As we panic over refugees …

Tending to wounded Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis. (Photo from Twitter)
Tending to wounded Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis. (Photo from Twitter)

 

… This is happening:

Feds: White supremacists plotted to attack synagogues, black churches

The Washington Post reported, just a few days before Paris, on a plot by a group of Virginia white supremacists who intended to purchase land, stockpile weapons, and train for a coming race war. Two men were charged with attempting to buy guns and explosives from FBI agents posing as illegal arms dealers.

And it gets better. According to the FBI affidavit:

“[Robert] Doyle and [Ronald] Chaney and others known and unknown to the FBI, ascribe to a white supremacy extremist version of the Asatru faith,” alleges a five-page affidavit from FBI Special Agent James R. Rudisill. Asatru is a pagan religion.

Rudisill wrote that in September the FBI learned that Doyle and others were going to have a meeting at Doyle’s house “to discuss acting out in furtherance of their extremist beliefs by shooting or bombing the occupants of black churches and Jewish synagogues, conducting acts of violence against persons of the Jewish faith, and doing harm to a gun store owner.”

It would be comforting to think that this sort of thing is unusual in the United States, but the reality is more unsettling. Since 9/11, right-wing extremists have been responsible for nearly twice as many deaths in the United States as have jihadists.

I wrote back in July that while our popular imagination conjures up terrifying images of ISIS militants around every corner, terrorism in America is far more likely to look like angry white men with guns than black-clad jihadis. And it is still true.

Late last night, five Black Lives Matter protesters were shot and wounded in Minneapolis by what witnesses described as a group of white supremacist gunmen who had been earlier taunting the crowd of demonstrators. Police are searching for three white men in connection with the shooting.

So keep this uncomfortable truth in mind as you watch Donald Trump spew racist bile on the campaign trail, and as Chris Christie tries to rekindle his failing campaign by exploiting a climate of fear by invoking memories of 9/11.

ISIS comes to Paris

 

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I haven’t written about Paris yet. It’s not that my training, or the expertise I’ve developed over many years of teaching about terrorism, or the research I’ve done on political violence aren’t somehow relevant. After all, I was perfectly happy to spend 15 minutes recording an interview with the local Detroit news radio station Friday evening when much of what was known was largely speculative.

I’m not alone in this reticence to blog about Paris. My friend and fellow academic blogger Steve Saideman (who I both credit and blame for encouraging me to start blogging) likewise has held back, and for many of the same reasons as I have.

I don’t have a lot to say that others haven’t said. Yes, the coordinated series of attacks in Paris represent an evolution of ISIS strategy, adding a transnational component to what has heretofore been an essentially regional campaign. It potentially represents the development of new capabilities as well. Up until this point ISIS has been content to inspire and encourage lone wolves to act in the movement’s name.

Couple Paris with the downing of a Russian airliner flying out of Egypt and we have something that looks new. Beirut not so much, given that ISIS has struck targets in neighboring states before now. But Daniel Byman of Georgetown has covered this terrain already, and the media has picked up the thread here and here. I have little to add.

The inevitable question is whether the United States could be next. The easy and obvious answer is yes. It could happen here. But that’s not a new either. No society as open as ours will be able to prevent every possible terrorist attack indefinitely.

There will be a response to the attacks in Paris, and it will be a military one. In fact strikes have already begun. France has not been shy about using force, and doing so unilaterally, against Islamist movements. It’s one reason France has been in the crosshairs of groups like ISIS and other extremist groups.

In short, I have no new wisdom to add here. And I will confess, as an academic my tendency would be to focus my thoughts and comments on all the well-worn pathways of dispassionate political and strategic analysis alluded to above.

But frankly there’s more than enough of that to go around. What is sorely lacking, and which I’m not comfortable providing, is something more emotionally meaningful, more humane, than what people like me will typically deliver.

So instead, let me give you something else. Let me leave you with the words of a friend of mine from Belfast, Colm Mac Aindreasa, who earlier today posted the following on social media:

Just a thought.

As the dust settles and the tears flow, the atrocities of Paris, Beirut, Gaza, Syria and a raft of others brought numbing shock, followed by fear, and finally anger. On our tvs, radios and social media feeds, angry people spout hatred, and cry for bloody vengeance. And through it all runs fear. Fear and suspicion. Suspicion of strangers, fear of difference. From Francois Hollande’s calls for a pitiless response, to the most illiterate keyboard warriors and their calls for carpet-bombings, it is clear that IS has achieved its goal. Fear and distrust now rule the land.

The foul deeds of IS and others doesn’t just close borders, it closes hearts and minds as well. That persistent clicking you hear is keyboards calling for blood, guns being loaded and doors being locked as we retreat into isolation and fear. And just as the bombers intended, behind locked doors and twitching curtains our humanity withers.

Humanity can always be judged by how we treat others. And I don’t want my humanity to succumb to atrophy. So here’s what I suggest. Take your humanity out and give it some exercise. Whether your neighbours are Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Jedi or atheist, be thankful that they give you such a rich life to live. Talk to your neighbour, don’t just hunch your shoulders and nod as you pass. Ask those around you how they are. How are their families? Offer help if you can, and encouragement if you can’t. Share a sandwich. Lend a book. Borrow a book. Help carry that heavy shopping bag. Complain about the weather. Share a joke, a smile, a laugh.

Think of this as taking your humanity to the gym. Your humanity is strengthened and reaffirmed. Your life is richer and so is your neighbour’s. That sends a clear an unequivocal message to IS and to the dark powers that created them. And the message is “You failed. I’m still human”.

American holocaust (updated)

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I would ask news organizations — because I won’t put these facts forward — have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.  This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. — President Barack Obama

I had come in to my office this morning planing to answer the president’s call to display, side by side, the number of Americans killed by terrorism over the last 10 years versus those slain by gun violence. Turns out I don’t have to.

First, from CNN:

Using numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that from 2004 and 2013, 316,545 people died by firearms on U.S. soil. (2013 is the most recent year CDC data for deaths by firearms is available.) This data covered all manners of death, including homicide, accident and suicide.

According to the U.S. State Department, the number of U.S. citizens killed overseas as a result of incidents of terrorism from 2004 to 2013 was 277.

In addition, we compiled all terrorism incidents inside the U.S.* and found that between 2004 and 2013, there were 36 people killed in domestic acts of terrorism. This brings the total to 313.

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Second from the Washington Post:

It’s incontrovertibly true that more people in America die from gun violence each year than die from terrorism. How “terrorism” is defined can be tricky, as we’ve noted in the past, but we can look at data compiled by the Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland.

It estimates that 18 people died in terror attacks in the United States last year — of 3,521 total between 1970 and 2014. By comparison, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive figures that 9,948 people have been killed by gun violence so far in 2015.

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Finally from Forbes:

According to Justice and State Department data published by Vox, over ten thousand Americans are killed by gun violence every year. Since 9/11, the number of U.S. citizens killed in terrorist attacks each year has never surpassed 75. Obama has pointed out that while the U.S. rightfully pours trillions of dollars into protecting its citizens from terrorism, Congress is unwilling to take even the most minor steps to eradicate gun violence.

gun terror deaths 3

Yes, the raw numbers in each graph are different, but the relationship is unmistakable. Deaths of Americans due to terrorism are trivial compared to the slaughter that Americans inflict upon themselves through gun violence.

A political system that cannot address this crisis is nothing less than a failure. Political leaders who refuse to take even the most modest steps to address this crisis have the blood of innocents on their hands.


Update

Speaking of leaders refusing to take modest steps, or even acknowledge that there’s a problem, this today from Jeb Bush:

We’re in a difficult time in our country and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this. It’s very sad to see, and I resist this notion because we had this challenge as governor – stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.

You can listen for yourself.

 

This is what terrorism in America really looks like

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Briar Creek Road Baptist Church burns in Charlotte, N.C., in the predawn hours of June 24.

 

Black churches are burning again.

If you want to know what terrorism in America actually looks like you need cast your gaze no further than the charred ruins of the half dozen predominantly African-American churches that went up in flames in the week following the mass killing at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

While our popular imagination conjures up images of self-radicalized ISIS wannabes around every street corner, historically American terrorism is more likely to look like the image above than it is black-clad militants marching behind jihadi banners.

While an ATF investigation has so far found no evidence that these six fires are either related to each other or even racially motivated, such has not always been the case. In the 1960s and again in the 1990s, waves of arson and bombings targeted black churches across the South. It is the memory of those attacks, and the fact that they come on the heels of Charleston, that has led to the fear that the recent spate of burnings represented a resumption of white supremacist terrorism.

These incidents are a reminder that, with a few notable exceptions, and a single extraordinary one on Sept. 11, 2001, the story of terrorism in the United States has long been one of Americans using violence against Americans in support of causes or in the pursuit of goals that are embraced by yet other Americans. From New Left revolution, anti-war, and black liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, to anti-abortion fervor and radical environmentalism in the 1980s and 1990s, and racial hatred throughout, American terrorism typically has been truly all-American.

This ought not surprise us.* Public opinion surveys conducted in 1981, in 1995, and in 2000 found that Americans, while unreservedly condemning terrorists as a category, were unwilling to reject the use of violence as a tool of political change. In the 1981 study, 15 percent of those surveyed said there were circumstances when terrorism could be justified. That percentage stood at 17 percent in the 1995 study and rose as high as 26 percent in 2000.

What the above signals is that there are likely mitigating qualities that some Americans see in terrorism and terrorist actions that allows them on the one hand to categorically abhor terrorism and terrorists yet simultaneously claim that terrorism may be justifiable. Even after 9/11 public opinion surveys provide evidence that suggests that meaningful percentages of  Americans continue to hold sympathetic attitudes toward some terrorist organizations.

Here is one astonishing example of Americans’ attitudes about terrorism that is worth thinking about.  Six months after Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and wounding another 800, the public was asked whether they had a positive, neutral, or negative attitude toward McVeigh. A startling 5 percent of respondents said they had a very positive or somewhat positive view of McVeigh, while 12 percent reported that they had neutral feelings about the individual who was responsible for carrying out what was at the time the single deadliest act of terrorism ever on American soil.

We need to remember, as we approach the Fourth of July holiday, that the face of American terrorism looks a lot more like Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Roof than Osama bin Laden or Mohamed Atta.

*I wrote and presented a paper on this at a conference in 2009 at the University of Missouri. The piece is unpublished, and desperately in need of updating, but you can download and read a copy here.