Tag Archives: domestic terrorism

A Second Civil War

I have been brooding over the implications of the racist massacre in Buffalo.

The facts are not in dispute.A teenage White Supremacist drove over 200 miles so that he could kill Black people who would be shopping in a supermarket located in a predominantly Black neighborhood. He killed 10 people and wounded three others. Reports tell us that this particular mass shooting was the deadliest in the United States so far this year.

This year. We’re 19 weeks in, and according to NPR, America has already had 198 mass shootings.

The 18-year-old shooter, Payton S. Gendron, livestreamed the gruesome attack as he mowed down shoppers and store employees.

Why would an 18-year-old drive to a neighborhood where he knew no one, specifically in order to kill people who had done him no harm? According to multiple reports, a manifesto he had authored and posted online repeatedly invoked the racist charge that white Americans were at risk of being “replaced” by people of color.

The New York Times newsletter described his entrance into the supermarket.

Around 2:30 p.m., as shoppers filled the Tops supermarket, the suspect arrived wearing body armor, tactical gear and a helmet with a video camera attached. He carried an assault rifle with an anti-Black slur written on the barrel and began firing in the parking lot. Three victims were killed outside, and one was wounded.

And as to motive…

The attack appeared to be inspired by earlier mass shootings motivated by racial hatred, including a 2019 mosque shooting in New Zealand and a massacre at a Texas Walmart that same year, according to the manifesto.

In chilling detail, the document outlined a plan to kill as many Black people as possible, including the type of gun to use, a timeline, a specific parking spot and where to eat ahead of time.

Gendron wrote that he chose the area of the supermarket because it was home to the largest percentage of Black residents near his home in New York’s largely white Southern Tier.

So here we are. Some 80% of voters want additional controls on gun purchases, but  rather than imposing reasonable restrictions or improving background checks, extremist politicians in states like Indiana continue to relax existing gun regulations. That permissiveness allows mental cases, domestic abusers and avowed racists access to weapons that should be limited to military use, permitting deranged shooters to inflict far more death and destruction than would otherwise be possible.

According to one report, Gendron was very heavily armed. He had tactical gear, a bulletproof vest and a tactical helmet, along with the camera that allowed him to livestream what he was doing. His firearms included a semi-automatic rifle, a hunting rifle and a shotgun, which were all purchased legally.

As stupid and unforgivable as Americans’ gun fetish is, it is White Supremacist hatred that is most horrific. This twisted young man killed people based on the color of their skin. These weren’t people he knew, people who might have somehow angered him. They were just “other”–and somewhere in his misbegotten life, he had come to believe that the mere existence of people with skin color unlike his own constituted an injury so great, so monumental, he would be justified in eradicating it.

We will undoubtedly hear from the defenders of an imagined version of the Second Amendment that the problem isn’t guns, it’s mental illness. Rational individuals will respond that (1) most people suffering from mental illness are not dangerous, and (2)  giving easy access to deadly weapons to the people who do display murderous impulses is its own form of insanity.

Racist domestic attacks have been increasing, along with all the other signs of a disintegrating national culture. It isn’t as if we couldn’t see this coming; over a year ago, an article in The Guardian reported

Racially motivated extremists pose the most lethal domestic terrorism threats to the US, according to an unclassified intelligence report that warned that the threats could grow this year.

The blunt assessment, in a report released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, echoes warnings made by US officials, including the FBI director, Christopher Wray, who testified earlier this month that the threat from domestic violent extremism was “metastasizing” across the country.

Meanwhile, American government is gridlocked by a combination of obsolete political systems and the devolution of the GOP into a racist, misogynist cult intent on reversing fifty-plus years of human rights progress.

It’s hard not to agree with a bystander interviewed by the Guardian

“I do know that this isn’t the first time this has happened in America, so this will be pretty much the same,” said Lewis. “There will be candles, probably have a march, some preaching. But nothing that needs to be done is going to be done.”

Unfortunately, he’s probably right.





Localism, Federalism, Globalism

Almost all the problems we face as a society can be traced to the “lag time” between the accelerating pace of significant–even monumental– change, and the alterations to existing social and political institutions that are needed to deal with new “facts on the ground.”

Another way of saying that is that we are trying to manage 21st century realities with tools created for the problems of the (early) twentieth century.

The recent mass murder in New Zealand provided an example. As the Washington Post recently put it,

The United States and its closest allies have spent nearly two decades building an elaborate system to share intelligence about international terrorist groups, and it has become a key pillar of a global effort to thwart attacks.

But there’s no comparable arrangement for sharing intelligence about domestic terrorist organizations, including right-wing extremists like the one suspected in the killing of 50 worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to current and former national security officials and counterterrorism experts.

Governments have considered domestic extremists a domestic problem. In the U.S., such tracking as is done largely falls within the jurisdiction of the FBI. Thanks to the Internet, however, white nationalism is an international threat.

But increasingly, nationalist groups in different countries are drawing inspiration from each other, uniting in common cause via social media, experts said. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, the 28-year-old suspected gunman in Christchurch, posted a manifesto full of rage on Twitter in which he cited other right-wing extremists as his inspiration, among them Dylann Roof, who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

It isn’t just the globalization of terrorist networks that requires rethinking where responsibilities should lie. Communication and transportation technologies have made a large number of institutional assumptions and arrangements obsolete.

Take federalism, America’s division of jurisdiction among local, state and federal levels of government. The division may still be useful (state and federal governments really have no reason to assume responsibility for handing out zoning permits or policing domestic violence disputes, for example), but many of the current assignments of responsibility no longer make much sense. State-level management of elections, for example, was necessary in the age of snail-mail registration and index cards identifying voters; in the computer age, it’s an invitation to misconduct.

In a number of areas, there are awkward pretenses of state “sovereignty” where none really exists. Think of federal highway dollars that are conditioned on state compliance with federally mandated speed limits. Or the myriad other “strings” attached to federal funding that remind state-level agencies who’s really in charge.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are an increasing number of issues, including but certainly not limited to the threat posed by white nationalism, that must be addressed globally. Climate change is the most obvious.

We humans are creatures of habit: we become accustomed to the world we have grown up with, and assume that the structures of whatever society we inhabit are just “the way it is.” A great example were the people who argued against same-sex marriage by insisting that marriage “has always been between one man and one woman.” That’s demonstrably false. Even if you ignore biblical history, more than half of the world still recognizes plural marriage. But it was true within the confines of their (limited) experience.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone defend a practice by saying “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Unfortunately, the way we’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the way it needs to be done–and ultimately, those who don’t adapt to the realities of their brave new world become extinct.

I worry that we’re on the way…


Terrorism’s Tools

The hits keep coming.

Pipe bombs mailed, churches and synagogues targeted, young people once again mowed down by armed, unstable individuals…Last Sunday, the New York Times devoted several pages in its Sunday magazine to the phenomenon of homegrown, white rightwing terrorism (and the government’s failure to track it), and Time Magazine headlined a story “Why Terror is Rising in America.”

Both reports emphasize the relatively small number of perpetrators of these horrific assaults. For example, despite the Tree of Life massacre and the spike in anti-Jewish incidents, survey results suggest that anti-Semitism in the U.S. is at an all-time low.

Anti-Semitism has never been eradicated, and probably never could be. It dwells in the crevices and fissures. Largely extinguished in the uppermost reaches of society, it flourishes most among cranks and broken souls on the margins–those for whom the post-industrial world provides few satisfying occupational or real world communal niches. Jew hatred is a minority phenomenon, to be sure. In an age when AR-15s are easy to come by, even the smallest minority is profoundly dangerous.

Anti-Semitic incidents have increased dramatically, up 57 percent in just the last year according to the Anti-Defamation League, and, in fact, hate crimes are up across the board. Statistics show the number of people killed by far-right extremists since Sept. 11 are roughly equal to the number killed in the U.S. by jihadist terrorists–a fact that has received little public attention and gone unremarked upon by F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray in his annual testimony before Congress. Hate crimes against Muslims also rose almost 20 percent in 2016 over 2015.

When the Constitution was being crafted, James Madison and other Founders worried about “the tyranny of the majority.” Madison assumed that minorities–by which he meant people who held dissenting and/or anti-social beliefs–would be unlikely to find each other; they would easily be outnumbered (and silenced) by majorities of citizens who disagreed with them.

Madison couldn’t have envisioned the Internet, where all manner of advocates, kooks and haters can join each other in creating communities of the like-minded, and reinforce each others’ extremist beliefs.

As we’ve seen all too often, these online communities have become gigantic amplifiers, emboldening their participants and strengthening them in their most vile convictions. Just as the Internet turbocharged the jihadi universe and created a global support community for ISIS, it has networked and inspired the far-right.

Another thing Madison could never have predicted, of course, was the election of a President as dangerously anti-democratic, racist and dysfunctional as Donald Trump.

The second development that has lit up this increasingly linked and animated extremist world is the advent of Donald Trump. The statistics demonstrate clearly that the biggest bump in hate crimes in recent history coincides with the period since his presidential campaign began. This is not just a matter of correlation but causation. Trump’s incendiary rhetoric, from his accusation that Mexicans coming to the U.S. were rapists to his claims that the caravan of impoverished Central American migrants coming north included Middle Easterners–aka “terrorists”–has given license to those who peddle hatred to emerge from the shadows. Much as ISIS has done with its far-flung recruits, Trump’s conspiracy theories have weaponized mental disability.

A friend of mine, the chief executive of his firm, recently shared a rule he imposed at meetings: complaints and criticisms would be welcomed, but only when accompanied by proposed solutions.

Complaining about something without proposing a solution is just whining–and whining doesn’t get us anywhere.

This particular complaint is the growth of domestic terrorism. One part of the solution is obvious; we must replace Donald Trump with someone who understands the role and responsibility of the Presidency.

Madison’s question of faction–and the ease with which unstable individuals can now connect–is harder. But as the Times article suggested, a far more robust government response would be a good start.