Our new old terrorism

Watertown, N.Y., Ku Klux Klan members, c.1870. (Library of Congress)

In April, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security released a report on domestic terrorism in the United States during 2018. They documented 32 terrorist attacks, disrupted plots, threats of violence, or weapons stockpiling by individuals motivated by a radical social or political agenda and who had not been influenced or directed by any foreign terrorist organization or movement.

All 32 cases were driven by far-right political or social ideologies. Thirteen of the 32 were perpetrated by race-based extremists, another 17 by right-wing anti-government extremists. African-Americans were targeted in 29 percent of all incidents, Jews in another 10 percent. Nineteen percent of incidents targeted law enforcement.

In short, what the NJOHS reported in April is perfectly consistent with what I have been asserting for nearly all of the four years that I’ve been writing this blog. The primary threat of terrorism in the United States comes not from wild-eyed jihadists but from the ranks of America’s anti-government and racist far right.

But lest we think this is some kind of recent development, a new dataset on terrorist organizations that formed between 1860-1969, compiled by University of Iowa Ph.D candidate Joshua Tschantret, reminds us that this is nothing new at all. It is, rather, the historical norm.

According to Tschantret’s data, 28 terrorist groups formed and were active in the United States between 1860 and 1969. Of those 28, nearly half, some 13 organizations, carried out acts of violence, including bombings and assassinations, in support of right-wing ideologies. All but one of these were motivated by white supremacist ideology. The lone exception was the Secret Army Organization, formed in California in 1969 and targeting the organizers of anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. All of the rest used violence in pursuit of explicitly racist goals.

The earliest of these groups came together in the South during the early years of Reconstruction, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, groups like the original iteration of the Ku Klux Klan, and others such as the Southern Cross and the Knights of the White Camellia. The White Line would spring up a decade later, in 1874 in Mississippi, and the Klan would be reborn in Atlanta in 1915. A decade later would come the Black Legion, a Klan splinter group organized in Bellaire, Ohio by a doctor named William Shephard.

Atlanta would also see, in 1946, the emergence of the Columbians, a racist and anti-Semitic pro-Nazi organization. Edward Folliard of the Washington Post would win a Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his reporting on the group. The 1950s would bring yet another rebirth of the Klan, this one still in existence today, along with more offshoots, like the Original Ku Klux Klan of the Confederacy, born in 1955 in Birmingham, Ala., followed by the United Klans of America in 1960.

The 1960s would spawn two more white supremacist organizations. The Silver Dollar Group emerges in Louisiana in 1964 as a Klan offshoot organizing in leaderless resistance cells which assassinated African-Americans and bombed the cars of NAACP organizers. The White Knights of Mississippi, another Klan branch, also organized in 1964 and continues in existence today.

The definitions of terrorism that scholars like me adopt when we study and teach about this phenomenon tend to point to 1860 as the birth of the modern era of terrorism. That brings us face to face with a sad but inevitable conclusion:

Our past history of racist, right-wing terrorism in America is consistent with our present reality of racist, right-wing terrorism in America. El Paso is just the bloodiest, most recent example.

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature

(Credit: Dave Granlund)

Way back in 2015, Donald Trump began his run for the White House with a naked appeal to fear rooted in racism. And for the last four years, as he first campaigned and then as he has governed, his tune has remained the same.

His tune has remained the same even as his words have given legitimacy to white supremacists and inspired the murderous acts of racist terrorists. All the while he denies the impact of the noxious bile that spews from his mouth and drips from his Twitter fingers. As he was leaving the White House en route to Dayton and El Paso yesterday, the president took issue with the very idea that his rhetoric might in any way be divisive:

I don’t think my rhetoric does at all. I think my rhetoric brings people together. 

As disconnected from reality as this seems, I think we have to take the president as his word here. His rhetoric really does bring people together. The key question, however, is which people?

We actually have a pretty good idea. As I wrote back in September 2016, the profile of many Trump supporters’ attitudes concerning Muslims and Islam, immigration and immigrants, racism, and their degree of racial resentment, is just as ugly as the president’s rhetoric. To review:

  • Nearly 60 percent of Trump supporters had somewhat or very negative views of Islam. More than 75 percent of Republicans favored Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.
  • Trump’s supporters hold strongly anti-immigrant views, and are especially afraid of the cultural impact of Mexican immigration. These feelings are strongest amongst those who live the farthest from the southern border and in areas with fewer residents of Mexican descent.
  • Trump supporters are more likely to hold explicitly racist views, and to bear particular resentment toward African Americans.
  • Mandatory caveat — These attitudes do not necessarily describe every Trump supporter, so for those of you who take issue with these characterizations, or deny they apply to you, understand that this is the company you keep.

This is what the essence of the president’s base has been from the start, and what it remains. For these loyalists, Trump’s rhetoric isn’t divisive at all, but instead brings them together.

Just as the president said.

Annals of white privilege

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Here’s a new entry:

McAndrew, who voted for Obama in the two previous races, was intrigued by Trump, but decided eventually that “all he does is insult everybody … women, black people, white people, rich, poor. He’s an idiot.” He considered Clinton, but was concerned by the scandal over her handling of classified material on a private email server as secretary of state.

“I hated both of them, so I just said, ‘the hell with it,’” McAndrew said. His wife, also a life-long Democrat, went to the polls without him – and voted Republican.

“First time ever,” he said.

Meanwhile, over on Twitter, Shaun King, a reporter with the New York Daily News, has been collecting first-hand reports from people of color and other vulnerable members of society of life under the new regime. Things like this:

King’s timeline, only one day into the new reality of an America where people feel liberated from “political correctness” and empowered to harass, threaten, and abuse is sobering and heartbreaking.

Back in August of 2015 I tried to illustrate what white privilege means. My original list appears below.

But now add to that list the privilege of being able to stay home from the polls when you won’t be the one to suffer the worst consequences of that choice.

White privilege is …

That’s white privilege.

 

About that basket, by the numbers

deplorables

Vox has produced what looks to me like the definitive summary of the contents of the “basket of deporables” that constitutes Trump’s support for the White House. To summarize, Clinton is right. Here are the details as compiled by Vox.

On Islamophobic attitudes, Clinton may underestimate the breadth of animus for Muslims among Trump backers.

A poll conducted by Reuters and Ipsos in June and July looked at broad views on Islam, finding Trump supporters are more than twice as likely as Clinton supporters to have negative views of Islam. About 58 percent of Trump supporters said they have “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” views of Islam, compared to 24 percent of Clinton supporters.

On Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, a poll in June from the Texas Politics Project showed that 76 percent of Republicans support the idea compared to 26 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile 44 percent of Democrats said they strongly oppose the idea compared to only 6 percent of Republicans.

Trump supporters hold strongly anti-immigrant views more generally, but especially fear the cultural impact of Mexican immigrants specifically.

We do know, based on an analysis by Jonathan Roswell at Gallup, that Trump backers are more likely to live in areas that are farther from Mexico and have smaller Mexican populations. That suggests Trump supporters are generally people who live in native, white communities and may, perhaps, fear those communities are changing.

This is why a Trump surrogate warned that if Clinton wins the election, there will be “taco trucks every corner.” The worry isn’t that delicious food will be everywhere, but that the cultural makeup of America will dramatically change if the country maintains policies that are friendlier to immigration — and it will change to a culture that Trump regularly describes, as he did at the launch of his campaign, as dangerous and criminal.

This complicates Clinton’s claim that up to half of Trump supporters are “xenophobic.” They aren’t in the sense that they don’t seem to mind a French immigrant, even an undocumented one. But many are potentially xenophobic in the sense that they fear Mexican — and perhaps other Latino — immigrants, because of the cultural impact that may have on America.

Trump supporters are also more likely to hold racist views. While Clinton may miss the mark when she claims that half of Trump supporters are racists, she doesn’t miss by much.

A poll from March and April by Reuters and Ipsos took a close look at this issue. It found that Trump supporters are more likely to say that, compared to white people, black people are viewed by Trump supporters as less intelligent, more lazy, more rude, more violent, and more criminal. About 40 to 50 percent of Trump supporters held at least one of these views, while fewer than 35 percent of Clinton supporters did.

Alongside these explicitly racist views, Trump’s white supporters exhibit a far higher rate of what sociologists call racial resentment than do Clinton’s white supporters.

An analysis from Daniel Byrd and Loren Collingwood found white Trump supporters are much more likely to show high levels of racial resentment than Clinton’s white supporters.

Again, white Clinton — and Bernie Sanders — supporters still show fairly high levels of racial resentment, as do white Americans generally. But Trump supporters are simply at another level.

This doesn’t mean that a majority or even half, as Clinton suggested, of Trump supporters are racist. But these views are much more prominent among the Republican nominee’s supporters than those who back the Democrat in the presidential race.

So on the core of Clinton’s charge that half of her opponent’s supporters fall into a “basket of deplorables” based upon their Islamophobic, xenophobic, and racist views, when we look at the data we see she’s mostly right. Sure, that leaves plenty of Republicans and conservatives who are supporting Trump because they believe they have no other choice. He is their nominee after all.

And understandably, these folks resent being associated with the other contents of the basket. Fair enough.

But you can also tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. This is Trump’s company. Republicans should just own it.