A few months ago, I asked a now former state legislator why he failed to cite far-right terrorism as a national security challenge during his panel discussion regarding immigration and refugees. His reply was shockingly ignorant. He asked me to cite one evidence of far-right terrorism in America.
I replied, Oklahoma City and Charleston. He was angry and dismissive, saying that such examples were the exception. The norm, in his view, was “Islamic terrorism,” which is why he supported legislation banning refugee entry into Florida. Such disregard for far-right extremism and terrorism contributed to the tragedy that in Charlottesville, when an alleged Nazi-sympathizer used ISIS-inspired methods to mow down anti-racist protestors, killing one and injuring 19.
Majority of Republican voters and elected officials supported President Trump’s executive order, indefinitely banning refugees from Syria and temporarily banning citizens from seven predominantly Muslim-majority countries. The fact remains that refugees have not committed any act of terror in America. Nor has any citizen from the seven nations on the banned list.
Yet, there is partisan support for such bans, and our local political leaders have given credence to such fear mongering. In contrast, they have downplayed the dangers from homegrown terrorists, who are now emboldened to gather in large numbers holding Nazi flags in one hand while clutching their semi-automatic guns with the other.
Their threat to America is ignored while imaginary threats from Syrian refugees is hyped to devious political ends. Charlottesville tells the story of such xenophobia.
Since 2002, right-wing militants have killed many more people in the U.S. than terrorists inspired by Islam. Through my service on FBI’s local civil rights task force, I am aware that law enforcement agencies are not unmindful of the dual threats posed by right-wing militants and self-radicalized Muslims. But, much to the detriment of our national security, some of our political leaders focus exclusively on Muslims, while ignoring the threat from right-wing militants, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, all euphemistically labeled as the alt-right.
In February 2016, Newsweek ran this chilling story identifying how militia members have been purposefully surveilling Muslims:
Multiple confidential sources notified the FBI last year that militia members have been conducting surveillance on Muslim schools, community centers and mosques in nine states for what one informant described as ‘operational purposes.’ …The FBI also learned that right-wing extremists have created bogus law enforcement and diplomatic identifications, not because these radicals want to pretend to be police and ambassadors, but because they believe they hold those positions in a government they have created within the United States.
Fast forward to Charlottesville. Many of the white supremacists who descended into the city were better armed and armored than the police. They came in full battle gear, intending harm. Imagine if they were Blacks or Muslims. Could they have gathered so easily and would they all have returned home to peacefully sleep in their beds while the rest of the nation lay restlessly awake?
On June 4, 2017 Arie Perliger, Director of Security Studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell wrote,
Despite an uptick in far-right violence and the Trump administration’s plan to increase the Department of Homeland Security budget by 6.7 percent to US $44.1 billion in 2018, the White House wants to cut spending for programs that fight non-Muslim domestic terrorism. … This approach is bound to weaken the authorities’ power to monitor far-right groups, undercutting public safety. How many more innocent people like … have to die before the U.S. government starts taking the threat posed by violent white supremacists more seriously?
As a nation, we have spent a large amount of time pointing out Trump’s ambiguous and flip-flopping response to Charlottesville. This is important, but it is far more important to point out the blind spots in his policies.
It is important to remember that Steve Bannon, who has returned to his position managing Breitbart News and has proudly (and numerously) claimed that Breitbart is platform for the alt-right, has left the White House and declared “I think I can be more effective fighting from the outside for the agenda President Trump ran on. And anyone who stands in our way, we will go to war with.”
This administration’s willful ignoring of white supremacy while targeting Muslim refugees or “Islamic” terrorists will only have this nation more vulnerable to further violence. And, while speaking out against white supremacy is necessary, asking why angry young white men are marching for Nazism in today’s America is even more important. Who radicalized them?
Parvez Ahmed is professor of finance at the University of North Florida