We ignore right-wing terror at our own peril
Published: Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 02:10
What is terrorism? Is it a man with a gun? Is it a man with a bomb? Is it committed by an organization? A government? If you were told right-wing extremists carry out most terrorist acts, would that change your definition?
After the poorly executed 1993 siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in nearly 90 deaths, the government was understandably jumpy about pursuing anything related to the looming storm of right-wing violence and armed militias. After white-power martyr Timothy McVeigh set off the bomb in Oklahoma two years later, Washington allegedly jumped immediately to accuse Islamic terrorists.
Damning evidence uncovered by the authors of Oklahoma City: What The Investigation Missed — And Why It Still Matters, Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles, would suggest that there were more people involved in the bombing than the three conspirators who were convicted for it. In other words, the Feds decided to ignore a substantial amount of evidence because they were wary of inflaming conservatives and an American population still sore from Waco.
Fast-forward to 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security released—and quickly buried—a new report on a burgeoning threat of violence from far-right extremists and white supremacists. The report outlined three extremely obvious sources of rage that together could erupt into violence: an ailing economy, combined with high unemployment, and our first black president taking office. Gumbel and Clarence echo this in their book, warning that more McVeighs would be created from this vile soup.
Yet after much huffing and puffing from the usual talk-radio hosts, pundits, and John Boehner, the DHS apologized and reduced the size of their domestic terror unit to, at one point, a single analyst. Do we now see the results of this decision with this year’s shootings? That’s impossible to prove. Yet according to a report by the Center for American Progress, since 1995, 56 percent of terrorist attacks in the United States have been carried out by far-right extremists, and only 16 percent by Islamic actors. Despite that statistic, Muslims are made to live in fear, while hatemongers with violent pasts operate with near-impunity.
Muslims can be tracked by secret NYPD and CIA surveillance, wiretapped without a warrant, placed on a Terrorist watch list or a no-fly list, or detained in overseas prisons. Meanwhile, Wade Michael Page—the gunman who killed six people in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin—had been a fixture of white supremacist watch lists and had allegedly been “looked at” by FBI officials more than once in connection with his Neo-Nazi activities, but was never investigated. Is there something wrong here—something tragically wrong? We’re marginalizing the vulnerable to placate Rush Limbaugh.
For both the Bush and Obama presidencies, the threat of Islamic terror has been politically useful, not to mention exciting: fire bombings of mosques, the killings of abortion doctors, and a plane flown into an IRS building hardly elicit yawns from the public and the media. Simply put, a menacing brown man blowing himself up is scary and galvanizing.
A man crashing his plane into an IRS building to strike back at the government is uncomfortably close to the political reality that many people know and subscribe to. Government careers, defense contracts, and filthy news network lucre depend on us being titillated and scared of our Islamic enemies in the “War on Terror.”
Echoing this double standard, pundits debate whether Oklahoma City, the IRS attack, and Oak Creek are even acts of terrorism, apparently because they weren’t the work of al-Qaeda. Can you guess how they classify the Fort Hood massacre, committed by the Muslim Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan? Whether or not it’s folly to attempt to define violence, this debate reeks of racism and hypocrisy.
Some of the greatest minds of our time have wrestled with the question, “What is terrorism?” and have come up empty-handed. But for our government, the answer is easy: It’s whatever John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh think it is.