If people on the Left are often too eager to downplay the Islamic aspect of Islamic terrorism, many on the Right are equally anxious to do the same with the extreme-right and anti-government nature of domestic terrorism in the US.
On the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, which killed 168 people and wounded hundreds more, it’s worth recalling how many people reflexively assumed that Muslims were responsible. (I was living in Israel at the time, but I remember a supposed expert blathering on Israeli TV about how close Oklahoma City was to a place in Kentucky where some suspicious Islamic organization was headquartered. I checked a map and noticed that the Kentucky location was equally close to New York City.)
Of course the perpetrators turned out not to be Muslims, but rather anti-government fanatics.
Even now, whenever a terrorist act or a mass slaughter is committed, there’s an unseemly rush to find an Islamic connection even before the most basic facts are known. (I remember just such a thing happening in the Harry’s Place comments immediately after the Virginia Tech massacre.) I can’t help detecting an almost Goebbelsian delight beneath the outrage whenever it turns out that Muslims are responsible.
Conversely others, just as reflexively, try to dismiss the possibility that radical Muslims might be involved.
On the Oklahoma City bombing anniversary, The Kansas City Star has been reporting on the often-neglected topic of domestic-inspired terrorism in the US.
The series opens with photos of the more than 50 victims of domestic extremists, “including white nationalists, militias and sovereign citizens,” since 9/11, and the circumstances under which they died.
In an article titled “Ignoring the terror within,” reporter Judy L. Thomas writes:
Officers Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans never saw it coming.
The white minivan pulled over on Interstate 40 near West Memphis, Ark., in 2010 came back registered to a church in Ohio. Inside the vehicle were a Bible and some documents quoting Scripture.
Minutes later, Evans lay dying in the ditch and Paudert was sprawled on the roadway, their bodies tattered by two dozen bullets from an AK-47.
The killers: members of the sovereign citizen movement, which the officers had never heard of.
“They didn’t realize that there are people at war with this country who are not international terrorists,” said Bob Paudert, then West Memphis police chief and father of one of the slain officers.
“These people are willing to kill and be killed for their beliefs. And they are more dangerous to us in law enforcement than international terrorists.”
Domestic terrorism used to be a major focus for police and federal agents, especially after the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 20 years ago Sunday.
But the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, led to a dramatic change: Law enforcement shifted its focus from domestic to foreign terrorism.
And today, while the number of violent incidents committed by domestic extremists is actually increasing, the holes in the net to catch them are growing larger, The Kansas City Star found in a one-year investigation.
The Kansas City area experienced that firsthand a year ago when a man shot three people to death outside two Jewish sites in Overland Park. Avowed white supremacist F. Glenn Miller Jr., also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., was taken into custody at a nearby school shortly after the rampage, shouting “Heil Hitler” as he was loaded into a police car.
“We are five years into the largest resurgence of right-wing extremism that we’ve had since the 1990s,” said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, which trains more than 10,000 law enforcement officers a year about domestic terrorism, extremism and hate crimes.
From 2009 through July 2014, Pitcavage said, authorities were involved in 46 shootouts with domestic extremists.
“When it comes to domestic extremism, what tends to happen is that a lot of it goes under the radar, and a lot — including murders and what you would think would be major incidents — only gets reported locally and regionally,” Pitcavage said.
“So unless it happens in your backyard, the average American doesn’t quite realize how much of this is happening.”
Conservatives complain that liberals are exaggerating the threat of domestic terrorism — even accusing right-leaning Americans of being prone to terrorism — while ignoring the growing threat of Islamic extremists.
In February, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin denounced a new DHS report warning of a domestic terrorism threat from sovereign citizen extremists as an example of the government putting tax dollars to work “defaming conservatives” and “deflecting attention from worldwide murderous jihad.”
But liberals say conservatives are turning domestic terrorism into a partisan issue and downplaying the threat posed by American extremists with ultra-right ideologies.
Citing one instance, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “the political right went into familiar denial mode.”
He pointed to a February edition of Fox News’ “The Five,” where co-hosts criticized the recent DHS report. Two of them said liberals can name only two right-wing terrorist events over the past four decades. “Give us a recent right-wing or Christian crusade or terrorist attack that happened on American soil,” Eric Bolling said.