Red-blooded American terrorists

Atomwaffen members and flag (Huffington Post)
Atomwaffen members and flag (Huffington Post)


For an eye-opening look at the sort of significant terrorism threat President Trump couldn’t be troubled to mention in his State of the Union speech last night, give a read to this profile of the neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division. It’s sobering reading:

An 18-year-old in Florida allegedly shoots and kills two of his roommates. A 21-year-old, also in Florida, plots to bomb synagogues and a nuclear power plant. A 17-year-old in Virginia allegedly shoots and kills his girlfriend’s parents. And a 20-year-old in California allegedly stabs a gay Jewish college student 20 times, burying him in a shallow grave.

All of these young white men had connections to the Atomwaffen Division, a well-armed neo-Nazi group enamored with Charles Manson and Adolf Hitler whose members harbor grand and demented delusions of fighting a “race war” and overthrowing the U.S. government.

Their alleged crimes all occurred in just the last eight months, most recently in January, adding to fears that an emboldened American white supremacist movement is growing more violent by the day. White supremacists, after all, murdered twice as many people in 2017 as they did the year before, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Here’s more on that chilling bomb plot:

During a search of the house after the murders, authorities discovered bomb-making equipment and radioactive material they determined belonged to Russell. In Russell’s bedroom, police found a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In his car were rifles, ammunition, binoculars and a skull mask. Prosecutors later alleged that Russell had planned to bomb civilian targets, including synagogues and a nuclear power plant in Miami. He was recently sentenced to five years in prison.

As the profile of the group makes clear, Atomwaffen openly flaunts its Nazi affinities, from its use of swastikas and SS runes in its propaganda and recruiting materials to its German name, which translated means “Atomic Weapons Division.” They advocate both race war and national socialist revolution against the United States. As some of their propaganda material puts it:

The key to success in the struggle ahead is self-discipline. While it is the time to be “legal” we must stolidly endure whatever the State sees fit to inflict upon us. When it is time to revolt, we must be prepared to unleash the furies of hell on the state until it yields.

So while the president uses the State of the Union to once again conjure up the phantom threat of immigrant terrorists to justify wholesale changes in American immigration policy, this crew of true native sons is recruiting and organizing on college campuses and at rallies across the United States.

But that’s a terrorist threat the president seemingly has little concern for despite everything we know about how serious it really is.

This week in terrorism history: Jan. 29-Feb. 4

Aftermath of Saturday's bombing in Kabul. (Chicago Tribune)
Aftermath of Saturday’s bombing in Kabul. (Chicago Tribune)


Some years back, noted terrorism scholar Mia Bloom argued in her book, Dying to Kill, that terrorist organizations may adopt suicide tactics in part as an effort to “outbid” each other for popular support. In short, when faced with political competition from a rival group, a terrorist organization may turn to increasingly brutal methods as a way to demonstrate to potential supporters both superior capability and greater commitment to their shared cause.

This may, as Bloom suggested on Twitter over the weekend, account for the significant increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan in recent days, as ISIS makes inroads into the Taliban’s territory:

On Saturday, a Taliban attacker driving a stolen ambulance packed with explosives, killed more than 100 in central Kabul and injured more than 150. This came only a few days after Taliban militants launched an assault on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel which led to the killing of 22, including 14 foreigners.

Today, ISIS launched an attack of its own in Kabul, hitting a military base in the center of the Afghan capital and leaving nearly a dozen dead. Channeling Bloom’s thesis, the headline at CNN this morning put it this way: “Kabul military base attack shows ISIS and Taliban are in a brutal race.”

If the Taliban and ISIS are in fact locked in a competition for popular support, then we can expect the carnage to escalate even as the United States prepares to send up to another 1,000 troops to Afghanistan to join the more than 14,000 already deployed there.

Now on to this week’s look back:

  • Jan. 29, 1998 —  Birmingham, Ala.: An off-duty police officer is killed and a nurse badly wounded when a nail-packed bomb explodes outside an abortion clinic. The radical anti-abortion group, Army of God, claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 29, 2017 — Quebec City, Canada: Six are killed an 19 others are wounded in a mass shooting following evening prayers at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, a mosque in Quebec City. Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French Canadian who was described as a supporter of both French far-right politician Marine Le Pen and US President Donald Trump, was charged in the attack.
  • Jan. 30, 2010 — Khar, Afghanistan: A female suicide bomber kills 14 civilians and three soldiers. No claim of responsibility is made.
  • Jan. 31, 1984 — County Armagh, Northern Ireland: Two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed in an Irish Republican Army land mine attack on their armored patrol car.
  • Feb. 1, 2009 — Baghdad: A female suicide bomber kills 46 Shia pilgrims.
  • Feb. 2, 2009 — Tarin Kot, Afghanistan: A suicide bomber kills 25 police officers and wounds many more. Taliban claims responsibility.
  • Feb. 3, 1977 — Belfast, Northern Ireland: A Catholic civilian is found stabbed and with his throat cut. Members of a Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) gang known as the “Shankill Butchers” are responsible.
  • Feb, 4, 2009 — Barbacoas, Colombia: Seventeen civilians are stabbed to death. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) claims responsibility.


This week in terrorism history: Jan. 22-28

Police outside Eagle Ridge Mall, Lake Wales, FLA. (Photo: fox35)
Police outside Eagle Ridge Mall, Lake Wales, FLA. (Photo: fox35)


Two homemade pipe-bombs went off  at a mall in central Florida on Sunday evening, causing little or no damage but prompting the evacuation of about 100 shoppers and staff. Police are seeking a “person of interest” described as a middle-aged white man with a heavy build, wearing a gray shirt and hat.

Police have so far declined to label the incident an act of terrorism, which has produced an inevitable reaction from some social media quarters:

Now I fully understand the sentiment at work here, the perception that authorities are quick to cry terrorism when a person of color, typically a Muslim or someone thought to be Muslim, is the perpetrator of some act of violence, but call it anything but when it’s white guy who’s responsible. As I’ve written about before, there’s research that backs up the perception.

But in this case, I’m with the cops. So far they’ve made the right call:

“There is nothing at this time to indicate this act was terrorism,” he said. “At this time, we are checking video surveillance cameras.”

When asked why this incident wasn’t being characterized as terror, (Lake Wales Police Deputy Chief Troy) Schulze said, “We don’t know what the person was trying to achieve.”

And that’s the rub. Unless and until we get some evidence that gives us insight into the motivation behind any act of violence, we can’t call it terrorism, regardless of the identity of the perpetrator. This is one of the key lessons that I try to convey to my students when I teach on terrorism.

I’ve written about this before, most recently following last fall’s horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. Even now, after four months of intense investigation, police there are no closer to understanding why Stephen Paddock meticulously planned and executed his attack on concert goers from the window of his high-rise hotel room.

So, did a middle-aged white guy carry out an act of domestic terrorism in Florida last night? Maybe. But maybe not.

Now on to this week’s look back at terrorism history:

  • Jan. 22, 1997 — Martinton, Ill.: Authorities raid the home of accused Ku Klux Klan member Ricky Salyers, a former Marine, discovering 35,000 rounds of heavy ammunition, armor piercing shells, live ammunition for grenade launchers, and other military gear. He was also believed to be a member of Black Dawn, an underground group of far-right anti-government extremists inside the US military.
  • Jan. 23, 2001 — Yemen: A Yemeni airliner is hijacked with 91 passengers aboard, including the US ambassador.
  • Jan. 24, 2011 — Moscow: A suicide bombing at Domodedovo airport kills 36 and wounds 180. Imarat Kavkaz, a Chechen group, claims responsibility.
  • Jan. 25, 1976 — Lisburn, Northern Ireland: A bomb planted by Loyalist paramilitaries at the Hibernian Social Club kills two Catholic civilians.
  • Jan. 26, 2009 — Democratic Republic of the Congo: Attacks are carried out on several villages leaving 36 civilians dead. Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda are believed responsible.
  • Jan. 27, 1975 — London: The Irish Republican Army plants seven bombs at locations across the city, resulting in minimal damage or injuries. An IRA bomb goes off in Manchester, injuring 26 people.
  • Jan. 28, 1982 — Italy: Police rescue US Army Brigadier Gen. James Dozier who was kidnapped by the Red Brigades six weeks earlier.

There’s honest threat analysis, and then there’s that DHS report

(Anti-Defamation League)
(Anti-Defamation League)


Two new, high-profile reports on terrorism in the United States were released this week. One was incredibly dishonest. Of course that’s the one President Trump tweeted about:

The other, released yesterday by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that in 2017, domestic right-wing  extremists, primarily white supremacists, were responsible for twice as many fatalities — 56 percent of the total — compared to domestic Islamist extremists who accounted for 26 percent. This is in stark contrast to 2016, when right-wing terrorists accounted for only 20 percent of killings. And, of course, killings are only the most visible aspect of the danger:

It is important to note that the deaths described here represent merely the tip of a pyramid of extremist violence and crime in the United States; for each person actually killed by an extremist, many more are wounded or injured in attempted murders and assaults. Every year, police uncover and prevent a wide variety of extremist plots and conspiracies with lethal intentions. Moreover, extremists engage in a wide variety of other crimes related to their causes, from threats and harassment to white collar crime.

This is, of course, consistent with patterns I have highlighted over and again in this space: that the threat of violence from the far-right of the political spectrum is a far more serious concern than the trumped up fears of phantom jihadists lurking around every corner.

Others have already pointed out the myriad problems with the joint DHS/DOJ report, a shameless attempt to put an seemingly dispassionate analytic gloss on the president’s xenophobic project of barring Muslim immigrants and refugees from the United States by tarring them as likely terrorists.

How it inflates the numbers by counting as foreign-born terrorists those who committed attacks outside the United States, or who were arrested abroad but then brought in to the United States for the purpose of standing trial.

How it cherry-picks its “illustrative examples” to include only perpetrators from majority-Muslim countries and who came into the United States via means the president and his allies in Congress would like to eliminate, as family members of lawful permanent residents or naturalized citizens, through the diversity lottery program, or as refugees.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) called the report an attempt “to vilify the immigrant community and justify an exclusionary immigration policy,” adding in their statement, “The American people will not be fooled by such naked bigotry, and we should not allow this administration to get away with its abuse of the facts to further its extremist, xenophobic agenda.”

As Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University’s School of Law put it:

“I think they are doing everything they can to justify the Muslim ban, and the unfortunate part of this is the backing away from the homegrown terrorist suspect … and how to prevent it,” Greenberg said. “And if you are born in another country and, 20 years later, you become a terrorist, whose fault is that— the country you were born in or the country you’ve lived in?”

All of this is bad enough. But wait, there’s more. The DHS/DOJ report also effectively discounts the very real domestic terrorism dangers that the ADL report highlights so effectively:

The report also does not address the threat posed by domestic terrorism — namely by white supremacist and white nationalist groups, who grabbed headlines following last year’s so-called “Summer of Hate.” The report notes the have only gleaned their data from “terror-related” cases tried in federal court. Because there’s no federal domestic terrorism law, domestic terror cases are either tried in state court or on other federal charges, like homicide or using a weapon of mass destruction.

It’s one thing for Trump administration to ask for cooked analysis to justify their xenophobic approach to immigration. It’s something else entirely to see the agencies responsible for keeping the homeland safe so readily oblige.