potential electorate for the radical right can survive during prolonged periods of demobilization (e.g., when a polity has no viable radical right party to which potential supporters can give their vote).

What about the victims of capitalism? Across Europe and North America, economic globalization has meant deindustrialization, factory closings, layoffs, underemployment, precarious work, pressure on wages, and a broadening of the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of society. Kitschelt (1995) expects support for radical right parties to be stronger in post-industrial societies more exposed to international economic competition. Pointing to the intervening role of domestic political institutions, Swank and Betz (2003) add a modification: the safety net provided by a strong welfare state moderates the extent of radical right support because it shields workers from the shocks of liberalized international markets. The relevance of this research to the study of the non-party sector for the radical right is shown in a suggestive study by Van Dyke and Soule (2002), who find that loss of jobs in manufacturing and agriculture in each of the fifty states of the United States explains much of the spatial variance in the number of militia groups across the country. Building on such findings, future research should examine the extent to which the interaction between economic globalization and welfare protection explains differences in the non-party sector of the radical right. More refined studies of cross-national differences will also attend to sectoral specificities, for some sectors (e.g., intellectual schools) may prove less responsive to macro-structural conditions than others (e.g., party parallel organizations).

When comparing continents, one is struck by a contrast: the hypertrophy of the non-party American radical right alongside the atrophy of its party organizations. We hypothesize that relations between party and non-party sector depend on two aspects of party systems: their core tendency (centripetal or centrifugal) and the permeability of the moderate right to the radical right (as indicated by the acceptance of ideas, candidates, electoral alliances, or governing coalitions). In centripetal systems (such as the American party system, with the notable exception of the 2016 presidential race), the space for the non-party sector enlarges to compensate for an unmet demand in the electorate; in centrifugal systems, by contrast, radical right parties shrink the opportunities for the non-party sector by meeting this demand. In addition, where parties of the moderate right are more permeable to the radical right, space for the non-party sector opens up, again to meet unmet or frustrated demand in society.

Future research on the radical right thus might benefit from population ecology models, which suggest that a scarcity of resources in the political niche shared by party and non-party elements will induce competition, not benign coexistence or friendly cooperation (Veugelers 1999). It should also examine the two contradictory situations (p. 301) identified in Table 15.3 (symbolized respectively as ↓↑ and ↑↓). What happens to the non-party sector when the moderate right is open to the radical right but the system is centrifugal or the moderate right is closed to the radical right but the system is centripetal? Do relations between parties of the moderate and radical right trump the core tendency in defining the space for the non-party sector of the radical right?

Table 15.3 Party-System Dynamics and Space for the Non-Party Sector of the Radical Right

Core tendency of party system

Centripetal ↑

Centrifugal ↓

Permeability of moderate right to radical right parties

Open ↑



Closed ↓



Legend: ↓ Space expands;Space shrinks


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