In the United States, the terrorist threat is home-grown and white
In its edition dated November 1st, 2020, The Conversation notes that "approximately one-fifth of military personnel say they have noticed signs of white supremacism or racism among the armed forces, such as the unabashed use of racist insults and anti-Semitic rhetoric and even the deliberate placing of explosive charges in the form of a swastika." And according to a report by Michael German, a former FBI agent, published in The Guardian's 27 August 2020 issue, the law enforcement agencies are also infiltrated by white supremacists in over a dozen states.
And as far as the police are concerned, that ideology is by no means purely theoretical. It has expressed itself in brutal murders like those of 40-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson; in 2019, that of 25-year-old Freddy Gray in Fort Worth; in 2015, that of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Baltimore; that of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot by a white policeman while playing with a toy pistol in a Cleveland park. And unfortunately, this list is far from exhaustive.
All these victims were Black. as Françoise Coste, a professor at the Université Toulouse-Jean-Jaurès reminds us:
Everything that happens in the United States has, one way or another, to do with the legacy of slavery, with the division of the population between whites and Blacks […] The slave system was so horrendous and barbaric that the slave-owners and political authorities quickly realised it was an unjustifiable system, but which had to be justified since it had to be maintained for economic reasons. The tool they forged to justify the unjustifiable—especially when they wanted to pass for fervent Christians and Bible devotees, with the idea that all men are created in God’s image—was white supremacy. This wasn't the expression they used at the time, but the idea was that those Blacks, those Africans, deserved to be slaves, that there was no need to feel guilty about that because they were inferior, they weren’t really human beings like us white people. And psychologically this was very powerful because it won over to the cause of slavery the 'white trash,' i.e., white people who were not wealthy enough to own slaves.
So, the racial question remains a key to any examination of the terrorist threat to the USA. No matter what they call themselves and how they formulate their recurrent demand for the abolition of the federal government, that source of all evil in their minds, white supremacists (mostly composed of "white trash") spend most of their energy trying to reactivate the basic struggles of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), their great ancestor in matters of racial hatred. Those struggles led to the enactment by the Southern states around 1870 of the "Jim Crow" laws which prevented African Americans from exercising the constitutional rights they had been granted after the Civil War. These were the 13th amendment which abolished slavery, the 14th which granted citizenship to every individual born or naturalised in the United States and outlawed any restriction placed on their rights, and the 15th which guaranteed voting rights for all US citizens—laws that were never applied in totality until 1964.
To this aversion for African Americans, latter-day white supremacists have added their repulsion for Latinos, Muslims, Asians and, of course, people identified as LGBTIQA+. Not to mention their anti-Semitism, another KKK legacy.
Such people may belong to the conspiracy sect QAnon or to The Base (a name which refers to the organisational and terrorist methods of al-Qaeda ("the base" in Arabic) or The Proud Boys (whom Donald Trump called on to "be ready" during his first debate with Joe Biden) or the Patriot Prayer Movement made up of Christian fundamentalists. As Vegas Tenold, who does research for the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, told The Insider. These last two movements "have a very vague ideology. all you can say about them is that they are pro-God and pro-First Amendment" (which guarantees freedom of speech). These people all have in common the conviction that the white "race" is superior to all the others. And that since this alleged supremacy is threatened, in order to preserve it, anything goes.
Conniving with these newcomers on the far right are some fifteen neo-Nazi splinter groups like the Storm Front or the national socialist party Vanguard America, which has adopted Hitler’s slogan "blood and soil" ("Blut und Boden"). But also, The Atomwaffen Division (AWD), based in the United States but with branches in the United Kingdom, Germany and in the Baltic countries. These people will stop at nothing. Suicide bombings included. In an article posted online in June 2021, a member of AWD declared: "The culture of martyrdom and insurrection in groups like the Taliban and ISIS is to be admired and imitated in the neo-Nazi terrorist movement." In 2018, its founder and leader, Brandon Russell was arrested and convicted for possession of a destructive device and explosive substances.
To this incomplete list must be added the "Incels" (i.e., involuntary celibate) whose speciality is militant misogyny. Holding women responsible for their forced celibacy, this group of frustrated males was founded in 1993 and recruits worldwide via the Internet. It is taken very seriously by the FBI and has already perpetrated several acts of terrorism. In May 2014 one of its devotees, Elliot Rodger, murdered six people with a ram-raiding car in Isla Vista, California, and injured fourteen others, men and women indiscriminately, before committing suicide.
This ghastly survey would not be complete without mentioning the "Bogaloos," obsessed with the idea of starting a civil war before their guns are confiscated—this despite the widely respected 2nd amendment. Often seen wearing Hawaiian shirts (flaunting their poor taste), they even demonstrated with the crowds protesting the murder of George Floyd in hopes of sparking an uprising against the authorities (flaunting their mental confusion). They are in favour of preventive (civil) war, no matter who starts it. Like all the other conspiracy theorists, they are heavily armed and despite their hazy thinking and folksiness, they are dangerous.
All in all, these "entrepreneurs of violence", as political scientist Bertrand Badie has dubbed them, are thought to number around 100,000. This is at once few for a country whose population is just over 328 million, but enough to develop harmful networks, create online hubs like My Militia (subheading "An American Patriot Network"). These enable cybernauts to locate an existing militia or create one, set up platforms like Gab, Discord, Minds and Bitchute, open forums like Stormfront and IronForge, hammer out their theories about the "Great Replacement", destabilise democratic proceedings (as illustrated by the "storming" of the Capitol building by a handful of these people), and trigger criminal actions on a significant scale.
According to a report published on 17 June 2020 by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, right-wing extremists are responsible for two-thirds of the acts of terrorism and conspiracies fomented in the United States in 2019 and more than 90% between January 1st and 8 May 2020. It was these worrisome statistics that led the US Department of Home Security to conclude in a report published in October 2020 that "racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs)—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland."
OUTRAGEOUS BUT NOT SURPRISING 😡— Movement 4 Black Lives (@Mvmnt4BlkLives) October 7, 2021
Newly released body camera footage shows Minneapolis police officers allegedly celebrating the "HUNTING" of anti-police brutality protesters just five days after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd.https://t.co/0lQEvSRDU1
Whereas since the 2019 El Paso (Texas) bombing which left 22 dead, 14 US citizens and 8 Mexicans, the DHS has developed programs specifically designed to combat the threat of white nationalism, the Trump administration did its best to curtail the means at its disposal, going so far as dismantling certain units. In 2017 the extremist demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, following which Donald Trump declared there were "good people on both sides" had given a boost to a movement that has never ceased to grow with the passing of time. The possibility of parading through the streets bearing military weapons with the tacit approval of the President was perceived by the far-right as a form of support, not to say encouragement. It was a little as if one of their own was sitting in the White House. All the more so as in the past the incumbent president had not hesitated to relay tweets from neo-Nazi or supremacist Twitter accounts.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, characterised by unusually violent verbal confrontations, Trump’s entourage never missed an opportunity to encourage that growing tendency which prefers to express its viewpoint with automatic rifles, ram-raid cars and the kidnapping of people in view. Its finest hour came with the appointment of Steve Bannon to run Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Bannon is the head of Breitbart, a media empire that acts as a showcase for the Alt-Right movement, founded by Richard Spencer at the end of the 2000s and which owes much to the ideas of Alain de Benoist, French theoretician of the "new right" for forty years now, and also to Jean Raspail, a French nationalist writer.
Taking over from the neoconservatives, pretty much discredited by then, he made it is business to distil his nauseating ideas into the Republican Party. It was the moment chosen by Trump to relay via Twitter a meme from one of the "alt" forums showing Hillary Clinton surrounded by hundred-dollar bills and a star of David, with the caption: "Most corrupt candidate ever!"
Richard Spencer favours a peaceful form of ethnic cleansing and, according to the magazine Mother Jones, has declared advocating a "cool racism".
However, the "Alt-Right" made headlines in the most uncool way possible on 12 August 2017 in Charlottesville when its members demonstrated side by side with neo-Nazis and members of the KKK, shouting slogans like "white lives matter" or "Jews will not replace us". The demonstration was entitled "Unite the Right" organised to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Among the anti-fascist demonstrators, a woman was killed, and several others were injured.
No sooner had he taken office than Joe Biden took the bull by the horns, declaring in his inaugural speech: "And now arise political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront, and we will defeat." In June 2021, he was the first president to go to the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as "Black Wall Street" where hundreds of African Americans were massacred by whites in 1921. On that occasion, he declared: "Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can't be buried no matter how hard people try" and he added: "What happened in Greenwood was an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through-line that exists today still."
He also sent to the House and the Senate a report stating that the increasingly violent racism of white supremacists could degenerate into murderous attacks against civilians. And the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas has declared that domestic terrorism is the gravest danger facing the United States today, adding that the Biden administration has made it one of its top priorities.
For sure a necessary step. But must not the United States also ask itself why, twenty years after the most devastating attack it has ever suffered on its territory, terror no longer comes from the sky but from its own entrails?
Jean Michel Morel is a writer and ex-cultural mediator.
Translated from French by Noël Burch.
This article originally appeared on Orient XXI.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.