The last day of Netroots Nation 2017 featured a rather remarkable presentation that was directly relevant to events taking place not that far away in Charlottesville, Virginia.
That panel was called “The white face of domestic terrorism: How Islamophobia distorts the reality of terrorist violence in America.”
As with many panels and sessions that took place during the conference, you can watch the live stream of it by clicking on the above link. The panel included former Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson, who wrote the original 2008 bulletin warning about the rise of right-wing extremism; David Neiwert, a consultant with the Southern Poverty Law Center; and Rabiah Ahmed of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
The point of the panel was to point out and highlight the fact that terrorism committed by white nationalists and right-wing groups is in fact a far greater danger to the average American than any presented by either Islamic or left-wing terror groups. But for decades—not just since the rise of Trump—our national focus has been exactly opposite to the factual reality on the ground.
This is a subject which coincidentally was covered quite well by Rachel Maddow this week.
She discusses how in 1980 an armored car was robbed in Northern California in a heist that was arranged and implemented by white supremacists. It was intended to help fund multiple right-wing organizations including the group operated by William Pierce, the author of the apocalyptic book The Turner Diaries. The heist was supposed to presage robberies of this kind being used to fund militias, which would then take on the U.S. government with guns and truck bombs exactly like the one used at Oklahoma City. All of this would eventually lead to a genocidal “Day of the Rope,” when all of the non-whites in America would either be driven out or strung up and hung by the neck from every light pole in the nation.
Over the years we’ve had many violent and murderous attacks by white supremacist/Christian identity/anti-abortion/Oath Keepers/III percenters/men’s rights activist/Gamer Gaters/neo-Nazi/skinhead/KKK-affiliated groups, all of which far outstrip what has happened on our soil from radical Islamists. These groups, which had been disparate and somewhat antagonistic to each other, are now all beginning to coalesce as the “alt-right.”
To help document the extent of this fact, Neiwert worked with the Investigative Fund to build a database to document all terrorist events between 2008-2016 and break them down by bias type and exactly how law enforcement had systematically reacted to these events.
What they found is quite literally shocking. For example, this chart shows the number of terrorist attacks—as determined by whether the acts fit the current legal definition of terrorism—from the right, the left, and from Islamists.
- From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.
- During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
- Right-wing extremist terrorism was more often deadly: Nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. (The total deaths associated with Islamist incidents were higher, however, reaching 90, largely due to the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.)
- Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities – making the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress earlier this month somewhat of an anomaly.
- Nearly half (48 percent) of Islamist incidents in our database were sting operations, more than four times the rate for far-right (12 percent) or far-left (10.5 percent) incidents.
So there is quite literally double the level of intensity of so-called alt-right violence over the last nine years compared both to “alt-Left” and Islamic domestic terrorism. This fact goes directly against the recent claims made by White House aide (and proud Nazi badge bearer) Sebastian Gorka.
Wednesday, Gorka appeared on Breitbart News Daily, the radio show of his former employer. Gorka responded to criticism stemming from a previous media appearance on MSNBC where he said “[t]here’s no such thing as a lone wolf” attack. The concept, according to Gorka, was “invented by the last administration to make Americans stupid.”
The idea of a “lone wolf attack,” Gorka says, is a ruse to point blame away from al Qaeda and ISIS when “[t]here has never been a serious attack or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or al Qaeda.” Critics were quick to point to the example of Timothy McVeigh, who was not connected to ISIS or al Qaeda and killed 168 people when he bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
On Wednesday, Gorka lashed out at “at [New York Times reporter] Maggie Haberman and her acolytes in the fake news media, who immediately have a conniption fit” and brought up McVeigh. He added that “white men” and “white supremacists” are not “the problem.”
It’s this constant, “Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.” No, it isn’t, Maggie Haberman. Go to Sinjar. Go to the Middle East, and tell me what the real problem is today. Go to Manchester.
Gorka noted that the Oklahoma City bombing was 22 years ago, which is true. But since 9/11, right-wing extremists — almost always white men and frequently white supremacists — have been far more deadly domestically than Muslim extremists. A study found that in the first 13.5 years after 9/11, Muslim extremists were responsible for 50 deaths in the United States. Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”
As we saw in the Vice News video from Charlottesville, Unite the Right spokesman Chris Cantwell—who is now claiming he is “no coward” after being laughed at for crying in a recent viral video—originally scoffed at the idea that there was a significant threat from white terrorists, arguing — like Gorka — that the only person his interviewer could bring up was Timothy McVeigh from 22 years ago.
Vice : There was Oklahoma City?
Cantwell: Right exactly, you have to go back to Oklahoma City to find a white act of terrorism.
Vice: Dylan Roof.
Cantwell: Now you’ve managed to name three people, and I’m pretty sure that Elliot Roger wasn’t explicitly white, by the way. You remember the name of white bombers and mass shooters, can you tell me the name of all 19 hijackers on 9/11?
Yeah, well, there’s a reason for that.
What Neiwert has documented is that it seems almost impossible for American law enforcement to actually treat white terrorists as terrorist. Most often if they are caught before or after they act, they are usually charged with other crimes such as assault, robbery, or murder and occasionally with “hate crimes.” But very rarely are they charged and tried for being what they are: terrorists.
While a majority of the incidents were perpetrated by right-wing extremists (57 percent), the database indicates that federal law enforcement agencies focused their energies on pre-empting and prosecuting Islamist attacks, which constituted 31 percent of all incidents, a finding confirmed by counterterror experts.
For instance, 84 percent of Islamist incidents resulting in arrests involved terrorism charges, and all the law enforcement resources that implies, as opposed to 9 percent of far-right incidents.
While federal charges of some kind were filed in 91 percent of the Islamist incidents that led to arrests, federal prosecutors handled 60 percent of far-right cases, leaving many in the hands of state or local authorities.
Very simply put, Neiwert found that 51 percent of all terrorist incidents were committed by right-wing groups. However, only 9 percent of far-right terrorist incidents led to federal terrorism charges.
Further, these incidents by right-wingers tend to be both more deadly on the average and less likely to be stopped and foiled by law enforcement sting operations before they actually occur.
All of this leads us to situations like the difference in response to the attempted Christmas Tree bomb plot in Portland, Oregon, by a 19-year-old Somali refugee in 2010, and the retaliatory firebombing of a mosque by a white Oregon youth after the first plot had been foiled.
Mohamad Mohamud failed to detonate a bomb. There was no bomb. He didn't have the tools or knowledge of how to make a bomb. The entire operation had been an FBI sting, where they had been tipped off about his radicalization by his father and then fed him what he needed to implement a plot, including building a fake bomb for him, handing him the cellphone detonator, and then arresting him only after he finally pressed the button they told him would have set off the bomb.
He was charged with terrorism and sentenced to 30 years for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.
Cody Seth Crawford actually did commit an act of terrorism. He created his own homemade firebomb and used it on the mosque where Mohamud had sometimes prayed just two days after his arrest. He then went into an act of “mental illness,” which he later admitted was faked in order to reduce his sentence. Crawford was ultimately punished with just five years of probation, even though he had a long social media history of spewing violent anti-Muslim rhetoric. And yet somehow nobody thought to run a sting operation on him, did they?
And that probation has now expired.
One person didn’t set off a bomb, the other person did. One person is doing 30 years for their actions, while the other didn’t even see the inside of a prison.
Of all the countries included in Trump’s ban of refugees only two plots, the one by Mohumud in Oregon and another by two Iraqi refugees in Bowling Green, Kentucky, were attempted—and neither were actually completed. The false claim of terrorist refugees “pouring in” from Somalia, Iraq, or Syria is simply a myth. It’s hype. It’s a delusion. But it’s a delusion that has spawned enormous fear, anger, and hatred which Trump has used to propel himself into the White House and which propelled these demonstrators into the streets of Charlottesville armed with riot gear and assault weapons.
What we saw last week in Charlottesville was not an aberration. It was not an anomaly. Trump’s false claim that there were “some good” Nazis and some bad alt-leftists is part and parcel of a much larger issue. (Also, the anti-supremacist protestors did have a permit—two of them actually.)
This type of uprising has been long planned by people like Pierce and others before him. Still, we don’t need to overhype or overreact to right-wing white terrorists in the manner that we have, quite frankly, overreacted to Islamic terrorism. We don’t need to demonize them in the way that they seem intent on demonizing others. But at the same time we should be vigilant and informed. This weekend many more white/alt-right rallies are being planned for as many as nine cities across the country. We should be ready for their violence, but not fear it.
And it’s not like there isn’t a fairly extensive track record of violence left behind in their wake.
July 27, 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee: Jim David Adkisson, the author of a manifesto urging violent war against liberals, opens fire inside a Unitarian church during the youth performance of a musical, killing two and wounding seven.
Feb. 26, 2009, Miramar Beach, Florida: Dannie Baker, a former Republican Party volunteer who believed that “Washington D.C. Dictators” wanted to “overthrow us with foreign illegals,” opens fire on a roomful of Chilean foreign-exchange students, killing two and injuring three. May 20, 2010, West Memphis, Arkansas: Sovereign citizen adherents Jerry and Joe Kane, a father-and-son duo, kill two officers when pulled over by police, then die in a shootout.
Jan. 18, 2011, Spokane, Washington: Neo-Nazi Kevin William Harpham plants a backpack bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Day Jr. Day parade; no one is injured because it is spotted and defused.
Aug. 5, 2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin: Wade Michael Page, a member of the neo-Nazi group Hammerskin Nation, kills six and wounds four during a shooting rampage in a Sikh temple before killing himself.
April 13, 2014, Overland Park, Kansas: Frazier Glenn Miller, a former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, embarks on a shooting rampage at two Jewish community institutions, killing three.
June 17, 2015, Charleston, South Carolina: Dylann Roof, a white supremacist radicalized online, joins a Bible study session at the Emanuel AME Church, then opens fire, killing nine black worshippers and wounding another.
Nov. 27, 2015, Colorado Springs, Colorado: Robert Lewis Dear opens fire on patients arriving at a Planned Parenthood clinic, then engages in a gunbattle with police, killing three people, including a police officer, and injuring nine. He says, “No more baby parts,” as he is arrested.
Oct. 14, 2016, Garden City, Kansas: Three Kansas militia members, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, are arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb an apartment complex, home to Somali immigrants. According to the FBI, which infiltrated the group, they called Muslims “cockroaches” and hoped to inspire other militia members.
And of course, there were these guys who worked as cosplayers on the Las Vegas strip and were fresh from the Bundy compound when they perpetrated mass murder: The Millers.
We’re certain to hear plenty about the tragic van attack in Barcelona last week—and in fact, Trump tweeted about it within hours. But we heard nothing from Trump about the car driven into a crowd of mosque worshippers in London, or the Minnesota mosque bombing (other than his advisor Gorka baselessly saying it could have been a “false attack by Liberals”), or the machete-wielding terrorist who attacked Democrats in Kentucky, hardly anything about the knife-wielding racist who killed two good samaritans protecting Muslim girls on a Portland train, or the triple shooting of immigrants in Kansas. Fox News at first falsely claimed that the Trump-supporting white terrorist who attacked a mosque in Quebec was Muslim, until finally correcting themselves.
After this panel session with Neiwert and Al Gore’s interview which was the final event on the last day of Netroots, I joined others in our own impromptu protest march from the Hyatt to the state Capitol a few blocks away. We didn’t face any resistance and the police were nothing if not accommodating and polite, but what I noticed when I broke away from the main crowd was besides having a statue and section of the Capitol grounds dedicated to Georgia native and former President Jimmy Carter, there were two plaques dedicated to the “Seige of Atlanta” during the Civil War, where the “Federate” forces of over 100,000 were repelled by a “brave Confederate force of 43,000.”
There is also a statue dedicated to Confederate Lt. Gen. John Brown Gordon, who later became a U.S. senator and governor who spoke out many times about the “Lost Cause” of the Civil War.
We marched directly past both of these monuments, most of us not noticing exactly what they were or what they signified, just as America has sleepwalked past the danger of right-wing and white terrorist groups founded on Gordon’s “Lost Cause” ideology that have continued to rise for years and seem to be only increasing in the future.
What I didn’t see at the Georgia State Capitol was a monument to the only other native Georgian besides Jimmy Carter to win the Nobel Peace Prize, as was duly noted during the Pub Quiz on Friday night.
They had no monument to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [There are plans to correct this soon.]
Again, that’s something that we hardly noticed while marching. Perhaps it’s well past time we start noticing and perhaps—just perhaps—what occurred at Charlottesville may ultimately represent an inflection point where many of us began to open our eyes and notice what was right in front of us all along.
What was hidden has finally begun to be revealed.