Which is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States, ISIS or the Ku Klux Klan?
According to a new study from the New American Foundation, white supremacist and other homegrown, domestic extremist groups are a greater threat to national security than Islamic terror groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. In other words, concern yourself more with the threat from within than the one from beyond.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, white terrorists have killed 48 people on U.S. soil, while 26 were killed by radical so-called jihadists. The study also found that the criminal justice system punished Islamic militants more severely, with more frequent indictments and longer sentences.
Among the white supremacist attacks were the recent mass murder at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the 2014 shooting at two Kansas City Jewish centers that left three dead, a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six, the 2009 Pittsburgh police shootings in which an anti-government gunman with racist views murdered three officers and the 2009 shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, in which a white supremacist gunned down a security guard.
The news comes as more attention is paid to hate groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, the descendant of the White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and 1960s which maintains ties to Republican Party politicians and inspired Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof.
The report is important because it counters the racially-driven narrative that Islamic terrorists—typically brown or Black and foreign-born—are a scourge upon the nation and an existential threat.
Organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have been sounding the alarm on the problem of domestic hate groups for quite some time. Angry white men, driven by a hatred of Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, Jews and Barack Obama—and fueled by resentment over the gains of the civil rights movement and their love of the gun, the Confederate flag and the swastika—seek to take back what they view as “their” country.
They are emboldened and empowered by the dog whistle politics of conservative movement lawmakers who brand people of color as the enemy and enact laws to keep them down and kill their dreams. Conservative movement lawmakers walk hand in hand with their less sophisticated, unwashed terrorist brethren who wage violence in the streets. Just as segregationist politicians blocked the schoolhouse doors and preserved segregation as the Klan lynched and terrorized half a century ago, so too do today’s tea party lawmakers block the Black vote while neo-Nazi and neo-Confederate racists murder Black people in church.
However, despite the clear danger posed by violent white supremacists, the white-dominated society does not regard these acts of terrorism as a serious concern. This is because white violence against others has been normalized in the land of the free. Further, the term “terrorism” is a politically charged and color-coded word.
White Christian men, the preeminent mass shooters in this country, are not regarded as terrorists, but rather as troubled, wayward souls, perhaps drug-addicted or mentally ill. But people of color are thugs, gangbangers and yes, terrorists, even when they are innocent of any wrongdoing. This would explain the respect police bestow upon white mass shooting and terrorism suspects like Roof, as opposed to the killing of Black bodies such as Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Mike Brown and others by law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Electronic Intifada reports on Daryl Johnson, lead author of a suppressed 2009 Department of Homeland Security report, who claims the Obama administration ignored the threats coming from white rightwing extremism. The 2009 report predicted today’s domestic terror attacks, stating that “Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.”
The report added “the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn—including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit—could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past.”
The study made parallels to the 1990s, when rightwing extremism was fueled by a recession and criticism over job outsourcing, and the perceived threat to U.S. sovereignty and power by foreign powers.
Johnson accuses DHS of gutting his unit amid conservative outrage over the report.
Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, the violent march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, white supremacists are still hunting us down, and we should take note.