The US Department of Justice admits the growing problem of terrorism – from the ultra-right

The Washington Post published an article in mid-October 2015, stating that the American government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally redressing the growing terrorism problem inside the United States – no, not the much-hyped and exaggerated threat from the Islamist camp, but the real and growing menace of ultra-right terrorism. The DOJ announced the creation of a new position, reporting to Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin, to identify, combat and prosecute domestic terrorism, emanating from white supremacist, patriot militia and anti-federalist groups. The article by Ellen Nakashima, entitled ‘Domestic extremists have killed more Americans than jihadists since 9/11. How the government is responding’, elaborates on measures by the DOJ to stem the tide of ultra-rightist violence that has taken more lives than self-proclaimed Islamist groups since the September 11 attacks.

Preoccupation with the Islamic community

The main preoccupation of the United States law enforcement authorities, and the corporate-media, has been the threat (real or imagined) of Islamist groups, mislabeled ‘jihadist’, since the terrible atrocity of September 11. There is extensive, interminable discussion about the ideology of Islamism, analysis by reams of experts about what is contained in the pages of the Quran, whether that text endorses violence, bombings, killings, beheadings, suicide assassinations, female genital mutilation – the list of crimes is seemingly endless. There are intimations that the wider Muslim community, sharing the basic theological tenets of the Quran and Hadith, are a sympathetic reservoir of passive support for extremist and radicalising elements. There are calls by political leaders for further surveillance, monitoring and intelligence-gathering of the Islamic community.

Politicians of all stripes demand that the Islamic community denounce terrorism, investigate the mosques and whether they are incubators of ‘radicalisation’ – and even the latter term is open to debate. Images of ISIS abound in the media, this group seemingly epitomising the Islamist extremism that we are meant to be afraid of – even though the case can be made that it is a serious mistake to blame Islam for the rise of gangterish militias like ISIS. The latter is an inevitable product of the policies that US and Saudi imperialism have pursued in the Arab world, and indeed the ruling circles of the United States have a long and sordid history in deliberately cultivating the most fanatical segments of Islamic and Arab countries as political allies. Be that as it may, the US government’s single-minded focus on Islamic radicalism has meant that the increasing and violent attacks by ultra-rightist terrorist groups has gone largely overlooked. Hopefully, this imbalance will change, because the targets of ultra-rightist violence are not only government officials and law enforcement authorities, but members of ethnic and religious minority communities.

Ultra right extremists, motivated by a combination of ideologies involving white supremacy, Christian identity and patriot sovereign citizen federalism, have plotted and carried out attacks against the Islamic community, Muslim religious institutions, and persons of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’, whatever the latter phrase may mean. In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings in 2013, the entire Islamic community in Boston has been subjected to greater intrusive surveillance, entrapment operations and suffered a new wave of hostility and racial attacks.

It is not just the Muslim community that is facing increased animosity; the old anti-immigrant canard, the Latin American ‘brown’ menace, has been resurrected by leading Republican presidential candidates (most notably but not exclusively by Donald Trump) to whip up obnoxious bigotry against Mexican and Latino migrants. To be sure, the noxious rantings of a buffoonish, ignorant braggart hardly qualify as a terrorist threat – but when such a repulsive ideology is promoted by leading politicians of a major political party, such messages reach an audience of millions, and create a groundswell of ethnic hatred in which localised racial attacks on minority groups becomes possible.

New domestic terrorism counsel

Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, when announcing the new position of domestic terrorism counsel, elaborated the scope and operation of the new position, and he explained the rationale behind this new role:

The domestic terrorism counsel is one of the ways the Justice Department is responding to extremists in the United States. Mr. Carlin explained that although threats from Al Qaeda and ISIL are a danger in the United States, more people have died in attacks by domestic extremists harboring anti-government views, racism, bigotry, anarchy and other hateful beliefs. He cited examples such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the recent mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

The study of domestic extremism is hardly new; in 2014, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists summarised the findings of a 2009 report issued by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division. The article in the bulletin, entitled ‘Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism’, examined the expanding activities of ultra-right movements and the political climate that routinely discounts the threat posed by right-wing extremist groups. Charles P. Blair, the article’s author, explained that:

In the five years following the report’s release, far-right extremists have also plotted against and, at times, successfully attacked a wide-range of additional targets, including government buildings and leaders, law enforcement personnel, polling stations, courthouses and judges, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, anti-racist gatherings, a Mexican consulate, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, mosques, a Sikh temple, African-Americans and other minorities, and interracial couples and families.

Interestingly, Blair notes that the foot-soldiers of the ultra-right, whether they be from white supremacist or patriot militia backgrounds, are more likely than potential Islamically-inspired militants to use unconventional weapons, chemical or biological – weapons that cause mass casualties and maximum disruption. The use of such weapons indicates not only a psychopathic disregard for human life, but the intent to make a political statement, and maximise the propaganda-utility of such attacks for the underlying ideology of ultra-rightist violence.

The American ultra-rightist political landscape

West Point Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Centre issued a report in November 2012 called ‘Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far Right’. This report provides the best, accurate synopsis of the political landscape inhabited by the ultra-right. There are three broad, interconnected strands of political ideology that can be classed as the ultra-right.

The first and best known is the white supremacist and racist movement. Traditionally this space has been occupied by the Ku Klux Klan, and similar homegrown segregationist militias. This has broadened out to include neo-Nazi types, national alliance skinhead groups and white supremacist militias that intermingle American white racism with concepts of cultural superiority, and intend to enforce racial-cultural hierarchy over what they see as the threat from immigrant and minority communities. Rejecting any foreign influences in the culture and economy of American life, they are most likely to attack individuals from racial and religious minority groups, religious institutions and community centres that involve non-Anglo Saxon migrants.

The second, and less-well known, strand in the ultra-right comprises the libertarian anti-federalist movement, which views government intrusion as the main crime in American society. Believing that the American government is rapidly descending into a tyrannical dictatorship, the anti-federalist movement portrays itself as the true defenders of the original liberties and values enshrined in the US constitution. Challenging the legitimacy and credibility of all American government institutions, the patriot and sovereign citizen militias constitute an armed ideological opponent of the US government.

The rationale behind these militias is multi-varied, but they share a common distrust of what they see as an American government hijacked by special interest groups, a purported New World Order (NWO) that has not only corrupted the American government, but intends to absorb it into the control of the United Nations, the international banking cartels, or some other shadowy international cabal. Alex Jones is the most outspoken and media-savvy exponent of this anti-federalist, libertarian and conspiracy-peddling ideology. Actually, the case can be made that there is nothing but a new world disorder, and that the US ruling class is the most lawless brigand in this international disorder, but that is a separate debate.

The third and final category in ultra-rightist ideology is the Christian Identity movement, a fusion of Christian supremacist thinking with racialism. A multi-faceted social layer, the Christian identity groups maintain the ultimate sovereignty of Christian doctrine, inspired by what they believe is the literal inerrancy of Biblical scripture. They maintain a particular interpretation of religious texts in which the Anglo Saxon race is considered the chosen people, the lost tribe of ancient Israel, regarding modern Europeans, and Anglo Saxons in particular, of being biologically descended from the biblical tribes of Israel that were subsequently scattered by succeeding invasions of Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians. The Anglo Saxon settlement of the American continent has resurrected the lost tribe, and they are engaged in a religious-racial war with the non-Anglo communities, starting with the indigenous Americans and expanding to include the migrant communities in the United States. Advocating a theology of hate, violence carried out by Christian supremacist groups normally targets members of ethnic minorities and non-Christian denominations.

The above summary is meant to provide a basic ideological framework, and of course individuals and groups do not come in neat, organised packages. There is cross-over and intermingling between the three tendencies of ultra-rightist ideology identified above. And it is no secret that the Republican party, and its political strategists, pander to such sentiments hoping to convert them into electoral success. The main point is that no individual’s actions or ideology can be considered in isolation from the wider political climate from which they emerge.

The DOJ and law enforcement authorities will certainly prosecute the individuals that engage in acts of ultra-rightist violence, but that on its own is not enough. It is time to confront the message of hate, xenophobia and desperation that leads individuals and groups to carry out violent acts of hatred. Bigotry and racial extremism can only thrive in a political and economic system which is in an advanced stage of decay and terminal crisis. As the capitalist system lurches from crisis to crisis, and more people face impoverishment, it is high time to recognise that there is a minority that is a huge threat to our safety and existence – but it is not welfare recipients, migrants, Muslims, Latinos, single mothers, indigenous people, or any other favourite target of the ultra-right. It is the ultra-wealthy one percent, the top one percent that owns more than half of the world’s wealth, while the majority of the world’s population struggle to make ends meet in this global wealth pyramid.

We can start by heeding the words of the late Eugene V. Debs, American socialist and labour activist, who said:

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.

Columbus Day is steadily being replaced by Indigenous Peoples Day – and it is about time

The second Monday of the month of October has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1937. The reason? Columbus Day. The landing of Christopher Columbus on the shores of Hispaniola in 1492, and the subsequent European incursion into the native American territories, has been the subject of official commemorations and celebrations. Columbus Day is the time when American audiences are exhorted to celebrate the ostensibly heroic adventure of the great explorer, and subsequent economic and political success of the European project to colonise the indigenous civilisations of the American continents. This laid the groundwork for the emergence of the American nation-state as a capitalist entity. The story of great explorers from Europe, discovering hitherto ‘untouched’ lands, and forging the path to a new settled and urbanised white-settler nation-state has particular resonance in Australia.

The story of the intrepid and entrepreneurial Columbus, actively seeking out an imperial patron in his determined quest to discover new lands for adventure, excitement and the expansion of scientific understanding, is taught in American schools and universities. A native of Genoa, an Italian trading city-state, he courted the European monarchs of his time, finally finding acceptance at the Spanish court. The Spanish monarchs, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, had done their bit of ethnic cleansing in the Iberian peninsula, expelling the Spanish Jewish community in 1492, and conquering the largely Moorish territory of Granada, thus forcibly converting the entirety of the Iberian territories to their brand of Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition was given free reign to extend its fanatic savagery. Classical books, libraries, manuscripts that had been preserved by the educated Moorish Islamic emirate were systematically destroyed. The civilisation that had flourished in Granada, its cultural and educational contributions, had to be wiped out.

What has that got to do with Columbus? In the same year, the Spanish royals gave their consent to Columbus’ proposed journey of conquest – a fact not lost on Columbus himself, who recorded as much in his diaries. The Spanish royalty had enforced its religious and political conformity on their Iberian territory, defeating and expelling the Jewish and Muslim communities. Now, the stage was set for the barbarity of European expansion to begin.

Columbus did not actually discover the Americas – he was lost and thought he had reached India. However, with that out of the way, Columbus set about making a tremendous impact both demographically and economically on the native civilisations that initially welcomed his presence. The late Howard Zinn, the socialist American historian, wrote of how the Bahama Indians, the Arawaks, were quite hospitable towards the new arrivals – the boat people – but Columbus had other plans. He immediately began to take slaves, subjugating whole tribes and nations to his project of exploiting the natural and mineral resources of Hispaniola. Setting up gold mines, he forced thousands to work to death, taking hostages, killing any recalcitrant persons, and using brute force to implant his economic system on the population.

Howard Zinn wrote that:

In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up 1,500 Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the 500 best specimens to load onto ships. Of those 500, 200 died en route.

Too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus, desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death.

Apart from the lucrative gold mines, Columbus found another use for the indigenous people – as slave labour on enormous landed estates, the encomiendas. The indigenous population was not only physically subjugated, but its culture, languages, and education had to be eliminated. He also engaged in another form of entrepreneurial activity – sexual slavery. Columbus himself wrote that:

A hundred castellanoes (a Spanish coin) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten (years old) are now in demand.

Back in 2004, in an article called ‘Rethinking Columbus Day’, published in Counterpunch magazine, Patrick W. Gavin quotes the words of Bartolome de las Casas, a Spanish priest who wrote of what he saw while accompanying Columbus on his exploits. De Las Casas recorded what he had witnessed:

“What we have committed in the Indies stands out among the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind and this trade [Indian slavery] as one of the most unjust, evil and cruel among them.” Natives who did not deliver enough gold had their hands cut off. Those who ran away were hunted down by dogs. Prisoners were burned to death. Las Casas wrote that his countrymen “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” To avoid such treatment, many natives committed suicide, and mothers killed their children to spare them from such an abject life.

The European enslavement of the Americas is no cause for celebration. As James Nevius wrote in an article published in Common Dreams online magazine, Columbus was a lost sadist, and does not deserve a holiday in his honour. The Columbus Day narrative feeds into a false history of the Americas as untamed, wild nature, which was subdued and flourished due to the economic and cultural enhancements brought by European settlement. The purpose of removing this holiday and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day is not just to regurgitate a painful history, necessary as that is. It is also to celebrate a series of cultures and nations that have been struggling to find acceptance and understanding.

Movement to abolish Columbus Day based in indigenous people’s resistance

A number of American cities have moved to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, and this is a welcome achievement. Seattle city authorities abolished Columbus Day last year, 9 other cities have followed suit this year, and Alaska has become the first state to rename Columbus Day the Indigenous Peoples Day. We must stop celebrating an enemy, and recognise the reality of the Indigenous nations, and their suffering at the hands of European conquest. The push to abolish Columbus Day has broader political, social and cultural implications.

It compels all of those nations that have their origins in colonial-settler projects – like Australia – to face up to uncomfortable truths about history and identity. Columbus represents the European conquistador, much like Captain James Cook is the archetypal British pirate………sorry, explorer. Columbus, in a similar way to Cook, was the first boat person, to establish his presence on lands that had complex and cultured civilisations. The resistance of the indigenous nations forms the basis for the abolition of Columbus Day, and also sets a necessary precedent for those of us in Australia who originate from the non-Indigenous nations to re-examine our own history of pushing the indigenous people to the margins. We can start by heeding the words of socialist councillor in Seattle, Kshama Sawant, who stated that abolishing Columbus Day is part of a wider struggle against racism and discrimination:

The 15th-century explorer “played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known,” Sawant said, referring to the decimation of the Native American population in the decades after Columbus.

She continued:

“Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice … allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.”


Standing up against hatred: a group of UK Jews who confronted post-war fascism

The Independent newspaper carried an inspirational story on October 2 2015; the 43 Group, a band of British Jews who fought against the resurgence of British neo-fascism after the end of the world war, is to be the subject of a new TV series. While half a million Jews served in the Soviet Army during the years of World War Two, about 30 000 fought in the British army. After witnessing the horrors of that war, with its concentration camps, systematic extermination of subject peoples and maltreatment of Jews and other ethnic groups as ‘sub-human’, the Jewish veterans of that conflict returned to their homes in Britain, only to find that British neo-fascism was marching in the streets, stirring up hatred against alien peoples, namely Jewish communities.

Oswald Mosley, the main British exponent of fascism in the UK, had reorganised his group, and the Blackshirts were on the rampage in London. Interred during the war, Mosley had led the British Union of Fascists, (BUF) the largest ultra-rightists and white supremacist political organisation in Britain. During the 1930s and 1940s, their shrill rhetoric against Jews, socialists and anyone who opposed fascism brought terror directly to the streets of Britain. The defeat of Nazi Germany had removed the immediate appeal of fascism to the British public, and after the war, newsreels about the genocide of the Jews brought home the full genocidal horror of the concentration camps.

Morris Beckman, a Jewish veteran of the British army, returned home after seeing the devastating consequences of that war; however, as the Guardian explained:

He, like thousands of British Jews, came home from the war thinking fascism was buried. Each week they saw fresh newsreel evidence of the Nazi genocide. But they were sickened to find Mosley released from internment and reviving the British Union of Fascists, which had flourished in Jewish areas such as the East End before the war. He says:

“The Talmud Torah (religious school) in Dalston had its windows smashed. Jewish shops were daubed ‘PJ’ (Perish Judah). You heard, ‘We have got to get rid of the Yids’ and ‘They didn’t burn enough of them in Belsen’.”

With the Labour home secretary James Chuter Ede refusing to take action and the Jewish establishment urging peaceful protest, the demobbed Jews had had enough.

The reformed Mosleyites – calling themselves the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women, were railing against the foreign presence in England, smashing businesses owned by Jews, daubing racist graffiti across the streets, and terrorising the Jewish community.

Another group of British ex-servicemen and women decided that they had had enough. From April 1946, 43 Jewish war veterans met at the Maccabi Sports and established the 43 Group. Their purpose? To confront and disrupt the Mosleyite fascist organisation, sabotage its activities and shut it down. From then on, whenever and wherever the neo-fascist groups organised to intimidate and terrorise the Jewish community, they were confronted by Jewish ex-soldiers and paratroopers equipped with the necessary skills to fight back.

Let The Independent correspondent, Cahal Milmo, elaborate the consequences:

The result was a succession of pitched battles during fascist gatherings where the 43 Group and their opponents gave no quarter. Knuckledusters, knives, steel-toed boots and sharpened belt buckles were wielded on both sides with devastating effect. One former veteran said he was told: “We’re not here to kill. We’re here to maim.”

It is easy to dismiss post-war fascism of the Mosleyite variety as a lunatic fringe movement, unworthy of so much attention and publicity. Let us not forget that Mosley’s reinvention of British fascism as a nationalistic defender of British values and empire against the swarthy tide of foreignness was not an uncommon view in Britain in the years after the war. Mainstream British political parties have found electoral success with campaigns designed to stir up xenophobic sentiment among the voting public. While the Mosleyites transcended social class, incorporating the thuggish hooligan in the street into their ranks, it is the quiet support of the genteel entrepreneurial class that has provided expression for the anti-immigrant political stream in Britain, minus the low-level shouting and thumping hooligan aspect. Anti-semitism and racism of the street has always found a similar yet refined expression in the socially acceptable middle and upper classes in Britain.

The 43 Group spent five years breaking up fascist meetings, confronting white supremacist violence on the streets, and infiltrating fascist groups for the purpose of smashing them. Jewish cemeteries were guarded to protect them from desecration by racist vandals. Aided by sympathetic black taxi drivers, who provided crucial intelligence updates and transport, the Mosleyites were successfully repulsed. The British variant of neo-fascism was broken. The Mosleyites disbanded in 1950.

Their story, to be told in a new television series, is an interesting, inspirational and encouraging episode amidst the decline and greyness of post-war Britain. When ordinary people stand up against hatred, they can achieve extraordinary accomplishments.

Go read the article in The Independent here.