The truth about terrorism in America: Updated 10/15/20

american-domestic-terrorism

I started writing this blog in February 2015. Three months later, in May, I wrote these words:

1) Not all terrorists are foreigners.

2) Not all religious terrorists are Muslims.

I have now written some variation of this formula nearly 30 times over the last four-and-a-half years. To reiterate the point:

The typical face of terrorism in America belongs to an angry, right-wing, middle-aged, white man.

In May 2015 I was writing about the death of Neal Horsley, who called for the murder of abortion doctors and clinic workers in the name of protecting the unborn.

A year ago, when I last updated this post, I was writing about, and the nation was mourning, the lives taken by anti-semite Robert Bowers, who slaughtered 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

According to his social media posts, Bowers’ attack was motivated by a toxic combination of white supremacy, hatred for Jews, anti-refugee animus, and a belief that the U.S. government was doing too little to stop the migrant “caravan” making its slow way from Honduras, through Mexico, toward our southern border.

The week before, I was writing, and the nation was talking, about Cesar Sayoc, who over the course of a week mailed more than a dozen pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and liberal activists, all of whom shared the common characteristic of having been publicly named by President Donald Trump as enemies of himself, his agenda, or both. Sayoc was subsequently arrested. His social media, and the van he was living in, was literally covered with images and language dripping with pro-Trump, anti-Democrat, anti-media bile.

When I updated it a week ago, it was in response to a draft Department of Homeland Security 2020 threat assessment which declares “[W]e judge that white supremacist extremists … will remain the most persistent and lethal threat to the Homeland through 2021.” But this revelation is buried deep in the report, on p.27, despite having been prominently featured as a key judgement appearing on p.5 of an earlier version.

Why was it removed from the key judgements and buried? According to a DHS whistleblower complaint, the senior official tasked with preparing the report was ordered to “modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups.”

Why was order to downplay the threat of white supremacists and highlight left-wing groups made, despite the report’s lack of data supporting that threat? According to the complaint, it was to ensure the intelligence assessments “matched up with the public comments by President Trump …”

This update comes on the heels of a terrorist plot to kidnap and likely kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The conspirators, according to the FBI and Michigan State Police, were members of right-wing militia groups.

I could repeat all of these arguments again. I could remind you, as I did a public audience a year ago, that since 1965 right-wing extremists have killed 20 times more police officers than have homegrown Islamic extremists, and that over the last decade right-wing extremists have been responsible for 76 percent of all the murders perpetrated by political extremists in the United States.

I could tell you that in 2019 fully 90 percent of the murders carried out by political extremists in the United States were perpetrated by right-wing extremists. This includes a mass shooting by a white supremacist at a Walmart in El Paso which killed 22 and wounded another 24. To this day it remains the deadliest attack in modern times against the Hispanic community in the US.

I could tell you that nearly all the extremist-related murders (81 percent) committed in 2019 were carried out by white supremacists. Perpetrators espousing white supremacist ideology were responsible for 78 percent of all right-wing extremist-related killings from 2010-2019, with anti-government extremists a distant second at 17 percent.

I could ask you to guess how many people were killed by homegrown violent Islamist extremists in 2019? But that number would be zero.

Instead, I’m going to give you what amounts to a digest of all of the writing I’ve done in this space on the reality of right-wing terrorism in the United States. The digest is presented chronological order, so if you want to read the most recent pieces, just head to the bottom of the list.

And here’s a reminder. You can lie to yourself all you want that the main threat of terrorism comes from refugees, or immigrants, or foreigners.

The truth is a lot harder to face.

  • July 2, 2015 – This is what terrorism in America really looks like – “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.”
  • Nov. 24, 2015 – As we panic over refugees … – “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.”
  • June 13, 2016 – The direct line connecting Oklahoma City to Orlando runs through the far right – “While today we associate lone wolf attacks with homegrown Islamist terrorism, like the Ft. Hood, Boston Marathon, San Berndardino, and now Orlando killings, the strategy of leaderless resistance has its origins in the American white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and paramilitary far right groups of the 1980s.”
  • Sept. 29, 2016 – Americans at war with America – “According to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, the suspect indicated that he was ready and willing to ‘go to war’ and told an acquaintance that he shared McVeigh’s anti-government ideology. Would he have followed through on his threats? It’s impossible to know, and thankfully we won’t have to find out. But whether he was serious or just blowing smoke, the threat of right-wing terrorism is no joke. In June 2015 the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported that ‘Law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.’
  • Oct. 15, 2016 – What counts as terrorism? – “For most Americans, near as I can tell, it’s not what the guy pictured above did. He’s Wade Michael Page, and four years ago he gunned down six worshippersat a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., before before being killed by a local police officer. Page, a veteran of the US Army, had spent decades swimming in the deep end of the cesspool that is the white supremacist universe. He was a member of two white power skinhead bands, End Apathy and Definite Hate. In 2010 End Apathy played at a racist music festival in Baltimore called Independent Artist Uprise.”
  • Oct. 17, 2016 – This week in terrorism history, Oct. 16-22 – “Over the weekend news broke of a thwarted terrorism plot in Kansas in which three members of a far-right militia group were charged with conspiring to destroy an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and maintained a mosque. They intended to detonate four simultaneous car bombs similar to the one which Timothy McVeigh used to destroy the US federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.”
  • Oct. 20, 2016 — Trump is how democracies die — “Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the election is legitimately horrifying. It opens the door to serious post-election violence by his most radicalized supporters.Make no mistake, those supporters are out there. In an analysis of Trump’s Facebook posts about election rigging, data scientist Jonathan Morgan found hundreds of individuals involved in armed anti-government militia groups across the country who engaged with the candidate’s message.”
  • Oct. 26, 2016 – Some afternoon reading on America’s ‘patriot’ right – “… I’ve also become interested as a consequence of the toxic rhetoric that has emanated from Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House and the way that parts of his message are being embraced by some individuals and groups that make up the armed anti-government far right.”
  • Oct. 31, 2016 – This week in terrorism history, Oct. 30-Nov. 5 – “Two weeks ago, three members of a right-wing militia in Kansas were arrested and charged with plotting a terrorist attack on an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and maintained a mosque. To understand the climate of fear and bigotry that could inspire and nurture such a plot, look no farther than the above campaign literature produced the Kansas State Republican Party and mailed throughout the state.”
  • Nov. 2, 2016 – The militias are ready for Nov. 9 – “Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins next Tuesday, the militia movement isn’t waiting to prepare for what comes next. They’re ready now.”
  • Jan. 30, 2017 – The typical face of American terrorism, Canada edition – “While Fox News spent the day falsely claiming that a Moroccan Muslim was responsible for killing six worshippers after evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City, and White House Spokesman Sean Spicer latched on to that lie to justify the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, the real suspect was identified by Canadian police as a white, rabid, anti-immigration nationalist.”
  • Feb. 6 – 2017 – At war with America – “Tomorrow night the PBS program American Experience airs a documentary on what remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck loaded with a five-ton fertilizer bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the kind of bomb that leveled the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 US service members. It was the kind of bomb that the IRA used to turn the heart of London’s financial district to rubble in 1993.”
  • Feb. 9, 2017 – No, congressman, there really isn’t a difference – “Duffy’s poor memory and general ignorance on the topic of white extremist terrorism, whether racially, religiously, or politically motivated, is sadly not unusual. Americans tend not to recognize attacks like what Page did in Oak Creek, or for that matter Dylann Roof’s Charleston massacre, as acts of terrorism. … A dozen terrorist attacks in Wisconsin between 1994 and 2012 and they all have one thing in common. None were committed by Muslims.”
  • Aug. 6, 2017 – Yes, this is terrorism – “If a bomb goes off at a mosque in Minnesota and the headlines don’t call it terrorism, is it still terrorism? Yes. And yet acts of terrorism in the United States get little attention from the media unless they’ve been perpetrated by or can be attributed to Muslim attackers.”
  • Oct. 27, 2017 – Hate in the ranks – “According to a new poll, one-in-four US troops say they have seen examples of white nationalism among fellow service members, and they rate white nationalism a greater national security threat than Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
  • Nov. 2, 2017 – What the terrorists believe – “Jihadist attacks and the fears they generate dominate both the news cycle and the popular imagination, as this week’s deadly incident in Manhattan reminds us. But the START report makes clear that events like this are far from the only, or even the main, story.”
  • Jan. 18, 2018 – There’s honest threat analysis, and then there’s that DHS report – “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.”
  • Jan. 31, 2018 – Red-blooded American terrorists – “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.”
  • Feb. 17, 2018 – Parkland looks like terrorism – “The Anti-Defamation League reports that the leader of the white supremacist Republic of Florida has acknowledged that the accused shooter in yesterday’s mass killing at a high school in Parkland, Fla., was associated with his group.”
  • March 14, 2018 – Another typical American terrorist – “Last August, a mosque in Minnesota was bombed. Yesterday, three men from a rural central Illinois town were charged with carrying out the attack, which, according to the FBI, was intended to frighten Muslims in to fleeing the United States. This, my friends, is the very definition of terrorism.”
  • April 19, 2018 – Those Kansas terrorists? Convicted – “Three members of a Kansas terrorist cell have been convicted of plotting to carry out a car bomb attack on an apartment complex in the small town of Garden City. You remember these guys — angry, middle-aged, white, Christian, men — and the Somali immigrants who were their intended targets.”
  • Oct. 24, 2018 – The president lit the fuse – “Since Monday a series of  pipe bombs have been mailed or delivered to a particular group of Democratic and liberal political figures … But more importantly, all of the targets share something else in common. Each has been critical of the current administration, and each has been repeatedly and publicly attacked by President Donald Trump, either at his rallies, or via Twitter, or both.”
  • Oct. 31, 2018 — What the lit fuse looks like — “The three members of a Kansas terrorist cell convicted of a 2016 plot to detonate simultaneous car bombs at an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants are now facing sentencing. The lawyers for one of the convicted terrorists, Patrick Stein, are making a plea for a more lenient sentence.By citing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.That’s right: Stein’s lawyers are arguing that the judge should consider how Trump’s words fanned the flames of Stein’s fear and hatred of Muslims, which he learned from and had reinforced by the internet and conservative talk shows, when deciding their client’s sentence.”
  • Feb. 25, 2019 – The logic of terrorism — “Nearly lost in the daily deluge of news last week (and almost forgotten already) was the report that an active-duty Coast Guard officer, Christopher Hasson, had been arrested for plotting “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country.” The federal prosecutors’ motion to hold Hasson in prison pending trial minced no words:

    The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect government conduct.

  • March 15, 2019 – A lot of people watching and a lot of people dead — “Radicalized and networked individuals and self-contained cells following the doctrine of leaderless resistance and moving within extremist online circles where mass casualty attacks are hailed, not reviled, have little fear either of alienating fellow true believers or that a government crackdown will silence their movement.”
  • May 9, 2019 – Terror where we pray: What gets attacked? — “Of the 80 attacks (on places of worship in the US) over the 20-year period covered here, only two were the work of Muslim extremists or jihadi-inspired perpetrators. No one was killed or injured in either incident. What all these attacks suggest is that in the United States, terrorism targeting places of worship is consistent with the standard truth about American terrorism that I have been writing about since almost the beginning of this blog. Most of it is perpetrated by white nationalist or racist extremists on the far right of the political spectrum.”
  • Aug. 13, 2019 — Our new old terrorism — “[W]hat 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.”
  • Feb. 3, 2020 — This week in terrorism history: Feb. 3-9 — “Two points to keep in mind as we move on to this week’s look back at terrorism history.
    • First, the United States has long experienced terrorism on its own soil, even if many in the public (and my students) awakened to the fact only after 9/11.
    • Second, when terrorism happens in the US, it’s almost always Americans attacking other Americans. For perspective, in 1970 alone, there were 54 terrorist bombings in New York City. Three of those attacks unfolded over successive days in September. Ten attacks took place in March. All were carried out by Americans.”
  • Feb. 5, 2020 — “Milano’s bayonet” — “How terrorism is justified, in three quotes:

    I never saw a reason for mass protest or wearing uniforms marching around provoking people with swastikas etc. I was and am a man of action you cannot change minds protesting like that. however you can make change with a little focused violence.

    Christopher Hasson, U.S. Coast Guard, 2019

  • Feb. 10, 2020 — This week in terrorism history: Feb. 10-16 — “A committed white nationalist, Hasson despaired that his fellow whites had succumbed to “liberalist” ideology, concluding that violence, and only violence could shake them out of their complacency. In a rambling email drafted on his work computer at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, DC, Hasson wrote (emphasis mine):

Liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white. No way to counteract without violence. It should push for more crack down bringing more people to our side. Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch.

What they were planning were acts of terrorism.

So what do we call them, militia members or terrorists?”