Why Republicans are determined to ignore the threat of right-wing extremism

The GOP is more than happy to rave about Islamic extremism — but refuse to acknowledge the homegrown variety

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 26, 2015 8:20PM (EDT)

  (Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
(Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

As I mentioned in this earlier piece, just two days before the Charlestown massacre, an op-ed appeared in the New York Times discussing the studies which showed right wing extremism is responsible for far more terrorist attacks in the years since 9/11 than Islamic extremism. It was written by a couple of academics by the names of Charles Kurzman, who teaches sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University. The thrust of that piece was that law enforcement around the country is becoming more and more alarmed by the threat of right-wing extremist groups. The emphasis on Islamic terrorism is not completely misplaced, obviously, but when you look at the numbers of attacks and casualties in the last decade, you have to conclude that the greater danger to individuals comes from our homegrown terrorists.

In the earlier piece, I also pointed out that when the Department of Homeland Security tried to issue appropriate warnings and prioritize this threat, it was met with a furious response from the mainstream right which, curiously, felt that the government looking at right wing terrorism would somehow implicate them. That says a lot about where they see themselves on the political spectrum.

Until yesterday, that opinion piece was the extent of the New York Times' recent coverage, when they featured a news story by Scott Shane on the front page, in which he reported on one of the studies Schanzer and Kurzman discussed that has been done recently by the New America Foundation. Shane wrote:

In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.

But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.

The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case.

But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.

Those New America numbers are the most conservative of all the studies that have been done on right-wing violence. It all depends on the definition. Kurzman and Scherzer linked to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center and the numbers are much higher: Right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year between 2001 and 2012, causing a total of 254 fatalities. Another study, also cited by Kurzman and Schanzer, by the Global Terrorism Center at the University of Maryland shows 65 attacks in the United States associated with right-wing ideologies and 24 by Muslim extremists since 9/11. No matter how you define it or how you add up the numbers, it's clear that there have been many more homegrown right-wing terror attacks than attacks by Islamic extremists. According to John G. Horgan,a terrorism expert from the University of Massachusetts, academics who study the subject are aware of the problem. Shane quotes him saying, “There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown. And there’s a belief that the threat of right-wing, antigovernment violence has been underestimated.”

Shane asks a very pertinent question, which he could just as easily pose to his own editors and possibly even get an answer:

Some killings by non-Muslims that most experts would categorize as terrorism have drawn only fleeting news media coverage, never jelling in the public memory. But to revisit some of the episodes is to wonder why.

In 2012, a neo-Nazi named Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and opened fire, killing six people and seriously wounding three others. Mr. Page, who died at the scene, was a member of a white supremacist group called the Northern Hammerskins.

In another case, in June 2014, Jerad and Amanda Miller, a married couple with radical antigovernment views, entered a Las Vegas pizza restaurant and fatally shot two police officers who were eating lunch. On the bodies, they left a swastika, a flag inscribed with the slogan “Don’t tread on me” and a note saying, “This is the start of the revolution.” Then they killed a third person in a nearby Walmart.

And, as in the case of jihadist plots, there have been sobering close calls. In November 2014 in Austin, Tex., a man named Larry McQuilliams fired more than 100 rounds at government buildings that included the Police Headquarters and the Mexican Consulate. Remarkably, his shooting spree hit no one, and he was killed by an officer before he could try to detonate propane cylinders he drove to the scene.

One could certainly add this one to that list as well:

Knoxville police Sunday evening searched the Levy Drive home of Jim David Adkisson after he allegedly entered the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church and killed two people and wounded six others during the presentation of a children's musical.

Adkisson targeted the church, Still wrote in the document obtained by WBIR-TV, Channel 10, "because of its liberal teachings and his belief that all liberals should be killed because they were ruining the country, and that he felt that the Democrats had tied his country's hands in the war on terror and they had ruined every institution in America with the aid of media outlets."

Adkisson told Still that "he could not get to the leaders of the liberal movement that he would then target those that had voted them in to office."

Inside the house, officers found "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by radio talk show host Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by talk show host Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by television talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

We know at least one reason why attacks such as these tend to be ignored or treated as mental disorders rather than political acts of terrorism ("lone wolf" or otherwise), don't we? It is because there has been a concerted effort by the conservative movement to bully anyone who tries to raise the alarm. And the press is still terrified of right wing criticism, so they go along with the idea that we are under imminent threat from Islamic terrorism while these homegrown extremists are just part of the great tradition of American gun violence, another unpleasant act of nature for which there is no solution.

If the purpose of terrorism is to frighten a civilian population in order to assume power, then this problem is even more acute. Islamic terrorists have no capacity to actually "take over" the American government (despite the shrill fearmongering throughout the nation over Sharia Law) while the influence of these right wing extremists cannot be under-estimated. After all, their mainstream allies managed to quash reports about their activities. And when one of their own like Cliven Bundy decide to defy the laws of this country because they refuse to accept that they are even part of it, the right wing media is right there with them.

Recall that Fox News' Sean Hannity took on the role of "Sovereign Citizen" Bundy's publicist, featuring him and his crew constantly on radio and TV and extolling his virtues. And recall that powerful members of the Republican Partyeven presidential candidates, rallied around him as well:

Reid doubled down and called Bundy himself a “domestic terrorist.”

The next day Reid appeared with Heller on a Las Vegas television program. That’s when Heller deviated from talking points he had been given and disagreed with Reid: “What Senator Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots.”

Bundy imploded shortly thereafter by imprudently sharing his neo-confederate views about African Americans with a New York Times reporter, which made him too toxic even for Sean Hannity, the man who became George Zimmerman's BFF and staunch defender. (Admiration for Zimmerman would be something Hannity has in common with Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof.)

Bundy was brought low by his racist attitudes toward African Americans, expressed baldly in the language of old-fashioned white supremacy. Zimmerman represents a more modern strain of right-wing racism: the "fear" of unarmed young black boys wearing hoodies. He became a hero on the rightThe two Bundy supporting cop killers are completely forgotten.

Predictably, nobody is paying much attention to this:

In Fullerton in Orange County, California, residents discovered Tootsie Rolls and misspelled fliers that read, “Save our land, join the Klan in Calfornia,” on their lawns...

In Rockdale County, Georgia, police are searching door-to-door to find out if there were any witnesses or surveillance tapes to find out who was placing the fliers. “I want them to know that Rockdale County does not stand for this type of behavior,” Sheriff Eric Levett said.

Even Palm Beach, Florida, residents discovered the fliers. “I think it’s horrendous that this country, that people in our country, still feel like this,” resident Gamael Nassar said.

The Daily Beast reports that, when the number on the fliers is reached, a recorded message “hails” the “victory” of Dylann Roof and praises him for doing “what the Bible told him.”

“An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. They [black people] have spilled our blood too long. It’s about time someone spilled theirs,” the Daily Beast recounts.

Who knows what this is? One might assume that it's just another weirdo on the fringe looking to make trouble. But it is curious that these fliers are being found in California, Georgia and Florida. And after seeing what Dylann Roof did, it's very disturbing to think that out there in America other right wing extremists now see him as a role model.

Meanwhile, we have presidential candidate Lindsey Graham, who stood on the floor of the U.S. Senate and basically told Americans that while it's unacceptable to kill African Americans, there is another group, and it's a huge one, that are sanctioned objects of our fear and loathing:

"I don’t know how you could sit in a church and pray with them for an hour and shoot them. That’s Mideast hate. That’s something I didn’t think we had here but apparently we do.”

Graham is well-known for his hysterical, hyperbolic fear-mongering about Muslim terrorists coming over here to "kill us all," but apparently his panic is actually much less specific than that. He simply believes that the people of the middle east, who are of many different faiths, national identity and ethnicity are more "hateful" than Americans. Or perhaps he really does believe that "Mideast" hate is somehow more evil than American hate. Either way, it is rank bigotry that targets many Americans and immigrants as a rational focus of someone like Dylann Roof's white racist contempt.

But then that's the point, isn't it? Conservative elites, from media stars to presidential candidates, want the rest of America to focus on the "foreign" menace and avert its eyes from the menace coming from within. They know they are implicated in it, responsible for feeding the paranoia and fear that drives these extremists to see their own government as their enemy and people who don't look like them as a threat. Their xenophobia and chauvinism are misdirections of epic proportions. They figure as long as we're frightened of foreigners, we won't notice the American terrorists in our midst.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Gop Lindsey Graham Right-wing Extremism The Republican Party