In Australia, there is ongoing and extensive commentary about the actions and motivations of Man Haron Monis, the Iranian-born self-styled Islamic sheikh who took hostages in the Lindt chocolate cafe located at Martin Place, Sydney, in December 2014. This attack was immediately elevated to a national terrorist threat by the Australian federal authorities, and media coverage of the siege itself and subsequent tragic shootout was at saturation level. Monis and two hostages were killed in the police raid that ended the cafe siege.
This hostage-taking has become part of the Australian national conversation about terrorism and its origins – Monis is the subject of regular articles, labeled a monster by some journalists, and every aspect of his individual psyche and religious affiliations is examined in careful detail. Monis was known to Australian police and intelligence agencies, and he did not actually have any connections with Al Qaeda, ISIS, or any other Islamist fundamentalist group.
A federal inquest was held into the Lindt cafe siege, although it does not appear to have answered many questions. However, one thing is certain, Monis has become the archetype for jihadist terrorism in Australia. His actions are portrayed as part of an international terrorism threat originating from the Islamic communities and religion, even though his motivations have been assessed as a mix of mental health problems, criminality and narcissistic attention-seeking, as well as extremism. The notoriety surrounding the name of Man Haron Monis should find comparable expression with that of the American Robert Doggart.
Meet 63-year old Robert Doggart, an ordained minister in the Christian National Church, former US Naval Sea Cadet Corps serviceman, electrical engineer, and businessman resident of Tennessee. He was arrested for plotting, along with nine other men, to massacre the entire Islamic community of Islamberg, a rural hamlet in Delaware County, New York. Stopped by the FBI before he and his co-conspirators could carry out their intended attacks, Doggart made no secret of his intentions. The residents of Islamberg, mostly African-American people of the Muslim faith who left New York to escape its endemic poverty, corruption, racism and lack of opportunities, have been living the quiet life in their city – much like the Amish and other religious minorities in the United States.
Doggart was chillingly clear in his social media posts, articles and statements about how and why he wanted to eradicate Islamberg and its residents from the map. He planned to start a military-style assault on the town, armed with automatic weapons, burn down the mosque and schools, and kill all the people in the town. In an article for The Daily Beast called “America snores when Christian terrorist threatens to massacre Muslims“, writer Dean Obeidallah quoted Doggart’s words that, backed up by members of an ultra-right terrorist militia from Texas and South Carolina, the people of Islamberg would face extermination by his self-styled holy Christian warriors:
“We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings [Referring to their mosque and school.] …and if anybody attempts to harm us in any way… we will take them down.”
He also detailed the weapons he would use in the attack, including an M-4 military assault rifle, armor-piercing ammunition, explosives, pistols, and a machete, because “If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.”
Doggart expressed a hope that he would survive the terror attack, but explained, “I understand that if it’s necessary to die [in this attack] then that’s a good way to die.”
Doggart explicitly based the rationale for his actions in his religion:
Doggart’s own words highlight his motive being grounded in at least partially in his view of Christianity:“Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives. We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God.” Doggart continued, “We shall be Warriors who inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.”
What is noteworthy about this case?
Doggart and his associates were never charged with any terrorism-related offences. While admitting that he spent months collecting weapons, plotting his attack, bringing weapons and far-right militia members together for the purpose of burning Islamberg to the ground and killing all its people, he was charged with interstate communication of threats, soliciting others to violate civil rights, and attempting to damage religious property. He was released on bail.
Islamberg residents responded, through their legal and collective representatives, that Doggart and his accomplices should have been charged with terrorism, as every Muslim American suspect has been similarly arraigned, regardless of how tenuous or fragile the case against them may be. A spokesperson for the Islamberg community stated the following:
Our community consists of veterans, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. We are true American patriots, unlike Doggart, who is not representative of Christianity, but more like the American Taliban.
The community has cooperated with federal and local law enforcement authorities, and no links have ever been found between the residents of Islamberg and any fundamentalist or extremist Islamist groups. However, that has not stopped the constant rumours of “jihadist training camps” circulating about the town, spread by always-credible news outlets like Fox News.
Looking clearly at ultra-right terrorism
The obsessive preoccupation with the threat of jihadist fundamentalism, and the subsequent smearing of the entire Islamic community, blinds us to the very real and greater danger that lurks within our society, the terrorism of the ultra-right. The increased surveillance of Muslim American communities, FBI-manufactured plots clearly based on entrapment, and the misguided belief that mass surveillance of the Islamic communities is necessary but unfortunate, are based on an enormous and erroneous assumption – that the Muslim faith encourages violent solutions to societal problems, and that Muslim communities are more conducive to take up violent actions in response to their challenges. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The sub-heading above is derived from an article by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called “Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism.” That article’s author states quite clearly that ultra-rightist groups have a long, and more violent, track record than any Al Qaeda or Islamist fundamentalist organisations:
Far-right terrorism in the US is more common than other types of violent radicalism. A recent study by the New America Foundation found that since 9/11, far-right extremists “have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology.” And perhaps most important, far-right terrorists are more prone to seek unconventional weapons—that is, weapons that might generate mass casualties or mass disruption. The study found that while no “jihadists indicted or convicted in the United States” had obtained or employed chemical or biological warfare agents, 13 individuals motivated by far-right extremist ideology, “acquired or used chemical or biological weapons or their precursor materials.” In the recent past, far-right extremists have also plotted the use of radiological weapons.
Since September 11 2001, the ‘war on terror’ has influenced the public perception and media conversation about terrorism as a purely foreign, mostly Islamic, importation. The focus of law enforcement authorities on the Islamic communities is underscored by an obsessive prejudice against anyone perceived to be Middle Eastern. The domestic ‘jihadist’ menace, if there is one, was superseded long ago by the violent activities of the white supremacist, and Christian Identity, ultra-rightist movements. The United States does have a serious terrorism problem, but simply refuses to tackle it.
Back in 2012, the Combatting Terrorism Centre at West Point issued an extensive report called “Challengers from the Sidelines – Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right (pdf).” It details the extensive political landscape of the ultra-right, its activities, growth, motivations and trends. Does the US criminal justice system regard the main targets of ultra-right terrorism, ethnic and minority groups, expendable and less worthy of attention than victims of white Anglo-American extraction?