The United States of America contains a vast, nation-wide network of terrorist groups, armed to the teeth, conspiring to overthrow the federal government. These groups operate mostly in the shadows, a semi-legal world where they acquire the latest arms, organise secret cells, carry out operations to destabilise the government and undermine their authority, and rely on a reservoir of latent support in the communities they inhabit. These groups are fascinated by guns, absorbed by doctrines of supremacism that regard their community as elevated over the majority of the population, and are abusing the civil liberties and general tolerance of the wider community to spout their vitriol through various social and electronic media channels.
Oh and by the way, the terrorist groups which pose the greatest threat to the United States are not Muslim – they are white.
Professor Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, wrote a comment piece on his blog entitled ‘Top 3 White Terrorist Attacks in America this week’. In this article, he pointed out that the American white supremacist Right, with its fixation on ‘big government’ and obsession with guns and arms, poses a mortal threat to the federal government. Wrapping itself in the mantle of constitutional patriotism and portraying its fight against ‘tyranny’, the American far right has built up its strength, incorporating people disaffected with the system. Most of the victims of America’s violent ultra-right are civilians, their deaths rationalised away by the right wing’s supporters as the unfortunate casualties of a war against big government tyranny. As Professor Cole explained in his article;
Although their attacks are ideological, directed at civilian victims and violent, they are seldom categorized as ‘terrorists.’ Rather what they do is “mass shootings.” In the meantime, plots hatched by Muslims in the US during the past few years appear almost always to be a form of entrapment by the FBI.
Only a few months ago, in April 2014, a white supremacist gunman and organiser of several racist groups, targeted residents of the Jewish Community Centre in Kansas. The killer, Frazier Glenn Miller, was known to authorities as a violent anti-Semite with a history of espousing white supremacist views and targeting ethnic minorities. Miller continued his activities in a climate of racial hatred and vitriol, a climate created and abetted by mainstream media outlets, particularly those associated with the Republican party and right wing ideology. Media corporations operated by yellow media mogul Rupert Murdoch, Fox Cable News, CNN, and other media outlets, propound virulent hate speech that promotes a political discourse of hatred against ethnic minorities, the latest targets being the Arab and Islamic communities.
Miller’s outburst did not occur in isolation. Back in 2012, white supremacist and ‘citizen patriot’ gunman Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and killed six people, critically wounding three. He thought he was attacking Muslims. Page was also far from a ‘lone nut’. He was a vocal neo-Nazi, operating in white supremacist circles, and espoused hateful ideology by participating in bands that are categorised as ‘white power music’. Significantly, Page was an army veteran, and he brought his military training and knowledge into the service of white racist extremism. He transformed into a violent racist while serving in the army, the latter providing a milieu in which white racist ultra-rightist ‘patriotism’ could flourish.
These are not isolated incidents. The most recent example of white supremacist terrorism, given coverage in the corporate media, was the shooting of police officers in Las Vegas in June 2014 by Jared Miller and his wife, Amanda Woodruff Miller. The latter were steeped in white supremacist, ultra-right wing ‘patriotic’ ideology, blamed their setbacks in life on a tyrannical American government, and expressed their hopes of striking back through an obsession with guns. The two shooters began their terroristic rampage by killing two police officers, stripping the corpses of their weapons, and then covered the bodies with the Gadsden flag, a historical flag used during the American independence wars, featuring a coiled rattlesnake poised to strike with the words ‘Don’t tread on me.’
The Miller couple had long spoken of their alienation from the ‘system’, their lack of access to adequate health care, their contempt for the federal government, and their inability to make ends meet in tough economic times. From this wellspring of resentment, emerged a racial hatred, a fascination with guns, all cloaked in the ‘patriotic’ sentiments of ‘defending the constitution’ as designed by the fathers of American independence. Wrapping up anti-ethnic hysteria in the American flag is nothing new; it is a standard theme of the Tea Party ultra-right fanatics .
As the capitalist economic crisis worsens, wages stagnate while the pay of CEOs continue to increase, more people are declining into poverty, and becoming desperate. As this desperation takes hold, they are looking for ways to strike back. The Millers are just one couple among millions who had been pushed down into penurious circumstances. They represent the kind of people ripe for recruitment into white-supremacist, ultra-right wing militia groups that give vent to simmering hatreds. As the gulf between rich and poor widens, hope in the future of the current society is lost. The demise of hope contributes to a growth in crime, social disorder, and the appeal of escapist cults. The latter venerate martyrdom for a cause as a way to provide a new meaning to life. Sacrifice for a cause is very noble – but that cause must target the centres of economic and political power, not deflect hatred onto other ethnic and dispossessed minorities.
In a thoughtful and disturbing article for The Daily Beast online news web site, Dean Obeidallah wrote that the incidence of right wing terrorism is very real, frightening, and large in scope. However, the American political establishment, mainly the right wing Republican faction, refuses to see the problem for what it is. Obeidallah lists the most egregious examples of ultra-right terrorism in the United States over the last few years, and documents the reaction of the conservative media and political establishment in either ignoring the problem, or responding with sympathetic voices. In most cases, the American corporate media has enabled such ultra-right extremism to flourish. As Obeidallah explained, “The actual reason Republicans won’t investigate right-wing extremists is that it would not only anger their base, it would actually indict some parts of it.”
This is not the first, nor the last time, that the American Right has willfully ignored, and sometimes aided, the rise of violent white-supremacist extremism. The Cliven Bundy standoff provides an instructive example of how American politics is infected with the malaise of white, gun-friendly extremism. A rebellious rancher, Bundy has refused to pay taxes to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the land on which his cattle grazes. Bundy claims it is his right to refuse to pay taxes – very true, but he also parasitically using federal land that thousands of other ranchers use in Nevada. He has scrounged off this land for free, making a profit for many years, and defeating numerous lawsuits against him. When he was confronted by BLM personnel, his case became a cause celebre among far-right militias. Here was a rancher, standing up to a tyrannical federal government. His case was taken up by right wing media outlets, Fox news, CNN, as well as Tea Party supporters and far-right libertarian politicians. But then Bundy opened his mouth and expounded his views. He is of the opinion that African Americans should be returned to slavery, that they never had it so good since the days of slave-owning, and that the sooner the black Americans were returned to a slave-owning system, the better.
The conservative politicians and media outlets then made awkward reversals and distanced themselves from Bundy. While the ravings of an out-of-touch racist scrounger like Bundy can be dismissed, it is harder to dismiss the reaction of mainstream politicians and pundits. Bundy became a lightning rod, attracting the ultra-right white supremacists from around the country, providing a beacon of support, and was enabled in his standoff because of the support he has for his racist views. The political and media establishment provided the oxygen for the Bundyite views to spread. As Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report commented in her article;
Bundy is no outlier in any of the opinions he holds. There are millions of Americans who would take up arms to kill mostly because they would enjoy it. They might defend their actions with an appeal to patriotism or a sage brush rebellion or doomsday prepping or whatever rationale would be most convenient, but the bottom line is that they would like to get away with killing as many people as possible.
Kimberley examined the undercurrent of racism that underpinned the gathering of ultra-right extremists at the Bundy standoff:
Bundy is also not alone in seeing chattel slavery as being worthy of nostalgia. It is not a coincidence that gun and slavery lovers so often find common cause. The two go together and the Second Amendment is directly tied to the granting of police force status to every white person in the country in the days of slavery. Bundy’s popularity is deep and dangerous and he is no less popular now in some circles than he was before he made his remarks. Most racists know how to filter their thoughts in polite society. But Bundy is an ignorant man with no clue about niceties and said what was on his and others’ minds. It doesn’t matter that Rand Paul and Fox News back tracked from the Bundy love fest. If millions of white Americans were granted their ultimate fantasy, black people would be back in chains on the auction block.
There is even less excuse for the racist diatribes of Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the LA Clippers, who was caught on tape making racist derogatory remarks about African Americans. The irony of Sterling owning a sporting team in which African Americans are prominent participants was not lost upon the corporate media, countless comedians and talk-show hosts, who all quite rightly made Sterling the object of scorn, ridicule and derision for his repugnant views. But what is startling is that Sterling made his billions as a slumlord, hiring out his sub-standard tenements to African American, Hispanic American and people of other ethnic minorities. Sterling made his views about ethnic minorities quite clear earlier in his career, before he became involved in the professional sports business. For instance, he went on record stating that he did not like to rent his accommodation to Hispanics because they smoke, drink and are lazy, and that African American ‘smell and attract vermin.’
The real tragedy, according to Kevin Blackistone writing in The Guardian newspaper, is not that Sterling made racist comments, scandalous as they are. It is the fact that Sterling’s racism was allowed to go unnoticed and unpunished all these years, even when he entered the business of professional sports and became an owner of an NBA team. Where was the outrage, the denunciations, the ridicule and scorn as Sterling made his way up the corporate ladder?
Margaret Kimberley, in her article, noted that:
Sterling’s racism was well known in Los Angeles prior to the taped conversations being revealed but obedience to a rich man protected him from full exposure. In 2008 he was sued by former NBA star and Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor, who claimed a “plantation mentality” permeated the work environment in that organization. Also in 2009 the Sterlings were forced to pay $2.7 million due to discriminatory housing practices against black and Latino tenants in apartment buildings they owned in Los Angeles. It was the largest such judgment paid in a housing case at that time. None of this mattered to the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP, which honored Sterling with a humanitarian of the year award in 2009 and was prepared to give him a lifetime achievement award before the scandal was revealed.
Kimberley asks the obvious question – would African Americans, or Americans from any ethnic minority, be allowed to gather weapons, espouse a hateful ideology, encourage disobedience to the federal government, and form militaristic militias without any reaction from the US law enforcement authorities?
Tackling ultra-right extremism will take a concerted effort to change the deeply dysfunctional and brutalised system that American capitalism has become. The Department of Homeland Security released a report on right-wing extremism and analysed the political and economic climate that fuels such ultra-right violence, back in 2009. This report was attacked upon its release by the very forces of the corporate media establishment that enabled the Bundys and Sterlings of the world to vent their vitriolic hatred. The rightist purveyors of violence, like Frazier Glenn Miller mentioned above, operate in a political climate that is at least partially sympathetic to their views, and at worst, positive enablers of such violent ultra-right fanaticism. It is interesting to note that Miller’s terrorist attack, while driven by anti-Semitism, claimed the lives of a similar number of victims as the Boston Marathon bombings. (Many more were injured in the Boston bombing however). The Boston Marathon bombing, while reprehensible, received disproportionate media coverage. Miller’s attack, while noted, invited no soul-searching scrutiny.
Since the September 11 2001 attacks and the ‘war on terror’, Islamist groups that advocate a jihadist ideology have become the sole focus of concern. It is true that attacks could happen. Islamist guerrillas, returning from a war zone, could be sufficiently motivated to carry out similar attacks on their home soil. This is a case of circumstantial guilt by association. There are cases of merchant and investment bankers who, travelling overseas, are lured by the promise of easy money engage in illicit and illegal money-laundering activities upon their return to their home country. (And this has happened). Do we stop the activities of transnational financial corporations because some of their executives have turned into drug-money launderers and fraudsters? Given the extent of corporate criminality, perhaps we should.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published an informative article examining the growth of right wing terrorism. The article elaborates upon the rise of the far right in times of economic hardship, how the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States have been committed by groups with an ultra-right, anti-immigrant ideology, far more than groups driven by an al-Qaeda-type mentality, and how many of the most violent groups contain members with backgrounds in the United States military. It appears that service in the US military is serving as an incubator of violent extremism, rather than the preachings of obscure Islamic clerics.
The entire article ‘Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism’, can be found here.
It is appropriate to conclude with the words of Dr Martin Luther King. In 1967, he gave a speech in which he remarked that the United States government is the main purveyor of violence around the world. He toured the cities of Detroit, Chicago, and the ghettos of the North American states, finding grinding poverty, helplessness and demoralisation. He then witnessed the financial exhaustion of the American economy as the military-industrial complex funded wars overseas, particularly in Vietnam. He drew the conclusions that an exhausted, impoverished people, bereft of hope and optimism, resort to desperate and violent means to survive. Some find expression by joining similarly disenchanted groups, focusing their resentments on the most vulnerable. Expressing his hope that a complete revolution of values and ideas occurs in American society, Dr King stated;
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not just.”
As the capitalist system lurches from crisis to crisis, and the individual capitalists of the West continue to fund wars of expansion overseas while millions remain mired in poverty, it is time to ask ourselves whether we can continue to live in such a dysfunctional system. We would do well to heed the words of Dr King, because they are still relevant all these years after they were first spoken.