A recent rise in far-right terrorist attacks in the United States could form part of a recurring trend of political violence stemming back to the 1700s.

Data Shows Trend of Political Violence in the United States

Data on political violence in the US suggests that the increase in far-right terrorism and other forms of extremism are part of a broader cycle of increased political violence.

In fact, it has occurred approximately every fifty years for the past two centuries. All of these periods were marked by significant socioeconomic and cultural unrest, particularly over the issues of group grievances and labour relations.

Far-right terrorism in the West

Over the last four years, far-right terrorism in the West has increased by 320%. Last year in the US, 28 out of 57 terrorist events were committed by far-right extremists.

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), there are two reasons why this cycle appears to reoccur every 50 years.

1. A susceptible political climate

Firstly, there are specific deteriorations in certain aspects of Positive Peace, which make the political climate particularly susceptible to an outbreak of violence.

2. Violent activity can be contagious and spread rapidly

Secondly, there are dynamic aspects of violent conflict, in which violent activity becomes contagious and increases rapidly. This tends to happen until resources devoted to combatting it increase, and the popular moods turn against conflict and towards reconciliation.

What exactly is Positive Peace?

Positive Peace is the attitudes, institutions, and structures that help build and maintain peaceful societies. A fall in Positive Peace greatly increases the risk of instability and violence.

IEP’s Positive Peace Index identifies factors that are most strongly correlated with an absence of violence. The index is measured by 24 indicators across eight domains.

What does Positive Peace have to do with political violence?

At times of extreme political and cultural polarisation, when Positive Peace deteriorate, the likelihood of an increase in violence increases. Thus, individuals and groups who are ideologically disposed to violence become much more likely to carry out attacks.

The impact of this violence on individuals who are more likely to be radicalised depends on the distance in time from previous cycles of violence.

The cultural memory of the impact of previous waves of violence is lost, thus leading to period where violence is more attractive, and exposure to violence is more likely to radicalise individuals.

Trends in Positive Peace deterioration in the West

Over the past decade, there has been a noticeable reduction across many Positive Peace indicators in the West, particular in the US. The Positive Peace Index score for the US declined by 6.7 per cent from 2009 to 2018.

Only Libya, Greece, and Syria had larger declines over that time period.

The most noticeable deteriorations occurred in the following pillars:

  • Low Levels of Corruption
  • Free Flow of Information
  • Acceptance of the Rights of Others
  • Equitable Distribution of Resources Pillars

Data counts violent events that result in at least one fatality such as:

  • lynchings
  • terrorism
  • rampage shootings
  • assassinations
  • riots

*The US Political Violence Dataset issues the data

Whilst data from this source is only available up until 2010, IEP calculations suggest that there has been a significant increase in violent political events from 2010 to 2019.

View the interactive map of the US Peace Index.