The Terrorists Among Us

In the aftermath of the massacre in a black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday, it’s worth noting a study produced by the Anti-Defamation League. They found that in the ten years between 2012 and 2021, 75% of the murders in the US that were connected to political extremism were committed by the radical right (otherwise known as upstanding members of the Grand Old Party). From David Leonhardt of the NY Times:

Over the past decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 U.S. murders committed by political extremists.

Of these 450 killings, right-wing extremists committed about 75 percent. Islamic extremists were responsible for about 20 percent, and left-wing extremists were responsible for 4 percent.

More than half of the murders were specifically tied to white supremacists:

As this data shows, the American political right has a violence problem that has no equivalent on the left. And the 10 victims in Buffalo this past weekend are now part of this toll. “Right-wing extremist violence is our biggest threat,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, has written. “The numbers don’t lie.”

The pattern extends to violence less severe than murder, like the Jan. 6 attack on Congress. It also extends to the language from some Republican politicians — including [the former president] — and conservative media figures that treats violence as a legitimate form of political expression. A much larger number of Republican officials do not use this language but also do not denounce it or punish politicians who do use it; Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, is a leading example.

. . . The precise explanation for any one attack can be murky, involving a mixture of ideology, mental illness, gun access and more. In the immediate aftermath of an attack, people are sometimes too quick to claim a direct cause and effect. But it is also incorrect to pretend that right-wing violence and left-wing violence are equivalent problems.

If you talk to members of Congress and their aides these days — especially off the record — you will often hear them mention their fears of violence being committed against them.

Some Republican members of Congress have said that they were reluctant to vote for [the ex-president’s] impeachment or conviction partly because of the threats against other members who had already denounced him. House Republicans who voted for President Biden’s infrastructure bill also received threats. Democrats say their offices receive a spike in phone calls and online messages threatening violence after they are criticized on conservative social media or cable television shows.

People who oversee elections report similar problems. “One in six elec­tion offi­cials have exper­i­enced threats because of their job,” the Brennan Center, a research group, reported this year. “Ranging from death threats that name offi­cials’ young chil­dren to racist and gendered harass­ment, these attacks have forced elec­tion offi­cials across the coun­try to take steps like hiring personal secur­ity, flee­ing their homes, and putting their chil­dren into coun­sel­ing.”

There is often overlap between these violent threats and white supremacist beliefs. White supremacy tends to treat people of color as un-American or even less than fully human, views that can make violence seem justifiable. The suspect in the Buffalo massacre evidently posted an online manifesto that discussed replacement theory, a racial conspiracy theory that Tucker Carlson promotes on his Fox News show.

“History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Representative Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans who have repeatedly and consistently denounced violence and talk of violence from the right, wrote on Twitter. “The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and antisemitism,” Cheney wrote, and called on Republican leaders to “renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”

A few other Republicans, like Senator Mitt Romney, have taken a similar stance. But many other prominent Republicans have taken a more neutral stance or even embraced talk of violence.

Some have spoken openly about violence as a legitimate political tool — and not just [the party’s leader], who has done so frequently.

At the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack, Representative Mo Brooks suggested the crowd should “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Before she was elected to Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene supported the idea of executing Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats. Representative Paul Gosar once posted an animated video altered to depict himself killing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and swinging swords at Biden.

Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, once called the Federal Reserve “treasonous” and talked about treating its chairman “pretty ugly.” During Greg Gianforte’s campaign for Montana’s House seat, he went so far as to assault a reporter who asked him a question he didn’t like; Gianforte won and has since become Montana’s governor.

These Republicans have received no meaningful sanction from their party. McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, has been especially solicitous of Brooks and other members who use violent imagery.

This Republican comfort with violence is new. Republican leaders from past decades, like Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and the Bushes, did not evoke violence.

“In a stable democracy,” Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist, told me, “politicians unambiguously reject violence and unambiguously expel from their ranks antidemocratic forces.”

Terrorists announce attack on Washington. Federal police agencies allow it to happen.

This was published in The Washington Post yesterday:

Talk of guns and potential violence is rife on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, the conservative social media site Parler and on thedonald.win, an online forum that previously operated on Reddit before the company banned it in June after years of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and calls for violence.

Trump’s tweet last month pushing baseless fraud claims and promoting the “big protest” on Jan. 6 — “Be there, will be wild!” — has become a central rallying cry. It was the top post on thedonald.win Tuesday morning, and anonymous commenters saw it as a call to action: “We’ve got marching orders,” the top reply said.

Discussion in the thread followed about how most effectively to sneak guns into Washington, laced with occasional references to using them. . . .

Of carrying guns in D.C., one poster in the thread wrote, “Yes, it’s illegal, but this is war and we’re clearly in a post-legal phase of our society.” Wrote another: “LIVE AS A FREE AMERICAN AND BRING YOUR ARMS!”

Unquote.

Here are some of the federal police agencies that could have protected the Capitol building today, but weren’t around:

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But if you’re a White male terrorist from the radical right, possibly heavily-armed, you have privileges the rest of us don’t. Much of Trump’s administration is on their side. So are many police officers. The U.S. Capitol Police failed miserably. They apparently didn’t ask for assistance from other agencies, even though the likelihood of an attack was public knowledge. 

In striking contrast, scenes at peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in Washington this year:

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All-American Terrorists

The F.B.I. announced the arrest of 13 members of our species who were planning to make America great again. Here are five of them:

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From The New York Times:

Storming the State Capitol. Instigating a civil war. Abducting a sitting governor ahead of the presidential election.

Those were among the plots described by federal and state officials in Michigan on Thursday as they announced terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against 13 men. At least six of them, officials said, had hatched a detailed plan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has become a focal point of anti-government views and anger over coronavirus control measures.

The group that planned the kidnapping met repeatedly over the summer for firearms training and combat drills and practiced building explosives, the F.B.I. said; members also gathered several times to discuss the mission, including in [a basement] accessible only through a “trap door” under a rug.

The men spied on Ms. Whitmer’s vacation home in August and September, even looking under a highway bridge for places they could place and detonate a bomb to distract the authorities, the F.B.I. said. They indicated that they wanted to take Ms. Whitmer hostage before the election in November, and one man said they should take her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin for a “trial,” Richard J. Trask II, an F.B.I. special agent, said in the criminal complaint.

Mr. Trask said that one of those arrested had bought a Taser for the mission last week and that the men had been planning to buy explosives on Wednesday. Court records indicated that at least five of the men had been arrested on Wednesday in Ypsilanti, Mich.; it was not immediately clear if the sixth man had been taken into custody. . . .

The F.B.I. said a leader in the kidnapping plot had reached out to members of an unnamed anti-government group for help, and the state charged an additional seven men, all from Michigan, with providing material support for terrorist activities, being members of a gang and using firearms while committing felonies.

The seven men were said to be affiliated with an extremist group known as the Wolverine Watchmen, and the state’s attorney general accused them of collecting addresses of police officers in order to target them, threatening to start a civil war “leading to societal collapse” and planning to kidnap the governor and other government officials.

The seven men were charged with state crimes, which carry penalties of two to 20 years in prison.

Ms. Whitmer and Dana Nessel, the Michigan attorney general, tied the extremist plot to comments from President Txxxx and his refusal at times . . . to condemn white supremacists and violent right-wing groups. . . . Ms. Whitmer said extremists had “heard the president’s words not as a rebuke but as a rallying cry — as a call to action.”

. . . the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said in September that the most pressing threats facing the nation were from anti-government and white supremacist groups, who . . . have carried out the most lethal domestic attacks in recent years.

The F.B.I. investigation of the kidnapping plot began early this year, according to an affidavit, after a social media discussion of violent government overthrow. The F.B.I. used confidential informants, undercover agents and intercepted messages to monitor the group. . . . The six men were charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping, which can carry a life sentence.

The authorities said that [two of the men] had decided to “unite others” to “take violent action” against state governments that they thought were violating the Constitution . . . . The F.B.I. said [one] had talked of storming the Michigan Statehouse with 200 men and trying Ms. Whitmer for treason. . . .

Ms. Whitmer has been the subject of criticism from right-wing protesters for measures she imposed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus, which has infected about 146,000 Michigan residents and killed about 7,200.

In April, thousands of people gathered at the State Capitol to protest the executive orders she issued shutting down most of the state. Mr. Txxxx openly encouraged such protests, tweeting, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

. . . In May, a man was charged with threatening to kill Ms. Whitmer and Ms. Nessel. And the protests at the Capitol in Lansing featured some signs with swastikas, Confederate flags and demonstrators who advocated for violence against Ms. Whitmer, including one man who carried a doll with brown hair hanging from a noose. Many in the crowd carried semiautomatic weapons, leading some Democrats in the Legislature to call for a ban on guns in the Capitol.

Republicans in the Legislature sued Ms. Whitmer in May over the executive orders, and last week opponents of her lockdown filed petitions with more than 500,000 signatures to repeal a 1945 law that gives governors authority to declare emergencies during times of a public health crisis. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled last week that the law, which Ms. Whitmer had cited, was unconstitutional [deciding it conflicts with another Michigan law regarding emergency declarations]. . . .

The alleged plot in Michigan was infused with elements that have been the focus of anti-government extremists for years, said J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, such as accusing government officials of tyranny.

Most of all, Ms. MacNab said, they want their acts to serve as examples — to inspire others to carry out similar attacks.

“Starting a revolution is a common thread in the overall anti-government extremist movement,” Ms. MacNab said.

Homeland Security analysts have warned in recent days of potential attacks from extremists seeking to retaliate against government-ordered social distancing measures and closures. . .

The F.B.I. said it had monitored the kidnapping plot throughout the summer as the target narrowed to the governor’s personal vacation home. The group discussed the governor in vulgar terms and called her a “tyrant.”

“Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her,” one of the men said in an encrypted group chat, according to the F.B.I. . . .

“I just wanna make the world glow, dude,” the affidavit quoted [one of the men] as saying in a profanity-laced tirade. “We’re gonna topple it all . . . “

Brief Political Commentary

Voters who attended the Democratic caucuses in Nevada yesterday were asked to identify the most important issue facing America. 34% said the economy and jobs; 7% said terrorism.

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Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina were asked the same question. 28% said the economy and jobs, but 32% said terrorism.

SGOP_IssuesV2_02202016I haven’t been able to determine whether the Democrats and Republicans were given the same list of issues to choose from, but it’s still remarkable that one-third of Republican voters chose terrorism as the most important issue we face. In fact, it’s remarkable that 7% of the Democrats said the same thing.

Unless these people think there is a strong chance that terrorists (of whatever political persuasion, not just Islamic fundamentalists) will attack America with nuclear or biological weapons, it’s silly to put terrorism at the top of the list. (In fact, given how silly it is, I have to wonder – mostly facetiously – whether some of those Democrats were devious Republicans attending the Democratic caucuses in order to make trouble, something the rules in Nevada allowed).

Here in New Jersey, we don’t get to participate in the nomination process until June, when it won’t matter what we think or how we vote. But if anyone asked me, I’d put global warming first, because of its possibly catastrophic consequences. After that, it would be hard to choose between the economy and jobs; money in politics; and the number of Americans who have lost their minds and vote for Republicans.

Terrorists Like Us

From President Obama’s statement regarding the terrorist attack in Charleston:

This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked.  And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.

The President could have used the active voice instead of the passive. He could have said “This is not the first time that racist white men have attacked black churches”. That would have been more descriptive.

But it would have sounded unnecessarily inflammatory. Unnecessary, because who else would murder nine black people while declaring that “You rape our women and you are taking over our country”. Inflammatory, because calling attention to the killer’s color would upset people who say or want to believe that white racism isn’t a problem anymore.

Britt Bennett’s brief article in the New York Times does an excellent job of explaining how and why white terrorism isn’t called that:

This is the privilege of whiteness: While a terrorist may be white, his violence is never based in his whiteness. A white terrorist has unique, complicated motives that we will never comprehend. He can be a disturbed loner or a monster. He is either mentally ill or pure evil…. Either way, he is never indicative of anything larger about whiteness, nor is he ever a garden-variety racist. He represents nothing but himself. A white terrorist is anything that frames him as an anomaly and separates him from the long, storied history of white terrorism.

I’m always struck by this hesitance not only to name white terrorism but to name whiteness itself during acts of racial violence. In a recent New York Times article on the history of lynching, the victims are repeatedly described as black. Not once, however, are the violent actors described as they are: white. Instead, the white lynch mobs are simply described as “a group of men” or “a mob”…. [Obama’s] passive language echoes this strange vagueness, a reluctance to even name white terrorism, as if black churches have been attacked by some disembodied force, not real people motivated by a racist ideology whose roots stretch past the founding of this country.

In America’s contemporary imagination, terrorism is foreign and brown. Those terrorists do not have complex motivations. We do not urge one another to reserve judgment until we search through their Facebook histories or interview their friends. We do not trot out psychologists to analyze their mental states. We know immediately why they kill. But a white terrorist is an enigma. A white terrorist has no history, no context, no origin. He is forever unknowable.

Like South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said this week: 

While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.

But the thing is, in this case, we do know.