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Far-Right Gunmen Accused Of Shooting Near Seattle ‘CHOP’ Zone

The largely peaceful and cooperative sense of community that had been building around Seattle's Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) zone was largely shattered over the weekend by a shooting incident early Saturday morning in which two young black men were shot, one of them fatally. The source of the violence was ascribed to an alcohol-fueled late-night dispute among a group of people who were not directly affiliated with the CHOP project.

However, there was another shooting that night: Two hours later, only a block away, an African-American man claimed that a group of white men who used racial epithets shot him five times. He told KIRO-7 TV that he believed the men were some of the "Proud Boys" who have been prowling the fringes of CHOP and assaulting people.

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‘Boogaloo Boi’ Seeking Civil War Is Arrested For Deadly Attack On Deputies

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

It's becoming clear that the "Boogaloo Bois" who have been filling Facebook and other social media platforms with their increasingly violent scenarios about engaging in a civil war—beginning with civil authorities as the chief targets, expanding to include racial and ethnic minorities, and finally including their ordinary neighbors—are not content to merely keep fantasies online.

A 32-year-old Air Force sergeant with special combat training tried to make the "Boogaloo" a reality this week in Santa Cruz, California, when he embarked on a killing rampage targeting law enforcement officers, ambushing two sheriff's deputies, killing one, and severely wounding another. He then was stopped by a determined neighbor before he could get any farther. On the hood of his car, he had scrawled in blood: "I became unreasonable" and "Boog."

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Oregon GOP Senate Nominee Pushes QAnon Hoax, Demands Martial Law

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Oregon GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, Jo Rae Perkins, decided to let her "Q light" shine on a Facebook livestream earlier this week—and it was a doozy.

Perkins, an unrepentant "QAnon" conspiracy cultist, told her audience that the state needs to be placed under martial law, with the National Guard being sent not just to Portland—where there have been violent protests over police brutality—but to rural places like Klamath Falls and Bend. Her reasoning: Busloads of nefarious antifa activists, financed by the evil George Soros, are fanning out to these towns to wreak destruction.

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Far-Right Wants To Act Out Its Civil War Fantasies Now

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Age of Conspiracy Theories in which we are now immured has produced a kind of bastard offspring: the Shared Violent Fantasy. Exhibit A is the "Boogaloo," the far-right's ironic name for the long-sought "second civil war" they believe is on the verge of erupting in the United States—and in which the ongoing novel-coronavirus pandemic has become a virtual petri dish for cultivating the fear of societal collapse essential to their worldview.

Like many conspiracy theories, and all such fantasies, the "Boogaloo" has a powerful tendency to produce real-life violence from people who absorb the underlying paranoid values and believe in them fervently. A recent incident in Texas in which a self-proclaimed "Boogaloo Boi" set out to murder a police officer in order to help spark the civil war underscores the extent to which the believers are likely eventually to attempt manifesting their fantasies—which can entail violence not just against authorities, but sometimes even their unsuspecting neighbors.

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QAnon Conspiracists Smear Oprah Winfrey In Campaign Against “Pandemic Hoax”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Now that Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, are out of the hospital but still self-quarantining after their coronavirus diagnosis, the QAnon conspiracy crowd—which had descended on Hanks on social media, claiming the diagnosis was a cover story for Hanks’ arrest for his role in a global pedophilia ring—has moved on to a fresh new target amid the pandemic: Oprah Winfrey.

According to the QAnon-generated—and entirely, risibly false—rumors, Winfrey also was diagnosed with COVID-19, similarly signaling her imminent arrest as part of the first wave of “The Storm,” the imagined flood of arrests being secretly arranged by Donald Trump. The rumors became so widespread on Twitter that Winfrey herself took to the medium to thoroughly debunk them.

“Just got a phone call that my name is trending. And being trolled for some awful FAKE thing. It’s NOT TRUE. Haven’t been raided, or arrested. Just sanitizing and self distancing with the rest of the world. Stay safe everybody,” Winfrey wrote. Neither has Winfrey been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

That did not prevent a wide swath of QAnon enthusiasts from spreading the falsehoods far and wide. One avid QAnon figure—a Florida man named “Tank”—posted a video that was seen widely on YouTube in which he rambled for about seven minutes while standing in front of a random vacant parking lot in Long Island, claiming that Winfrey’s residence “in Boca Raton, Florida,” was being raided by law enforcement officers. The raid was in the process of uncovering, with excavation equipment, the pedophilia ring’s secret “tunnels” in which the children were kept, he claimed.

The only problem with this claim: Winfrey doesn’t own a home in Boca Raton, or anywhere else in Florida, for that matter.

Another QAnon fan posted a video of a police raid at a modest home in suburban Detroit and claimed that it was actually Winfrey’s secret pedophilia den. (In reality, the footage came from a 2012 Detroit SWAT team raid; the account describes itself as “satirical” in its “About” section.) Other QAnon fans with YouTube accounts chimed in with their own far-flung speculations on the “#PandemicHoax.”

Winfrey has been among the many celebrities identified previously as a likely participant in the ostensible global pedophilia ring overseen by liberal political and media figures, in QAnoners’ bizarre alternative universe. She is believed to be connected to the pedophilia ring primarily through her long friendship with disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who they connect to the late Jeffrey Epstein, whose sex-trafficking operations are central to the QAnon theories.

One prominent QAnon account described Winfrey once, during speculation she might run for the presidency, as “Procurer of the United States,” and Weinstein as her “No. 1 customer.”

Some QAnon fans even openly acknowledge that the Winfrey rumors are utterly bogus, but eagerly promote them on social media anyway because they help propel the Q theories into mainstream media. As journalist Travis View, who tracks the QAnon phenomenon closely, observes: “Extremists don’t care if their propaganda is true. They just want it to spread.”

‘Boogaloo’: Neo-Nazis Using Memes To Foment Violent Confrontation

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The myths and conspiracy theories that fuel the radical right often take on lives of their own: Think of how the QAnon phenomenon began as a handful of conspiracy theorists making groundless claims and predictions about a coming “Storm” that metastasized first into a wildly popular body of “Patriot”/militia conspiracism, and finally into a massive submovement operating within the framework of the Trump presidency—while producing a growing record of lethal violence by its unhinged believers.

Something similar appears to be coalescing around the “boogaloo”—the vision of members of the far right of a coming civil war, which they claim is being forced upon them by liberals who want to take their guns away as the first step toward their incarceration and enslavement. In reality, of course, a number of sectors of the far right have ginned up this kind of rhetoric for decades—but now, a systematic study of its spread through social media has found that it appears to be massing into a movement of its own.

The study, conducted by the independent Network Contagion Research Institute, explores, according to its subtitle, “how domestic militants organize on memes to incite violent insurrection and terror against government and law enforcement.” It focused on the “boogaloo” in large part due its increasing popularity—particularly as a hashtag (#Boogaloo or #Boogaloo2020)—on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as the extreme and often callous expressions of violent intent that form the essence of the chatter.

In its initial forms, the “civil war” talk was generated in different sectors of the radical right in different ways. Among neo-Nazis, it generally has focused on a “race war”—i.e., a genocidal conflict between whites and nonwhites—dating back to the 1980s and the classic white-supremacist blueprint, The Turner Diaries. This vein of rhetoric has produced a long record of lethal domestic terrorism, including the 1984 neo-Nazi criminal gang The Order; the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing; and more recently, the 2011 attack in Norway that killed 87 people and the 2019 Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand that killed 51.

Among the “Patriot” movement believers who form militias in resistance to “the New World Order,” most of the rhetoric has focused on using arms against law enforcement, particularly the federal kind, as well as the mythic “blue-helmeted” United Nations soldiers about to descend on them from black helicopters. In its more recent iterations among far-right Oath Keepers and “III Percent” militiamen, the “boogaloo” talk has mostly revolved around resistance to liberal gun-control legislation.

This reached its apotheosis in January when thousands of armed “Patriots” from around the United States descended on Richmond, Virginia, to protest imminent gun safety legislation making its way through the state’s General Assembly. Before the rally, FBI agents arrested a trio of neo-Nazis who were preparing to open fire on law enforcement at the event.

However, one of the results of the broad emergence of popular “boogaloo” rhetoric has been a blurring of the lines between the anti-government extremists who foresee conflict with federal forces and the more extreme white supremacists who lust for a bloody conflict between the white and nonwhite races. While many of the latter also eagerly participate in the anti-government talk, many of the former appear to be warming up to the race-war talk.

The NCRI study found not only that the discussion of the “boogaloo” on social media had surged, but that discrete groups were coalescing around the discussion and creating the nascent forms of a movement. The “boogaloo” “topic network” produces “a coherent, multi-component and detailed conspiracy to launch an inevitable, violent, sudden, and apocalyptic war across the homeland,” it said, adding that the models created by researchers “show that the meme acts as a meaningful vector to organize seditious sentiment at large.”

The conspiracy, replete with suggestions to stockpile ammunition, may itself set the stage for massive real-world violence and sensitize enthusiasts to mobilize in mass for confrontations or charged political events. Furthermore, the meme’s emphasis on military language and culture poses a specific risk to military communities due to the similar thematic structure, fraternal organization, and reward incentives.

One of the “boogaloo” groups featured in the study, calling itself “Patriot Wave,” illustrated perfectly how the lines between militia “Patriots” and alt-right white nationalists were completely blurred and submerged in the larger project of fomenting a violent civil war. Its members wore alt-right “Pepe the Frog” patches with the title “Boogaloo Boys,” while others wore the skull balaclava generally associated with members of the fascist Atomwaffen Division.

The study also pointed to a particular area of concern: namely, the ability of these extremists to simply blend into existing power structures, including law enforcement and the military. One “boogaloo” enthusiast, Coast Guardsman Christopher Hasson, was arrested with a full arms cache and a plan to assassinate liberal political leaders. A Patriot Wave member is quoted in the study: “Some of the guys we were with aren’t exactly out of the military yet, so they had to keep their faces covered.”

The spread of the “boogaloo” organizing on social media has been facilitated with the use of hashtags #Boogaloo and #Boogaloo2020, which are then accompanied by associated hashtags such as #2A, #CivilWar2, and #2ndAmendment, as well as hashtags such as #BigIgloo, intended to elude filters.

This kind of informational conflict—or what the study calls “memetic warfare”—has evolved, the study says, “from mere lone-wolf threats to the threat of an entire meme-based insurgency.”

The NCRI report was sent to members of Congress and the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Justice, among others. Paul Goldenberg, a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, told NBC News’ Brandy Zadrozny that the report was “a wake-up call.”

“When you have people talking about and planning sedition and violence against minorities, police and public officials, we need to take their words seriously,” said Goldenberg.

From Russia With Hate: How Far-Right Terror Became A Global Scourge

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Exactly one week after a young white nationalist killed 22 people and wounded another two dozen in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart, another young man 5,000 miles away walked into a mosque in suburban Oslo, Norway, with a gun and opened fire, intent on killing worshippers there.

Thanks to quick action by members of the mosque, 21-year-old Philip Manshaus was unable to kill anyone. He instead was only able to fire off a few rounds, inflicting minor injuries, before his would-be victims subdued him and he was arrested.

When police went to his home, they found the body of his 17-year-old stepsister, whom he had slain before attempting his rampage. Police believe he was “prepared to cause more deaths and injuries when he traveled to Al-Noor Islamic Center in suburban Baerum.”

They also found on his online accounts that he had an active presence on the white-nationalist-friendly message board Endchan, where he had posted—like his far-right terrorist brethren—messages outlining his motivations. Chief among his inspirations: the massacres by white nationalists in El Paso and in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“It’s my time, I was chosen by Saint Tarrant after all,” he wrote in one message, referencing the last name of the killer who massacred 51 people in March at two Christchurch mosques. “We can’t let this go on, you gotta bump the race war threat [in real life].”

As Americans struggle to cope with the new reality of a seemingly endless stream of domestic terrorists either enacting or attempting mass murder in public spaces—all of them fitting the profile of the “red-pilled” conspiracy theorist radicalized online, all of them killing sequentially, inspired by each previous likeminded terrorist—they may take some small consolation in the realization that they are not alone.

At the same time, the sober realization that the rising tide of white-nationalist terrorism is not just an American problem, but a global one that reaches every corner of an Internet-connected world makes clear the massive breadth and scope of the problem.

Hate inspiring hate

“We are now no longer talking about one-off events, but a loosely coordinated chain of far-right attacks across the world, where members of these networks inspire – and challenge – each other to beat each others’ body counts,” Peter Neumann of the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence told The Guardian. “The ultimate motivation … is to launch a race war. The aim is to carry out attacks, claim responsibility, explain your action, and inspire others to follow.”

The nexus of this wave of terrorism is an international white-nationalist movement known broadly as identitarianism, which claims that white Western civilization is under a broad assault from a nefarious conspiracy of “globalists” who intend to “replace” white populations around the world with an “invasion” of nonwhite immigrants and the destruction of their cultural values.

A report issued last week by the U.K.-based antiracist organization Hope Not Hate explored the spread of identitarianism as a global phenomenon. “The movement has now spread beyond Europe and found adherents around the world, be that obscure and tiny groups in Russia, South America and Australia, or its growing influence in North America amongst the alt-right. Identitarianism has gone global,” the report explains.

Both American and European white nationalism is based in many regards on old supremacist ideas that have been around since at least the 1920s, largely derived from long-debunked eugenicist notions about the nature of race, genetics, and intelligence. In Europe, as Hope Not Hate’s report explains, the recent wave of identitarian politics is derived from newer white-nationalist activism and its attendant ideology, particularly the work of academics such as Allan de Benoist, Julius Evola, and Renaud Camus.

The online virus

What distinguishes this new wave of white nationalism is less its repackaged ideas than its delivery and its recruitment methods: Its ideologues fan out across the internet and its multiple open platforms and recruit new believers, primarily by targeting vulnerable young people, in nearly every one of its nooks and crannies. White nationalist recruiting and organizing occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, on public media platforms such as YouTube and its comments sections, at aggregators such as Reddit, and intensively at wide-open platforms such as 4chan, 8chan, Endchan, and now Gab. They can even be found recruiting in open spaces where monitoring is impossible, such as video-game chats, and gaming platforms such as Steam and Twitchy.

Then, once attracted to the belief systems, the fresh recruits are encouraged through online organizing to take their ideology out into the streets and manifest it in the real world. This often can take the form of everything from rallies and street marches with far-right groups such as the Proud Boys, American Guard, Identity Evropa, and Generation Identity in events ranging from the deadly “Unite the Right” riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017, to the many far-right street events in Portland, Oregon, since 2017, to massive anti-immigration protests held in European cities.

It can also take the shape of paramilitary organizations that train with weapons, as well as more benign-seeming outlets such as boxing clubs, clothing labels, and book clubs. Nearly all of these are first organized online.

The online communities themselves encourage individual violent action, however, particularly by glorifying terrorist acts and then “gamifying” them—creating scores for murders based on the numbers of dead, the difficulty of the target, and the effectiveness of the act. These communities thus are enacting a well-established “lone wolf” strategy of sequential domestic terrorism that in fact has been a cornerstone of racist-right strategic thinking since the 1980s. “Lone wolf” does not mean that an incident is an isolated example with no connections to ideology; rather, it actually suggests the converse, that it is an act deeply connected through ideology.

And the problem, regardless of what Tucker Carlson might claim, is significant if not massive in size (consider that 4chan, which was the platform of choice for such terrorists as the Christchurch and El Paso killers, receives some 20 million visitors per month). Terrorism analyst J.M. Berger foresaw this issue in 2016 when he began comparing the potential audiences for Islamic State recruitment with those for white nationalists:

After decades of being silenced, white nationalists could suddenly organize into significant audiences, sometimes as many as tens of thousands of people, sometimes more. Functional anonymity insulated many adherents from the professional and social consequences of professing overt racism in the real world. And they could project their message to audiences who had not sought them out—hundreds of thousands more.

New York Times investigation published in April explored how various acts of domestic terrorism committed by far-right ideologues around the world were interconnected by the spread of white nationalism online, both through the sequential inspiration to commit “lone wolf” acts of violence and the exposure to such underlying ideas as “cultural Marxism” and “the Great Replacement.”

The Times’ analysis “found that at least a third of white extremist killers since 2011 were inspired by others who perpetrated similar attacks, professed a reverence for them or showed an interest in their tactics. … The connections between the killers span continents and highlight how the internet and social media have facilitated the spread of white extremist ideology and violence.”

Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center explained to the Times that the dynamics of this global racism is actually nothing new for white supremacists. “They don’t see themselves as Americans or Canadians, very much like the Christchurch killer didn’t see himself as an Australian; he saw himself as part of a white collective,” she said. “It has never been the case that these people didn’t think in a global way. They may have acted in ways that looked domestic but the thinking was always about building an international white movement.”

From Russia with hate

However, this movement is not spreading worldwide just organically, as a product of the strength of its ideas. Rather, it is being financed by a global network of wealthy far-right interests that are propping up the organizations, websites, and events that fuel the movement with funding. And the nexus of that network is Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

A more recent New York Times piece explored this in some depth by drilling down into the phenomenon of the spread of far-right extremism in Sweden. It describes how a national debate in the Scandinavian nation—long a stronghold of democratic socialist politics—was actually kicked off by a Donald Trump tweet about immigrant crime in Stockholm inspired by a bogus Fox News report, but then quickly morphed into political gains for a far-right political party with Nazi roots. But there were underlying forces involved:

To dig beneath the surface of what is happening in Sweden, though, is to uncover the workings of an international disinformation machine, devoted to the cultivation, provocation and amplification of far-right, anti-immigrant passions and political forces. Indeed, that machine, most influentially rooted in Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia and the American far right, underscores a fundamental irony of this political moment: the globalization of nationalism.

The Times piece explores how the disinformation machine being financed by Russian oligarchs in Sweden is able to distribute its wares throughout Europe, particularly via identitarian and other far-right nationalist groups. In Sweden, the most powerful of these is the party that gained 18 percent of the vote in recent elections, Sweden Democrats—whose history is deeply rooted in swastika-bearing neo-Nazi groups from the 1980s.

Kate Starbird, an information scientist at University of Washington, accidentally mapped out how this Russian disinformation system operates when she began examining how false rumors and stories around Black Lives Matter were circulated on social media. One of the primary sources of such disinformation, she and her team found, was the Russian-operated Internet Research Agency.

Significantly, disinformation was directed at both the right and left sides of the political aisles. Many of the IRA’s fake stories were intended to stir outrage among minorities—but mostly at liberal Democrats.

These IRA agents were enacting caricatures of politically active U.S. citizens. In some cases, these were gross caricatures of the worst kinds of online actors, using the most toxic rhetoric. But, in other cases, these accounts appeared to be everyday people like us, people who care about the things we care about, people who want the things we want, people who share our values and frames. These suggest two different aspects of these information operations.

First, these information operations are targeting us within our online communities, the places we go to have our voices heard, to make social connections, to organize political action. They are infiltrating these communities by acting like other members of the community, developing trust, gathering audiences. Second, these operations begin to take advantage of that trust for different goals, to shape those communities toward the strategic goals of the operators (in this case, the Russian government).

As Starbird explained, the purpose of the disinformation is to sow political chaos and dysfunction, to make the machinery of democracy fall apart. When the financing for these goals is coming from wealthy oil oligarchs who favor authoritarian regimes, it’s clear what the long-range goal of these assaults on democratic systems around the globe is about.

Putin and his oligarchs have been busy financing far-right nationalists throughout Europe and elsewhere. Among the beneficiaries of Russian largesse, besides Sweden Democrats, have been France’s Marine Le Pen, chair of the far-right National Rally (formerly National Front); Greece’s nationalist Golden Dawn party; Austria’s far-right Freedom Party; and the German AfD (Alternative for Germany) party; one AfD parliamentarian is believed to be completely in Russia’s pocket. Putin is notably close with Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Viktor Orbán, whose anti-Semitism and rabid nationalism are cornerstones for his administration. Italy’s far-right Lega party was revealed earlier this year to have discussed how to funnel Russian funds into its own coffers.

Perhaps just as important, European far-right radicals unanimously voice their support for Putin and the Russian regime. Similar fan-like support (think of the “Russia is our friend” chants at alt-right street events) can also be found among American white nationalists, particularly alt-right godfather Richard Spencer and noted neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin (who called Putin a “great white savior”). Likewise, Putin and his regime have cultivated ties with a wide range of American Christian nationalist groups.

The shadow within

Even without the deliberate spread of extremist nationalism through financial and political support, the underlying problem remains the same: the ease with which it spreads, virus-like, among an impressionable populace vulnerable to populist appeals to their self-interest. This manifests itself, ultimately, in the copycat sequence of mass murders and public violence against vulnerable minorities with which we are now confronted. “If you’re reading this you have been elected by me,” wrote the would-be Oslo shooter in his Endchan post, suggesting that he understood all too well the viral chain reaction he intended—futilely, as it turned out—his act to spark.

All of these terrorists, successful or not, share another attribute: They all see themselves as heroic, saviors of their civilization or their race, a quality that renders them immune to normative moral judgments about murder and racism. “This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe,” wrote the El Paso killer in his online manifesto. “I am honored to head the fight to reclaim my country from destruction.”

What has caught everyone off guard is the speed with which the phenomenon is spreading.

“In pre-Internet days, the violent extremist act itself of neo-Nazis and white supremacists was considered messaging and labeled ‘propaganda of the deed,’” Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Extremism and Hate at California State University, San Bernardino, told Daily Kos.

“Today, sociopaths, particularly ideological ones, are seeing social media not just as a radicalizing and messaging tool, but also as an archive of a folkloric warrior narrative,” he continued. “Once they too act out, they have a link to notorious killers of the past, where their new manifestos are inscribed in a continuing perverse online subculture of scripted violence.”

What That Scary Undercurrent At Every Trump Rally Really Means

Reprinted with permission from Alternet/ Daily Kos.

Many observers, with good cause, have decried Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar and her fellow progressive congresswomen of color and the frightening chants—“Send her home!”—his fanatical followers in North Carolina started up all on their own, responding to Trump’s vituperation about Omar, as nakedly racist, not to mention dangerous. Many have remarked on the fascism dripping from every word, and suggested that what we saw Wednesday in Greenville was a new Nuremberg, Trump’s feeble denials notwithstanding.

If anyone needed further evidence that Trump is now America’s eliminationist-in-chief, the frenzied crowd delivered it in spades.

But listen carefully to the language being used by Trump and his defenders to rationalize their words. It is language with a very familiar ring: The language of community defense and purification, driving from the body politic any foreign—and therefore innately toxic—presence or influence. The language of heroic willingness to sever the Gordian knot and do “what needs to be done” to protect the community, or in this case the nation, or indeed Western civilization itself.

It is the language of hate crimes, used by their perpetrators to rationalize their deeds.

Even before the chant, it was fascinating to watch Trump’s defenders in the wake of the nakedly eliminationist “go back where they came from” tweets that inspired the chant. There was Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), justifying the tweets to the hosts on Fox & Friends by suggesting that people like these members of Congress deserve to be ejected from the country: “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists … they’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”

And then there was Sen. Steve Daines, Republican of Montana, who tweeted on Monday along similar lines: “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals.” (Special hypocrisy note: Daines employed a noted white nationalist named Taylor Rose as a campaign field organizer in Montana in his 2014 Senate campaign.)

Listen to the words Trump used in Greenville to attack Rep. Omar just before the chant broke out:

I mean think of that one, and she looks down with contempt on the hardworking American, saying that ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country. And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious antisemitic screeds.

After the chant, he continued with similar language in attacking Omar’s colleague, Rep. Rita Tlaib:

And Tlaib also used the F word to describe the presidency and your president. That’s not nice, even for me. She was describing the President of the United States and the presidency with the big fat vicious, the way she said it, vicious F-word. That’s not somebody that loves our country.

This is how violence against both nonwhites and political dissenters has been justified by the mainstream American Right for centuries: If you disagree, you hate the country, and thus deserve ejection or elimination. This is why “go back where you came from” is a favorite phrase both of hate-crimes perpetrators and violent right-wing thugs like the Proud Boys.

Yet this was presented as a rational explanation by Trump’s defenders: “The president clarified in there what he was talking about: a love of the country. And if you don’t love the country, leave the country,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told the press.

New York Post columnist Sohrab Ahmari hated the chants but then embraced the underlying sentiments:

Needless to say, the “send-her-back” chants are gross. But again, with remarks like these, and many other of the kind, she has signaled radical hostility to her adopted homeland and the West — i.e., a total departure from the political community.

Beneath the pseudo-logical veneer, there is a frightening undercurrent running through all of this talk.

The problem is much deeper than the naked discrimination and intolerance on display: This is language that will be used to justify violence. It will almost certainly inspire a fresh wave of racial sectarian violence in the form of hate crimes and right-wing extremist domestic terrorism, because it is the very same language that is used by the perpetrators of these crimes to justify their acts.

The criminologists and social scientists who study hate crimes have parsed the motivations behind such acts into four different but related kinds: thrill-seeking, “defensive,” retributive (or revenge crimes), and “mission” crimes (perpetrated by committed ideologues intent on striking a blow on behalf of their cause).

By far the largest of these categories is the “defensive” kind of motive, in which perpetrators see themselves as heroes who are out to save their communities and the nation as well. One study found that this category of motive had become dominant in hate crimes after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—and that hate crimes were likely to spike when “when a particular group is regarded as representing a danger to the dominant group’s prestige, wealth, or power.”

“Dylann Roof [who murdered nine parishioners at a black church in Charleston, S.C, in June 2015] thought he was saving the world,” said Heidi Beirich, Intelligence Project director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They’ve come to believe they’re saviors of the white race. … I’m doing this to protect my race.”

In “defensive” hate crimes, perpetrators see themselves as heroic protectors of their communities: their neighborhoods, their workplace, their religion, their country, their race. These “defenders’ often target specific victims, justifying their crimes as necessary to fend off perceived threats. Particular events such as the arrival or a Muslim or a black family in a previously all-white neighborhood can act as the spark for such crimes.

Both while in the act and afterward, especially when caught and charged with bias crimes, these perpetrators defend themselves by using the language of community defense. They show little to no remorse for their crimes, and usually insist that they are acting on the unspoken wishes of the majority of people in the community, which is too afraid to act. Even non-defender types of perpetrators—particularly “mission” and retributive criminals—employ this kind of rhetoric to explain their actions.

“They honestly believe that what they’re doing has some sort of communal assent,” says Brian Levin, who leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

This is where the role played by Donald Trump becomes crucial: Rather than acting as a lever to discourage such acts, Trump clearly has encouraged them with both his rhetoric and his actions. This has led to what has been called the “Trump Effect,” in which outbreaks of bigoted crimes and incidents are directly linked to the president’s outbursts in speeches and on Twitter.

This effect was first marked in the month immediately following Trump’s election in November 2016. Levin’s team as CSUSB assembled hate-crimes data from 38 jurisdictions and found the effect was unmistakable: “racial hate crime according to FBI data surged during November 2016, and in particular on the day after the election, rising from 10 to 27. Our analysis of the same FBI data set further revealed November was the worst month—with 735 hate crimes—since 2007 and the worst November going back to 1992, when systemic national record keeping began. Further, we found that hate crimes more than doubled, from 17 to 42, the day after the election and that a 72 percent average daily spike occurred in the two weeks following the election compared to before.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center recorded a similar phenomenon:

To the contrary, in the first 34 days after the election, the SPLC documented 1,094 bias-related incidents and found that 37 percent of them directly referenced Trump, his campaign slogans or his notorious comments about sexual assault. Not every incident met the definition of a hate crime, but many did. The FBI later confirmed the sharp uptick in reported hate crimes in the fourth quarter of 2016. Researchers have shown that reported hate crimes following Trump’s election made up the second largest surge since the FBI began collecting data in 1992 (trailing only the increase after the 9/11 terror attacks).

Another study found that not only is there a demonstrable “Trump Effect” arising from his rhetoric, the effect is substantially broadened and deepened by the fact of his winning the 2016 election:

Using time series analysis, we show that Donald Trump’s election in November of 2016 was associated with a statistically significant surge in reported hate crimes across the United States, even when controlling for alternative explanations. Further, by using panel regression techniques, we show that counties that voted for President Trump by the widest margins in the presidential election also experienced the largest increases in reported hate crimes. … We hypothesize that it was not just Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric throughout the political campaign that caused hate crimes to increase. Rather, we argue that it was Trump’s subsequent election as President of the United States that validated this rhetoric in the eyes of perpetrators and fueled the hate crime surge.

More pointedly, there has been a sharp spike in hate crimes (226 percent) in counties where Trump has held his political rallies, which feature his frequently eliminationist and threatening speeches. As its authors note, “Recent research also shows that reading or hearing Trump’s statements of bias against particular groups makes people more likely to write offensive things about the groups he targets.”

All this bodes ill for the coming 2020 presidential campaign. If Trump continues to wage his culture war against nonwhites and the liberals who defend them, the Trump Effect is certain to surge along with it—and so will the hate crimes and acts of domestic terrorism that ride in its wake.

 

Domestic Terrorism: Home Is Where The Hate Is

Reprinted with the permission from Reveal and The Investigative Fund.

The original version of this joint project can be read at both The Investigative Fund and Reveal, which feature many additional photographs, illustrations, graphs, and a full explication of the methodology used to compile the terrorism incident database. 

An early high-water mark of Donald Trump’s presidency came February 28, with his first address to Congress. Midway through the speech, the new president turned to national security: “We are also taking strong measures to protect our nation from” – and here he paused for emphasis – “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Those words got him a standing ovation. A week later, he unveiled his second executive order banning entry for people from several Muslim-majority nations.

Trump frequently had excoriated his predecessor, President Barack Obama, and his chief political opponent, Hillary Clinton, as naive, even gutless, for preferring “violent extremism” to describe the nature of the global and domestic terrorist threat.

“Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country,” Trump said at one campaign speech in Ohio. During another, in Philadelphia, he drove home the attack: “We now have an administration and a former secretary of state who refuse to say ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ ”

It was a strange place to make his point. The only Islamist terror attack in Pennsylvania over the past 15 years was committed by Edward Archer, a mentally ill man who shot and injured a police officer in early 2016, later telling investigators that he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Far-right episodes of violent extremism were far more common.

Just two years before Trump’s Pennsylvania speech, anti-government radical Eric Matthew Frein ambushed two police officers in the township of Blooming Grove, killing one and wounding another, then led law enforcement authorities on a 48-day manhunt in the woods. (He was sentenced to death in April.)

Two months before that, police discovered that Eric Charles Smith, who ran a white supremacist church out of his home in the borough of Baldwin, had built a stockpile of some 20 homemade bombs.

In 2011, Eli Franklin Myers, an anti-government survivalist, shot two police officers, killing one, before being shot dead by state troopers in the small town of Webster. And in 2009, white supremacist Richard Poplawski opened fire on Pittsburgh police officers who had responded to a domestic dispute at his mother’s home, killing three and leaving two injured before surrendering. Poplawski, who was active on far-right websites, said he feared the police represented a plot by Obama to take away Americans’ guns.

This contrast, between Trump’s rhetoric and the reality of domestic terrorism, extends far beyond Pennsylvania. A database of nine years of domestic terrorism incidents compiled by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has produced a very different picture of the threat than that advanced by the current White House.

From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.

During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
Right-wing extremist terrorism was more often deadly: Nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. (The total deaths associated with Islamist incidents were higher, however, reaching 90, largely due to the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.)
Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities – making the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress earlier this month somewhat of an anomaly.
Nearly half (48 percent) of Islamist incidents in our database were sting operations, more than four times the rate for far-right (12 percent) or far-left (10.5 percent) incidents.

Yet as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out in early February, Trump has yet to acknowledge the threat of right-wing violence:

Long before the 9/11 attacks, the worst terrorist attack on American territory occurred at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and co-conspirator Terry Nichols were unabashed radical right-wing terrorists. But check the record. You won’t hear Trump use those words.

Instead, with his statements, policies and personnel, the president has exhibited an obsession with the Islamist threat to the homeland.

As a candidate, Trump promised to institute a “shutdown of Muslims.” As president, he has signed two executive orders barring immigrants and refugees from a list of Muslim-majority nations, both blocked by the courts.

Two of his most influential advisers, who he brought with him into the White House, were retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn – who, before his short-lived tenure as national security adviser, had a record of making such incendiary remarks as, “Fear of Muslims is rational,” and, “I don’t see Islam as a religion” – and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who had called Islam a “religion of submission” and stoked fears that radical Muslims seek to create an “Islamic States of America.”

Trump brought in other figures associated with the demonization of Islam, from transition team adviser Frank Gaffney to national security adviser Sebastian Gorka.

While the president mostly failed to acknowledge a wave of post-election hate crimes targeting Muslims, Jewish institutions and communities of color, his team planned changes to the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Violent Extremism program to focus it exclusively on the threat of Muslim radicals, including changing the program’s name to Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.

The president sometimes has appeared to grasp for data to justify this narrow approach. Intense protests and rapid court challenges greeted his first travel ban. By the time of his second, signed March 6, his staff had compiled information to justify it.

“According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” he claimed in the speech to Congress a week before signing the order. “We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”

But in examining incidents from 2008 through 2016, we could identify only 36 perpetrators or alleged perpetrators who were foreign born, 13 percent of the total. And only three came from a nation listed in his second travel ban. A Department of Homeland Security analysis likewise found that citizens of nations named in the ban are “rarely implicated in U.S.-based terrorism.”

The White House did not respond to interview requests or to detailed written queries.

***

Trump’s March executive order cites two specific terrorism convictions to bolster its claim that refugees constitute a significant threat to the United States:

For example, in January 2013, two Iraqi nationals admitted to the United States as refugees in 2009 were sentenced to 40 years and to life in prison, respectively, for multiple terrorism-related offenses. And in October 2014, a native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized United States citizen was sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon.

On closer inspection, even those examples are flawed. The first involved two Iraqi men living in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who were convicted on charges of supporting terrorism in Iraq, not in the United States. (It was White House counselor Kellyanne Conway who had a month earlier mistaken the incident as an act of domestic terrorism she dubbed the “Bowling Green massacre.”) Moreover, people from Iraq were not barred by the March executive order.

The second case is one of the three incidents in our database involving people from countries included in the executive order, all of them from Somalia. Two of the incidents were pre-empted plots, one of which – the Portland “Christmas tree bomber” case the order cites – was an elaborate sting operation.

That sting targeted 19-year-old Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a naturalized citizen who grew up in Portland and suburban Beaverton, Oregon, having arrived as a refugee from Somalia’s civil war at age 3. Educated at local schools, he showed little interest in religion or politics until his teens, when he began attending services at a mosque led by a Wahhabi cleric in Portland.

Alienated at home, where his parents were going through a divorce, Mohamud began to visit extremist websites and, at 18, declared that he was heading off to a religious school in Yemen. His father panicked and called the FBI for help, setting in motion surveillance and, ultimately, the sting.

Mohamud was arrested at the annual Christmas tree lighting at Pioneer Courthouse Square in Portland on Nov. 26, 2010, after trying to detonate a fake truck bomb supplied by undercover FBI agents. Convicted of a single count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, he was sentenced to 30 years.

The response to Mohamud’s father’s call for help – surveillance and a sting – underscores another disparity: the federal government’s disproportionate commitment of investigative resources to rooting out Islamist terrorism.

Even against this backdrop, the sting operation targeting Mohamud stood out.

No evidence was introduced in court that Mohamud had ever owned a weapon, participated in a political action or had any previous encounters with law enforcement. The FBI had not gleaned evidence that Mohamud even sought information about how to build a bomb.

He likely would have been incapable of attempting the crime without the financial, logistical and motivational support of the FBI informants and agents. In fact, a few weeks before the Christmas tree lighting, an FBI agent assigned to the case wrote that Mohamud “would not make any attempts to conduct a terrorist attack without specific direction from the (undercover employees).”

Evidence was even introduced at trial that FBI operatives had blocked him from traveling to a cannery job in Alaska to keep him involved in the plot they had designed.

By contrast, less than two days after the Christmas tree sting, another Oregon youth, Cody Seth Crawford, then 24, launched a homemade firebomb into the offices of the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, Oregon, a mosque where Mohamud sometimes prayed. The bomb caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damage, though no injuries.

Crawford had written anti-Muslim screeds on Facebook in the wake of Mohamud’s arrest: “I ha te (sic) the ji-had’st (sic), they should go and realize what life is about!!! This guy on the news was a really bad guy !!! He went to the mosque right in front of my house here in Corvali (sic).” When he was arrested, according to court documents, he told his arresting officer, “you look like Obama. You are a Muslim like him” who is “going to burn in Hell like other Muslims.”

Citing Crawford’s history of mental illness, a federal judge sentenced him to five years’ probation, and he is now free.

“I consider what happened in my case a total victory for me,” Crawford recently told Reveal. “I kicked the federal government’s ass in court.”

The Crawford case highlights something else in the data: While perpetrators of plots or attacks targeting on the broader public received three life sentences, seven death sentences and, among definite sentences, an average of 14.5 years in prison, no perpetrator of a plot or attack targeting a mosque or Muslims was ever sentenced to life or death, and they were sentenced, on average, to under nine years.

Muslims, it seems, are taken quite seriously as potential perpetrators, but far less so as victims.

***

More than a million violent crimes are committed each year in the United States, while annual domestic terrorism incidents number in the dozens. Yet acts of terrorism have a special significance, said former FBI agent Michael German, because each one not only targets particular victims, but also “is an attack on civil society itself.”

What distinguishes an act of terrorism from a violent crime, explains former federal counterterror official Daryl Johnson, is the ideological component of “the perpetrator’s motivation, his ideology and what he wanted the outcome to be. There needs to be a desire to instill fear among the general public, change government policy, or draw attention to a political or social cause.”

Domestic counterterrorism work is centered at the FBI. The bureau has a Domestic Terrorism Operations Unit plus an analysis unit, which together have dozens of personnel working out of FBI headquarters in Washington, according to law enforcement sources. These agents and analysts support the FBI’s 56 field offices, each of which has at least one analyst dedicated to domestic terrorism, as well as Joint Terrorism Task Forces in 104 cities.

The FBI coordinates with a variety of federal agencies – such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Marshals Service – that work domestic terrorism cases on an ad hoc basis. Other terrorist plots and acts are investigated and prosecuted only by state or local officials, who often bring more straightforward charges, such as murder, assault or arson. Still other terror cases never are prosecuted at all because no suspect is identified or the perpetrators are killed in the act.

But according to Johnson, who joined the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, the FBI formally tracks only the cases the FBI investigates itself – which risks leaving out many incidents that fit the federal criteria for domestic terrorism.

Johnson recalls a meeting in 2008 with his counterparts at FBI headquarters, where he talked about the militia movement resurgence that he and his colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security had noticed, based on tracking online activity and incident reports from state and local law enforcement.

“Well, the FBI checked their case data, and the FBI had only a half-dozen militia cases, and they compared that to the previous year, and there was no change, so to them, the militia threat was static,” Johnson said. “We saw the emergence of the second wave of the militia movement, and the FBI had no clue there was a second wave coming.”

The FBI declined to respond to an interview request or to detailed written queries.

While a variety of think tanks and journalistic organizations have compiled data that capture fragments of the domestic terrorism picture – Islamist attacks (The Heritage Foundation), deadly domestic terror attacks (the think tank New America), attacks on abortion clinics (the National Abortion Federation) and far-right plots and attacks (the Southern Poverty Law Center) – The Investigative Fund database is the only one that gathers incidents that span the full range of ideologies and that includes both plots and attacks and both federal and local prosecutions. It also catalogues each incident according to a diverse range of variables, such as target, ideology, movement affiliation, sentence, and whether federal charges or terrorism charges were filed. (See our methodology here.)

The database vividly illustrates the ways in which Islamist incidents have received disproportionate attention from federal law enforcement.

While a majority of the incidents were perpetrated by right-wing extremists (57 percent), the database indicates that federal law enforcement agencies focused their energies on pre-empting and prosecuting Islamist attacks, which constituted 31 percent of all incidents, a finding confirmed by counterterror experts.

For instance, 84 percent of Islamist incidents resulting in arrests involved terrorism charges, and all the law enforcement resources that implies, as opposed to 9 percent of far-right incidents.

While federal charges of some kind were filed in 91 percent of the Islamist incidents that led to arrests, federal prosecutors handled 60 percent of far-right cases, leaving many in the hands of state or local authorities.

Moreover, three-quarters of the Islamist incidents in the database were pre-empted plots, including elaborate sting operations, while 35 percent of far-right incidents were pre-empted, a much smaller ratio. That disparity, counterterror experts say, is an indication that far fewer investigative resources – such as analysts, paid informants and undercover operatives – have been deployed to halt far-right attacks.

Yet even though most Islamists were charged only in connection with plots, they often were sentenced as harshly as or more harshly than right-wing extremists, who mostly succeeded in committing acts of terror. Among the Islamist cases, 8 percent got life sentences, 2 percent got death sentences, and the average sentence for the other cases was 21 years in prison. Among far-right cases, 12 percent got life sentences, 5 percent got death sentences, and the average sentence for the rest was eight years.

German, the former FBI agent, is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security program and tours the country briefing local and federal law enforcement officers on domestic terror. In his presentations, he cautions officers against a worldview that “only sees a terrorist if he’s wearing a turban” and is blind to the threat from far-right extremists.

“The thing that strikes me most often is not just that they don’t know this information, but that they actively resist it,” he said. “They are incredibly hostile to it. That’s troubling to me. Not only are police given bad information, but they are trained or inclined to resist true information.

“When violence by minorities is characterized as terrorism, and therefore requiring more resources and more attention, but violence against minorities somehow doesn’t merit that same attention or resources, that is where we see overt discrimination.

Consider, for example, the following incident in light of the investigative resources put into the Christmas tree sting in Oregon or any of dozens of other complex operations targeting would-be Islamist attackers: the June 8, 2014, rampage in Las Vegas by so-called Patriot movement extremists Jerad and Amanda Miller. They gunned down two police officers in a pizzeria, leaving a swastika and “Don’t tread on me” flag on one of the dead before killing a nearby civilian who attempted to intervene. Both were killed in a shootout with police.

Prior to their rampage, the Millers had left a public trail of warning signs suggesting that they posed a likely threat, yet there’s no indication that a single law enforcement officer or informant was ever assigned to monitor them.

The couple had drifted to Nevada from Indiana five months earlier. Not long after arriving, Jerad Miller was pulled over and ticketed for driving with a suspended license; he responded by calling the Indiana Department of Motor Vehicles, threatening to shoot anyone who tried to arrest him. The call triggered a visit by Las Vegas detectives who questioned Miller but reported no “ongoing or potential threat.”

The Millers then joined the anti-government standoff with law enforcement at the Bundy Ranch in April 2014, where Jerad Miller, who had several past convictions, including one for auto theft, was filmed by news cameras brandishing weapons – illegal for a convicted felon – and promising to retaliate if federal officers “bring violence to us.” The Bundys say they asked the couple to leave because their views were so fringe.

Throughout this period, Jerad Miller was posting anti-government rants on Facebook and YouTube under the username USATruePatriot, including one in the days before the killings that read, “To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed.”

Even after the rampage, terrorism was not the law enforcement focus. Instead, the Justice Department’s after-action report focused narrowly on the Las Vegas Police Department’s tactical response on the day of the shooting.

“If the Millers had placed ISIS flags over those police officers, instead of the ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag, what you probably would have seen is a deep investigation into where they got their weapons, and who they were associated with, and who knew they had the weapons and follow-on prosecutions,” German said.

***

Daryl Johnson is the picture of a federal intelligence analyst: conservative, detail-oriented, fact-driven and relentlessly serious. A Mormon and a Republican, he grew up in Virginia, attended Brigham Young University and began his intelligence career in the Army. He had long enjoyed a reputation as a no-nonsense analyst with a knack for getting it right.

“I wanted to make the country a safer place,” he said. “I have always been a good, red-blooded American patriot.”

When Johnson moved from Army intelligence to work in the intelligence division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 1999, federal counterterrorism efforts were focused heavily on far-right radicals. This was in the wake of Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured 680; Eric Rudolph’s 1996 backpack bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, which killed one person and injured 111, followed by his bombings months later of a lesbian nightclub and an abortion clinic; and white supremacist Benjamin Smith’s 1999 shooting spree directed at blacks, Asians and Jews in cities across Illinois and Indiana, which left two people dead and nine wounded

In his book Right-Wing Resurgence, Johnson recalls driving to the site of the Oklahoma City federal building a few months after it was destroyed, where he saw “the makeshift memorial of teddy bears, flowers, and handwritten notes to those that perished,” he writes. The photo he took that day “serves as a constant reminder … of the terrifying threat of homegrown extremism.”

The attack also served as a national wake-up call.

“Threats from domestic terrorism continue to build as militia extremists, particularly those operating in the western United States, gain new adherents, stockpile weapons, and prepare for armed conflict with the federal government,” warned a report that the FBI’s Counterterrorism Threat Assessment and Warning Unit issued in 1996. “The potential for domestic right-wing terrorism remains a threat.”

The landscape changed dramatically after 9/11. Those attacks, coordinated by al-Qaida, heralded a fresh wave of international terrorist attacks and plots that required high levels of attention from federal authorities.

For several years after the trauma of that day, right-wing domestic terrorism subsided. A 2011 Heritage Foundation study, based on terrorism data collected by the RAND Corp., found that between 2001 and 2009, there were 91 homegrown terrorist attacks of all kinds against the United States, while there were 380 terrorist attacks against U.S. targets abroad. The terror threat seemed to have gone global.

September 11 also sparked a massive rearrangement of the federal terrorism response, including the creation in 2002 of the Department of Homeland Security, under whose auspices federal counterterrorism efforts were to be combined. Johnson, from his perch at the ATF, could see the writing on the wall as the agency’s intelligence-gathering division underwent a major downshift.

“I resisted for a while, but joined DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) in 2004 just as it opened up its new domestic terrorism division,” he said.

He was recruited specifically for his background in non-Islamist terrorism, he recalls. By 2008, he says, he was overseeing an office with eight full-time analysts dedicated to tackling non-Islamist domestic terror threats. However, Johnson says that over time, in the face of “political pressure,” the section was dismantled.

The trend lines made no sense. Johnson’s staff was being downsized just as his team was observing a fresh uptick in domestic terrorism from right-wing radicals.

“The United States is engaged in a generational fight against terrorists who seek to attack the American people, our country, and our way of life,” David Lapan, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, wrote in an email. “We reject criticism that DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) is overly focused on any particular group or element as we concentrate on all threats of terrorism to the Homeland.”

Lapan said that for the past two years, the department has used a national terrorism advisory bulletin “to highlight the continuing threat from all forms of terrorism, including homegrown violent extremists, many of whom are inspired online to violence by foreign terrorist organizations.”

What especially caught the attention of law enforcement analysts during Johnson’s tenure was far-right extremists’ increasing recruitment of members of the military and experienced veterans. That raised red flags, because if these recruits were radicalized into planning acts of terror, they would have the skills to execute them, as the examples of McVeigh and Rudolph, both military veterans, suggested.

Warnings included a July 2008 FBI assessment, titled, “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11.” Though the report found that the number of identifiable neo-Nazis with military training was small, a little over 200, it added:

Military experience – ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces – is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.

Johnson’s section noticed the same trend and produced a bulletin that was circulated in April 2009 to law enforcement officers around the nation. It alerted them to the rising risk of terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists and noted that the Department of Homeland Security “is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”

Unlike the FBI assessment, Johnson’s bulletin was distributed during the early months of the new Obama administration. This time, a media firestorm erupted. Conservative radio and television hosts from Rush Limbaugh to Michael Savage and Glenn Beck denounced the report, claiming it was “singling out troops” for vilification, along with “normal conservatives” who might share the same concerns that animated the radicals identified in the bulletin, such as opposition to abortion and federal control over public lands. On Fox News, William Kristol charged that Obama administration officials “think about veterans” as “pathological killers.” Once the American Legion, too, denounced the report, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued an apology.

The blowback had powerful long-term effects on the shape of counterterrorism policy. Because of the increasing focus on Islamist terrorism, Johnson’s team already had been reduced.

After the controversy, the office was stripped down to one full-time staffer; Johnson himself departed in April 2010. Efforts to counter far-right terror at the department were effectively dead. As The Washington Post later reported:

The analytical unit that produced that report has been effectively eviscerated. Much of its work – including a digest of domestic terror incidents and the distribution of definitions for terms such as “white supremacist” and “Christian Identity” – has been blocked.

The office employed only two full-time analysts for the rest of the Obama years. That small team hasn’t grown since the new administration arrived. Lapan, the homeland security spokesman, declined to provide specifics on personnel but confirmed that the department has “a small team of analysts dedicated to domestic terrorism.”

Congress also played a role in pushing counterterrorism work to focus exclusively on the threat of radical Islamist ideology. When the House Homeland Security Committee held hearings on domestic terrorism in early 2011, the committee chairman, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, announced that they would have a narrow scope:

This Committee cannot live in denial, which is what some would have us do when they suggest that this hearing dilute its focus by investigating threats unrelated to Al Qaeda. The Department of Homeland Security and this committee were formed in response to the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11. There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed by the Justice Department’s own record not one terror related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.

In fact, during the two years preceding King’s hearing, The Investigative Fund database includes 27 terror incidents involving far-right forces and two involving animal rights extremists. In the two months before King made these remarks, a neo-Nazi left a backpack bomb along the intended path of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Washington, and another was arrested in Phoenix with a truckload of homemade bombs he intended to leave near the Mexico border. None of these were mentioned in the Justice Department report King cited.

King’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, urged King to examine “the homeland security threat posed by anti-government and white supremacist groups” and warned against “a narrow focus that excludes known threats.”

It was white supremacist Wade Michael Page’s rampage in Wisconsin the following year, in which he gunned down six Sikhs at worship, that finally moved the Senate to hold hearings on right-wing extremism. Johnson, by now a former counterterror official, was invited to testify.

“The threat from domestic terrorism motivated by extremist ideologies is often dismissed and overlooked in the national media and within the U.S. government. Yet we are currently seeing an upsurge in domestic non-Islamic extremist activity,” he said. “Today, the bulk of violent domestic activity emanates from the right wing.”

While federal officials were turning their attention away from the far right, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, had noticed something dramatic. While most such groups had collapsed after 9/11, the law center noticed an explosion of so-called Patriot groups that began in 2009, the first year of Obama’s presidency, and reached a peak in 2012, when the group counted 1,360 active Patriot groups and 1,007 hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads and neo-Nazis.

According to our database, during this same period, from 2008 to 2013, terror plots and actions by far-right groups outnumbered Islamist domestic terror cases by more than 2 to 1. Far-right extremists also inflicted three times as many deaths as Islamists during this period.

In October 2015, the Department of Justice belatedly announced plans to tackle the problem by creating a new domestic terrorism counsel to lead a long-dormant office intended to track trends and increase intelligence sharing about potential threats among U.S. attorney’s offices nationwide.

“Looking back over the past few years,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in making the announcement, “we recognize that according to at least one study more people died in this country in attacks by domestic extremists than attacks associated with international terrorist groups.”

Eventually, FBI official Thomas Brzozowski was named to the position, which he used as a platform to raise awareness about the full scope of domestic terror threats.

“It is not just a function of a couple of militia-related guys taking over something out West. It’s not just a bunch of white supremacist in white hoods,” he told an audience at George Washington University in October. “It is not relegated toward a particular ideology. In fact, the nature of the underlying ideology is immaterial to how we approach domestic terrorism.”

The Department of Justice says he remains in the position, but he did not respond to interview requests and appears not to have spoken publicly since the Trump administration took office.

***

By now, the steady drumbeat of terror plots and attacks from the far right has begun to attract renewed attention, among them incidents involving the “sovereign citizens” movement, white supremacists, Patriot and militia movements, and anti-abortion fanatics, including some radical Christians. Their targets are police and military, Sikhs and Muslims, African Americans and Jews, power grids and transit hubs, abortion clinics and black churches and immigrant communities.

Despite law enforcement concerns about lethal attacks against police sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement – captured in the slogan “Blue Lives Matter,” along with dozens of bills extending hate crimes protections to police – only two incidents of domestic terrorism in the database can plausibly be attributed to a perpetrator with such sympathies. They are the December 2014 killings of two police officers in their patrol car in New York City and the July 2016 sniper shooting in Dallas, which left five officers dead and nine wounded.

Adherents of sovereign citizen ideology – whose animus against what they see as an illegitimate police state can be so extreme that they have been known to open fire on officers at traffic stops – pose a far more extensive threat to law enforcement officers. The FBI, in a 2011 report, had said the sovereign citizen threat “likely will grow.” Sovereign citizens alone, according to the database, have been responsible for 14 attacks on law enforcement from 2008 to 2016, which led to the deaths of nine officers and injuries to 12. Of the 40 total plots and attacks targeting police, 83 percent involved right-wing anti-government extremists, resulting in 23 fatalities.

The database catalogues an enormous number of far-right incidents, averaging more than a dozen a year. Consider this sampling, only one of which, the last, was prosecuted as terrorism:

July 27, 2008, Knoxville, Tennessee: Jim David Adkisson, the author of a manifesto urging violent war against liberals, opens fire inside a Unitarian church during the youth performance of a musical, killing two and wounding seven.

February 26, 2009, Miramar Beach, Florida: Dannie Baker, a former Republican Party volunteer who believed that “Washington D.C. Dictators” wanted to “overthrow us with foreign illegals,” opens fire on a roomful of Chilean foreign-exchange students, killing two and injuring three.

May 20, 2010, West Memphis, Arkansas: Sovereign citizen adherents Jerry and Joe Kane, a father-and-son duo, kill two officers when pulled over by police, then die in a shootout.

January 18, 2011, Spokane, Washington: Neo-Nazi Kevin William Harpham plants a backpack bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King Day Jr. Day parade; no one is injured because it is spotted and defused.

August 5, 2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin: Wade Michael Page, a member of the neo-Nazi group Hammerskin Nation, kills six and wounds four during a shooting rampage in a Sikh temple before killing himself.

April 13, 2014, Overland Park, Kansas: Frazier Glenn Miller, a former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, embarks on a shooting rampage at two Jewish community institutions, killing three.

June 17, 2015, Charleston, South Carolina: Dylann Roof, a white supremacist radicalized online, joins a Bible study session at the Emanuel AME Church, then opens fire, killing nine black worshippers and wounding another.

November 27, 2015, Colorado Springs, Colorado: Robert Lewis Dear opens fire on patients arriving at a Planned Parenthood clinic, then engages in a gunbattle with police, killing three people, including a police officer, and injuring nine. He says, “No more baby parts,” as he is arrested.

October 14, 2016, Garden City, Kansas: Three Kansas militia members, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright and Patrick Stein, are arrested for allegedly plotting to bomb an apartment complex, home to Somali immigrants. According to the FBI, which infiltrated the group, they called Muslims “cockroaches” and hoped to inspire other militia members.

Allen, Wright and Stein not only stockpiled a huge cache of semi-automatic weapons and ammunition, but they also plotted to construct and detonate four Oklahoma City-style truck bombs loaded with fertilizer and fuel in the center of the residential complex, then shoot survivors as they fled.

The scheduled day for their attack: Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. The men were motivated, Stein’s attorney said, by their belief that if Trump were to win, Obama would declare martial law to prevent him from taking office. In a voice recording of one of the plotters:

The only fucking way this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath, and it will be a nasty, messy motherfucker. Unless a lot more people in this country wake up and smell the fucking coffee and decide they want this country back … we might be too late, if they do wake up. … I think we can get it done. But it ain’t going to be nothing nice about it.

In responding to news of the men’s arrest, Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, noted “an incredible increase in anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment over the past few years,” particularly “within the ranks of the anti-government movement.” The presidential campaign, she added, has “produced some of the rawest nativist appeals in recent memory.”

She says those appeals might have played a role in the surge of hate incidents since the election, including a wave of anti-Semitic threats and attacks and anti-Muslim hate crimes. Many incidents, she notes, “involved attackers who self-identified as Trump supporters or committed their acts in his name,” such as swastika-laden graffiti saying, “Make America White Again,” or an assault on a Muslim student and his Latino friend in which the attacker shouted Trump’s name.

While Trump, in his February address to Congress, did respond to these incidents in general terms, saying, “We are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” his policies appear to have sent a different message. In hundreds of the nearly 1,400 hate incidents around the nation that the Southern Poverty Law Center counted in the three months following the Nov. 8 elections, the perpetrators directly referenced the election or Trump.

In particular, his administration’s decision to focus the Countering Violent Extremism program exclusively on Islamists has been interpreted by many white supremacists as a green light.

“Donald Trump wants to remove us from undue federal scrutiny by removing ‘white supremacists’ from the definition of ‘extremism,’ ” Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, wrote in a post. “Donald Trump is setting us free.” He went on:

It’s fair to say that if the Trump team is not listening to us directly (I assume they are), they are thinking along very similar lines. …This is absolutely a signal of favor to us.

Daryl Johnson, the former intelligence analyst, warns that continuing to focus counterterrorism efforts disproportionately on Islamists risks fueling that threat.

“Muslim Americans already feel targeted and alienated,” he said. Reconfiguring the Countering Violent Extremism program around Islamists “pretty much validates their suspicions” and even risks aggravating extremism within the Muslim community.

“When you turn a blind eye to all the uptick in hate or wait a long time before you even address the hate incidents that we’ve been seeing against Muslims and against the Jewish community,” he said, “I think that just emboldens the far right in thinking that they have free rein to do whatever they want.”

This project was made possible through support from The Puffin Foundation.

Darren Ankrom of The Investigative Fund, Reveal reporter/producer Stan Alcorn and Reveal senior reporter Katharine Mieszkowski contributed to this story. It was edited by The Investigative Fund’s Esther Kaplan and Reveal’s Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nadia Wynter and Nikki Frick. David Neiwert can be reached at david.neiwert@investigativefund.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidNeiwert.

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

IMAGE: This undated photo provided by the FBI on August 6, 2012, shows Wade Michael Page, perpetrator of the August 5, 2012 Sikh temple shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (AP Photo/FBI)

 

What Will Become Of Right-Wing Bergdahl Billboard?

Among the bellwethers of right-wing politics in western Washington state is a popular and iconic billboard perched next to the northbound lanes of Interstate 5, almost exactly halfway between Portland and Seattle, featuring a cartoon image of Uncle Sam pointing his finger at the reader, while the crude block letters next to him form not-infrequently-misspelled messages proclaiming the cause of the moment. Not so long ago, that sign – like a number of right-wing pundits and politicians whose tweets along similar lines have been swiftly deleted – was denouncing President Obama for his ostensible failure to secure the release of then-prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan.

“The Uncle Sam billboard,” as it is known, featured the message: “No Soldier Left Behind? What About Bowe Bergdahl?” for a duration of at least a month last spring. I saw it there on March 3 during a drive from Portland, while another photographer shot the image above on April 3.

The billboard is well known to drivers in the state, especially those who make the trip on I-5 regularly (it’s estimated that more than 50,000 drivers use that stretch every day). It has been there since the early 1960s, when the owner of the land on which it sits, a farmer named Alfred Hamilton, erected it and began posting his iconoclastic messages.  Always of an arch-conservative bent, they frequently wobbled into Bircherite conspiracism, especially on the subject of the United Nations.

Before Al Hamilton retired in the 1990s, the messages were changed weekly; ever since then, however, they have changed monthly. The elder Hamilton died in 2004, but one of his sons has continued the tradition and posts fresh messages monthly.

So far, there’s no word on whether the Uncle Sam billboard will change its tune about Bergdahl, since the old message is no longer operative in conservative circles – which are now loudly denouncing Obama for negotiating Bergdahl’s release.

Image © Alex Milan Tracy/Demotix/Corbis

Tea Party Nativists Pull The Strings Of Immigration Policy

There aren’t very many Minutemen out patrolling the border in search of border crossers these days, aside from a few rogue operations that have even drawn the ire of one of their more notorious fellow nativists, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County.

But their legacy — and their ugly nativist politics — remain alive and well in the halls of Congress, and coursing through the veins of the Tea Party movement. The demand to “secure the border first” that is the favored course of hard-right conservatives, both in politics and among the pundits, is, after all, a direct manifestation of the immigration issues that were popularized by the Minutemen during their brief moment in the media sun.

Most of the would-be vigilante border-watchers vanished after 2009, when a leading Minuteman movement figure named Shawna Forde led a home-invasion robbery in Arizona, pursuing cash in the hopes of financing her border militia, that left a rural Arivaca man and his 9-year-old daughter dead. At least, most stopped using the “Minuteman” brand name, and one of the two major movement leaders — Chris Simcox of Tombstone — announced he was disbanding his organization.

There have remained a smattering of outfits doing vigilante border watches in the area, though one of these — organized by a local neo-Nazi leader named J.T. Ready, who also had a long history of association with another noted Arizona nativist, ex-Senate president Russell Pearce — ceased operating when Ready went on a shooting rampage that left five people dead, including Ready. Another small-cell operation run by a former California Minuteman recently ran afoul of Sheriff Arpaio when one of the militiamen drew a gun on a sheriff’s deputy in the Gila Bend area. Arpaio denounced them the next day at a press conference and warned that he wouldn’t hesitate to arrest them.

The coup de grace, however, was probably Chris Simcox’s recent arrest on three counts of child molestation for sexually assaulting a trio of young girls, including his own daughter. His trial is currently scheduled to begin in February of next year.

Even before these militias had faded from media view and crumbled into disarray and criminality, however, many of the movement’s leading nativists had already begun moving on to other frontiers — most notably, to the Tea Party. Several leading border-militia leaders began avidly participating in Tea Party events, notably Jim Gilchrist, the movement’s other co-founder, who told a reporter that he was moving on to Tea Party activism since he had “accomplished his mission.” Likewise, former Minutemen spokesman Al Garza says he spends his time these days advising Tea Party groups on immigration issues. And the border-watch movement’s godfather, Glenn Spencer of Arizona, has hosted Tea Party barbecues at his border ranch featuring Arpaio and Pearce as speakers.

Unsurprisingly, the Tea Party’s starkly nativist positions on immigration are essentially taken wholesale from the positions that the Minutemen established: placing the blame for the nation’s immigration problems on a failure to secure the borders, making immigration a national-security issue since terrorists supposedly were able to cross those borders, focusing attention on the illegal status of those immigrants, and insisting that anything short of mass deportation of the lawbreakers is tantamount to “amnesty.”

And just as certainly, those positions have translated into the real world of immigration legislation, particularly in a House of Representatives controlled by Tea Party ideologues. A comprehensive immigration reform bill managed to emerge from the Senate this past year, but it remains bottled up in the House, from whence most observers give it no chance of emerging in the near future. After President Obama’s recent plea to Congress to move the package forward, he was met with a swift refusal from House Speaker John Boehner. But Boehner has more recently backtracked (“I still think immigration reform is an important subject that needs to be addressed,” he told reporters last week), indicating the Tea Party’s grip on House leadership may be slipping.

But even the bill that emerged from the Senate is laden with draconian “secure the borders” measures that are enormously expensive and of dubious value, as well as requirements that they be met before the undocumented immigrants currently in the United States can apply for citizenship. Those, of course, were largely concessions to the nativist lobby in order to simply pass a Senate bill.

So the Minutemen may no longer be out patrolling our borders very often. But their legacy is what is now driving much of our nation’s immigration policy.

David Neiwert is an investigative journalist based in Seattle and the author of And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border (2009, Nation Books), as well as five previous books. He is a National Press Club Award winner for his reportage on domestic terrorism, and is well known for his work as an editor at the political blog Crooks and Liars. He is currently writing a book about killer whales.

AFP Photo