An ethnic conflict is a conflict between two or more contending ethnic groups. While the source of the conflict may be political, social, economic or religious, the individuals in conflict must expressly fight for their ethnic group's position within society. This final criterion differentiates ethnic conflict from other forms of struggle.
Ethnic conflict does not necessarily have to be violent. In a multi-ethnic society where freedom of speech is protected, ethnic conflict can be an everyday feature of plural democracies. For example, ethnic conflict might be a non-violent struggle for resources divided among ethnic groups. However, the subject of the confrontation must be either directly or symbolically linked with an ethnic group. In healthy multi-ethnic democracies, these conflicts are usually institutionalized and "channeled through parliaments, assemblies and bureaucracies or through non-violent demonstrations and strikes." While democratic countries cannot always prevent ethnic conflict flaring up into violence, institutionalized ethnic conflict does ensure that ethnic groups can articulate their demands in a peaceful manner, which reduces the likelihood of violence. On the other hand, in authoritarian systems, ethnic minorities are often unable to express their grievances. Grievances are instead allowed to fester which might lead to long phases of ethnic silence followed by a violent outburst. Therefore, ethnic peace is an absence of violence, not an absence of conflict. Another consequence is that violent ethnic rebellions often result in political rights for previously marginalized groups.
Academic explanations of ethnic conflict generally fall into one of three schools of thought: primordialist, instrumentalist or constructivist. Recently, several political scientists have argued for either top-down or bottom-up explanations for ethnic conflict. Intellectual debate has also focused on whether ethnic conflict has become more prevalent since the end of the Cold War, and on devising ways of managing conflicts, through instruments such as consociationalism and federalisation.
Numerous religious extremists claim that a race war will soon begin, and have taken steps to become martyrs in their predicted battle between good and evil. Three recent incidents in the United States, committed by suspects who adhere to ideologies that emphasize millennial related violence illustrate those beliefs: Buford O. Furrow, Jr., the man charged in the August 1999 shootings at a Los Angeles area Jewish day care center, told authorities "its time for America to wake and kill the jews"; Ben Smith, who committed suicide after shooting at minorities in Indiana and Illinois, killing two and injuring ten, over the July 4, 1999 weekend, was found to have literature in his home that indicated the year 2000 would be the start of the killing of minorities; and John William King, the man convicted in the dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., a black man in Jasper, Texas, believed that his actions would help to initiate a race war. Each of these men believed in the imminence of a racial holy war.
In the United States Bob Mathews, a believer in the racist Odinist ideology, founded The Order. After escaping from a gun battle with law agencies he wrote, "Why are so many men so eager to destroy their own kind for the benefit of the Jews and the mongrels? I see three FBI agents hiding behind some trees. I could have easily killed them. They look like good racial stock yet all their talents are given to a government which is openly trying to mongrelize the very race these agents are part of. I have been a good soldier, a fearless warrior. I will die with honor and join my brothers in heaven." Exemplifying his beliefs as a martyr, Mathews later burned to death in an armed standoff with the FBI.
The Order, an early 1980s US terrorist cell involved in murder, robberies, and counterfeiting, was motivated by the book The Turner Diaries and its scenarios for a race war. The group murdered Alan Berg, a Jewish talk show host, and engaged in other acts of violence in order to hasten the race war described in the book. The Order's efforts later inspired another group, The New Order, which planned to commit similar crimes in an effort to start a race war that would lead to a violent revolution.
Richard Butler, leader of the white supremacist group Aryan Nations, said the following when asked what might have motivated the day care shooting by Buford O. Furrow, Jr., one of his group's followers: "There's a war against the white race. There's a war of extermination against the white male." Some Christian Identity believers in the US contend there will be a race war in which millions will die; others believe that the United Nations, backed by Jewish representatives of the anti-Christ, will take over the country and promote a New World Order. One Christian Identity interpretation is that white Christians have been chosen to watch for signs of the impending war in order to warn others. They are to then physically struggle with the forces of evil against sin and other violations of God's law (i.e., race-mixing and internationalism); many will perish, and some of God's chosen will be forced to wear the Mark of the Beast to participate in business and commerce. After the final battle is ended and God's kingdom is established on earth, only then will the Aryan people be recognized as the one and true Israel.
Members of the US World Church of the Creator, similar to many Christian Identity groups, believe that a RAHOWA, a racial holy war, is destined to ensue to rid the world of Jews and "mud races." In the early 1990s, there was a dramatic increase in membership due to the growing belief in the Apocalypse and that RAHOWA was imminent.
Radical fringe members of the Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement in the US believe in the inevitability of a race war between blacks and whites. Such groups hold that blacks represent God's true "chosen people," while condemning whites as incarnate manifestations of evil. Some radical BHI adherents are clearly motivated by the conviction that the approach of the year 2000 brings society ever closer to a violent confrontation between blacks and whites.