In the aftermath of the deadly Las Vegas shooting rampage, which left two police officers, a shopper, and the shooters dead, one can expect all the usual talking points that follow an all too regular and familiar massacre – mental health, access to guns, the killer’s motives, and so forth. But here’s another one: the intellectual cowardice of cable news giant CNN, when it comes to reporting right wing terrorism.
The facts and back story to Sunday’s carnage are pretty well known and have been widely reported by a multitude of online and offline news outlets.
A married couple, Jerad and Amanda Miller, walked into CiCi’s Pizza, shouted, “This is a revolution,” and then shot police officers Alyn Beck and Igor Soldo as the two ate lunch. They then ran across an adjacent parking lot to a Walmart store, where they shot a shopper before retreating to the back of the store, where Jerad was killed in a shootout with police and Amanda committed suicide.
What is also known is that the suspects stripped the dead officers of their weapons and ammunition, before covering their bodies with the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag, which depicts a coiled snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me” – a flag that is informally adopted by the Republican Tea Party.
When the Millers left their home to embark on their cowardly ambush, they delivered an ominous message to their neighbor Kelly Fielder. “"We gotta do what we gotta do," Jerad Miller told her, adding that he and his wife, Amanda, were departing for an "underground world."
Fielder told NBC News she had heard Jerad Miller make anti-government statements in the past — including a desire to overthrow the government and President Obama and kill police officers — but was not alarmed by them.
It takes no degree of sophisticated insightfulness to conclude the obvious: that the Millers are right-wing extremists, identifying with Tea Party anti-government views. It’s also reported that the Millers were among those in attendance at the Cliven Bundy ranch, when right-wing extremists, egged on by Fox News, pointed assault rifles at U.S. federal agents.
But don’t expect CNN to include the prefix “right-wing” to the use of the word extremism or terrorism, for their, and the mainstream media’s, fear of the right-wing hysteria machine is ever present and always palpable. In fact, CNN refused to identify the Tea Party flag. Dan Simon of CNN went so far as to avoid the far right’s wrath that he said the killers “left behind some type of flag with some kind of insignia.” The cable network’s 24/7 ticker feed reads, “Killers had extremist views.”
No, CNN, the killers had RIGHT WING extremist views. That is established and clearly evident. Wolf Blitzer asked a guest, “What kind of anti-government groups are associated with this type of extremism?” Again, that much is obvious. The right-wing of today’s Republican Party is in itself an anti-government group, and has been ever since Goldwater Republicans became the loudest voice in the GOP’s shrinking tent, culminating with Reagan’s, “Government is not part of the solution. Government is the problem.”
In the first 36 hours since the shooting, CNN has used the following words and terms to discuss the shooting: “extremism,” “extremist domestic groups,” “radical groups,” anti-government groups and individuals,” but not once has the term “right wing” or any mention of the Tea Party been uttered.
Regardless, CNN’s cowardice hasn’t stopped the right wing moving into a defensive or preemptive crouch, with conservative columnist Horace Cooper claiming on the same day of the shooting that far-right violence is a “complete and total bogeyman,” and is “an attempt to marginalize opponents of the Obama administration.”
From the recent shooting of an airport police officer at LAX to last month’s shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City, and to the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, right wing terrorism is now the new normal, and it’s a safe assumption that tragic, indiscriminate acts of violence, of this ilk, will become increasingly prevalent as white minority politics becomes increasingly shill at the same time demographics run counter to the politics of the far right. In other words, these “well armed militiamen,” so lovingly embraced by everyone from Sarah Palin to Rand Paul, will feel their cause has become inversely desperate.
Here’s an interesting and sobering fact: that when it comes to domestic terrorism, you are far more likely to be murdered by a far Right-wing American than a Muslim American, but the term “terrorist” remains reserved exclusively for acts of political violence carried out by Muslims.
Violence carried out by far Right groups or individuals, which have racism as a central component of their ideology, is of similar magnitude to that of Jihadist violence. In the years 1990 to 2010, there were 145 acts of political violence committed by the American far Right, resulting in 348 deaths. By comparison, 20 Americans were killed over the same period in acts of political violence carried out by Muslim-American civilians.
“Both categories of violence represent threats to democratic values from fellow citizens. Whereas the former uses violence to foment a change in the ethnic makeup of Western countries or to defend racial supremacy, the latter uses violence to try to intimidate Western governments into changing foreign policies. Ultimately, to be more concerned about one domestic threat of violence rather than the other implies governments and mainstream journalists consider foreign policies more sacrosanct than the security of minority citizens,” writes Arun Kundani, adjunct professor at New York University and author of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the War on Terror.
It has now been 13 years since al Qaeda and its associated forces have carried out a successful attack inside the United States. National security analyst and global terror expert Peter Bergen asks, “Given this, it becomes harder to explain, in terms of American national security, why violence by homegrown right-wing extremists receives substantially less attention than does violence by homegrown jihadist militants?”
The Southern Poverty Law Center calculates there are 939 far right-wing hate groups across the country today, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, border vigilantes and others.
“Since 2000, the number of hate groups has increased by 56 percent. This surge has been fueled by anger and fear over the nation’s ailing economy, an influx of non-white immigrants, and the diminishing white majority, as symbolized by the election of the nation’s first African-American president…. The number of Patriot groups, including armed militias, skyrocketed following the election of President Obama in 2008 – rising 813 percent, from 149 groups in 2008 to an all-time high of 1,360 in 2012. The number fell to 1,096 in 2013,” the SPLC calculates.
Terrorism is a display of weakness. Terrorism is a tactic used by a much weaker combatant. It represents an inequitable power dynamic. With that in mind, it’s a terrifying prospect to run this violent trend to its natural conclusion, given the closed circuit loop of the right wing media, and the desperation that will follow future likely electoral defeats at the presidential level.
America, meet the Millers.