The Washington Post published an article in mid-October 2015, stating that the American government’s Department of Justice (DOJ) is finally redressing the growing terrorism problem inside the United States – no, not the much-hyped and exaggerated threat from the Islamist camp, but the real and growing menace of ultra-right terrorism. The DOJ announced the creation of a new position, reporting to Assistant Attorney General John P. Carlin, to identify, combat and prosecute domestic terrorism, emanating from white supremacist, patriot militia and anti-federalist groups. The article by Ellen Nakashima, entitled ‘Domestic extremists have killed more Americans than jihadists since 9/11. How the government is responding’, elaborates on measures by the DOJ to stem the tide of ultra-rightist violence that has taken more lives than self-proclaimed Islamist groups since the September 11 attacks.
Preoccupation with the Islamic community
The main preoccupation of the United States law enforcement authorities, and the corporate-media, has been the threat (real or imagined) of Islamist groups, mislabeled ‘jihadist’, since the terrible atrocity of September 11. There is extensive, interminable discussion about the ideology of Islamism, analysis by reams of experts about what is contained in the pages of the Quran, whether that text endorses violence, bombings, killings, beheadings, suicide assassinations, female genital mutilation – the list of crimes is seemingly endless. There are intimations that the wider Muslim community, sharing the basic theological tenets of the Quran and Hadith, are a sympathetic reservoir of passive support for extremist and radicalising elements. There are calls by political leaders for further surveillance, monitoring and intelligence-gathering of the Islamic community.
Politicians of all stripes demand that the Islamic community denounce terrorism, investigate the mosques and whether they are incubators of ‘radicalisation’ – and even the latter term is open to debate. Images of ISIS abound in the media, this group seemingly epitomising the Islamist extremism that we are meant to be afraid of – even though the case can be made that it is a serious mistake to blame Islam for the rise of gangterish militias like ISIS. The latter is an inevitable product of the policies that US and Saudi imperialism have pursued in the Arab world, and indeed the ruling circles of the United States have a long and sordid history in deliberately cultivating the most fanatical segments of Islamic and Arab countries as political allies. Be that as it may, the US government’s single-minded focus on Islamic radicalism has meant that the increasing and violent attacks by ultra-rightist terrorist groups has gone largely overlooked. Hopefully, this imbalance will change, because the targets of ultra-rightist violence are not only government officials and law enforcement authorities, but members of ethnic and religious minority communities.
Ultra right extremists, motivated by a combination of ideologies involving white supremacy, Christian identity and patriot sovereign citizen federalism, have plotted and carried out attacks against the Islamic community, Muslim religious institutions, and persons of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’, whatever the latter phrase may mean. In the wake of the Boston marathon bombings in 2013, the entire Islamic community in Boston has been subjected to greater intrusive surveillance, entrapment operations and suffered a new wave of hostility and racial attacks.
It is not just the Muslim community that is facing increased animosity; the old anti-immigrant canard, the Latin American ‘brown’ menace, has been resurrected by leading Republican presidential candidates (most notably but not exclusively by Donald Trump) to whip up obnoxious bigotry against Mexican and Latino migrants. To be sure, the noxious rantings of a buffoonish, ignorant braggart hardly qualify as a terrorist threat – but when such a repulsive ideology is promoted by leading politicians of a major political party, such messages reach an audience of millions, and create a groundswell of ethnic hatred in which localised racial attacks on minority groups becomes possible.
New domestic terrorism counsel
Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, when announcing the new position of domestic terrorism counsel, elaborated the scope and operation of the new position, and he explained the rationale behind this new role:
The domestic terrorism counsel is one of the ways the Justice Department is responding to extremists in the United States. Mr. Carlin explained that although threats from Al Qaeda and ISIL are a danger in the United States, more people have died in attacks by domestic extremists harboring anti-government views, racism, bigotry, anarchy and other hateful beliefs. He cited examples such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the recent mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
The study of domestic extremism is hardly new; in 2014, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists summarised the findings of a 2009 report issued by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division. The article in the bulletin, entitled ‘Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism’, examined the expanding activities of ultra-right movements and the political climate that routinely discounts the threat posed by right-wing extremist groups. Charles P. Blair, the article’s author, explained that:
In the five years following the report’s release, far-right extremists have also plotted against and, at times, successfully attacked a wide-range of additional targets, including government buildings and leaders, law enforcement personnel, polling stations, courthouses and judges, a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, anti-racist gatherings, a Mexican consulate, synagogues and other Jewish institutions, mosques, a Sikh temple, African-Americans and other minorities, and interracial couples and families.
Interestingly, Blair notes that the foot-soldiers of the ultra-right, whether they be from white supremacist or patriot militia backgrounds, are more likely than potential Islamically-inspired militants to use unconventional weapons, chemical or biological – weapons that cause mass casualties and maximum disruption. The use of such weapons indicates not only a psychopathic disregard for human life, but the intent to make a political statement, and maximise the propaganda-utility of such attacks for the underlying ideology of ultra-rightist violence.
The American ultra-rightist political landscape
West Point Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Centre issued a report in November 2012 called ‘Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far Right’. This report provides the best, accurate synopsis of the political landscape inhabited by the ultra-right. There are three broad, interconnected strands of political ideology that can be classed as the ultra-right.
The first and best known is the white supremacist and racist movement. Traditionally this space has been occupied by the Ku Klux Klan, and similar homegrown segregationist militias. This has broadened out to include neo-Nazi types, national alliance skinhead groups and white supremacist militias that intermingle American white racism with concepts of cultural superiority, and intend to enforce racial-cultural hierarchy over what they see as the threat from immigrant and minority communities. Rejecting any foreign influences in the culture and economy of American life, they are most likely to attack individuals from racial and religious minority groups, religious institutions and community centres that involve non-Anglo Saxon migrants.
The second, and less-well known, strand in the ultra-right comprises the libertarian anti-federalist movement, which views government intrusion as the main crime in American society. Believing that the American government is rapidly descending into a tyrannical dictatorship, the anti-federalist movement portrays itself as the true defenders of the original liberties and values enshrined in the US constitution. Challenging the legitimacy and credibility of all American government institutions, the patriot and sovereign citizen militias constitute an armed ideological opponent of the US government.
The rationale behind these militias is multi-varied, but they share a common distrust of what they see as an American government hijacked by special interest groups, a purported New World Order (NWO) that has not only corrupted the American government, but intends to absorb it into the control of the United Nations, the international banking cartels, or some other shadowy international cabal. Alex Jones is the most outspoken and media-savvy exponent of this anti-federalist, libertarian and conspiracy-peddling ideology. Actually, the case can be made that there is nothing but a new world disorder, and that the US ruling class is the most lawless brigand in this international disorder, but that is a separate debate.
The third and final category in ultra-rightist ideology is the Christian Identity movement, a fusion of Christian supremacist thinking with racialism. A multi-faceted social layer, the Christian identity groups maintain the ultimate sovereignty of Christian doctrine, inspired by what they believe is the literal inerrancy of Biblical scripture. They maintain a particular interpretation of religious texts in which the Anglo Saxon race is considered the chosen people, the lost tribe of ancient Israel, regarding modern Europeans, and Anglo Saxons in particular, of being biologically descended from the biblical tribes of Israel that were subsequently scattered by succeeding invasions of Hittites, Assyrians and Babylonians. The Anglo Saxon settlement of the American continent has resurrected the lost tribe, and they are engaged in a religious-racial war with the non-Anglo communities, starting with the indigenous Americans and expanding to include the migrant communities in the United States. Advocating a theology of hate, violence carried out by Christian supremacist groups normally targets members of ethnic minorities and non-Christian denominations.
The above summary is meant to provide a basic ideological framework, and of course individuals and groups do not come in neat, organised packages. There is cross-over and intermingling between the three tendencies of ultra-rightist ideology identified above. And it is no secret that the Republican party, and its political strategists, pander to such sentiments hoping to convert them into electoral success. The main point is that no individual’s actions or ideology can be considered in isolation from the wider political climate from which they emerge.
The DOJ and law enforcement authorities will certainly prosecute the individuals that engage in acts of ultra-rightist violence, but that on its own is not enough. It is time to confront the message of hate, xenophobia and desperation that leads individuals and groups to carry out violent acts of hatred. Bigotry and racial extremism can only thrive in a political and economic system which is in an advanced stage of decay and terminal crisis. As the capitalist system lurches from crisis to crisis, and more people face impoverishment, it is high time to recognise that there is a minority that is a huge threat to our safety and existence – but it is not welfare recipients, migrants, Muslims, Latinos, single mothers, indigenous people, or any other favourite target of the ultra-right. It is the ultra-wealthy one percent, the top one percent that owns more than half of the world’s wealth, while the majority of the world’s population struggle to make ends meet in this global wealth pyramid.
We can start by heeding the words of the late Eugene V. Debs, American socialist and labour activist, who said:
I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.