Dick Polman: Why no mention of domestic right-wing terrorism?
Two right-wing losers, locked and loaded, strode Sunday into a Vegas pizza shop and executed two cops—a classic case of domestic terrorism. Yet nobody wants to use the “T” word.
The losers dumped the dead cops on the floor, sprinkled them with Nazi swastikas, covered them with a replica 18th-century “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and yelled “This is a revolution.” Yet this episode is typically being described, in the media as just a random act of “antigovernment violence.” The NBC Nightly News devoted a lot of airtime to the shootings yet never once dared use the “T” word.
Here’s a little test: What if the shooters hadn’t been white Americans? What if, instead, the shooters had been extremist Muslims who covered the dead cops with an Al Qaida flag and yelled “Allahu Akbar”? Rest assured, we’d all be invoking the “T” word in a climate of national hysteria, with Fox News fulminating about the lone wolves roaming among us.
An assistant sheriff in Vegas disclosed Monday that the Millers had “an ideology that’s along the lines of militia and white supremacists.” The Las Vegas Sun reported that the Millers “had a reputation for spouting racist, anti-government views.” They ranted about welfare and Obama. A neighbor said they handed out “white-power propaganda.” They walked around with a shopping cart full of all-American weaponry and spoke constantly of the coming “revolution.”
Yet nobody thinks to call this terrorism.
Conservatives in particular are so worried right now about the five newly released Taliban prisoners—Lindsey Graham says they’re a terrorist “dream team”—but perhaps we should (finally) wake up and focus a bit more on our own backyard.
Actually, we’ve tried to do that. Five years ago, the Department of Homeland Security released a report on the growing domestic threat (“Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”)—but, naturally, conservatives freaked out. John Boehner said the report unfairly maligned “American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking the nation.” The conservative freakout was so intense that Homeland Security apologized and withdrew its work.
But here’s a key passage from the report: “DHS has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy—separate from any formalized group.”
Well, what do you know? There’s no better way to describe the Millers.
And there’s no better way to describe Wade Michael Page, the Wisconsin white supremacist who killed six Sikhs in 2012. And Jerry Ralph Kane, a devotee of the right-wing “sovereign citizen” movement, who killed two Arkansas cops in 2010. And Scott Roeder, another “sovereign citizen,” who killed a Kansas abortion doctor in 2009. And Shawna Forde, Albert Gaxiola, and Jason Bush, a trio that killed two Latinos in Arizona and stole their money, also in 2009, in the hopes of financing an anti-immigrant vigilante group. And Frazier Glenn Cross, a Klansman and self-described “white patriot” who killed three people at two Jewish facilities in Kansas just two months ago.
Understandably, the 9/11 attacks have conditioned us to equate terrorism with foreign extremists. But according to a tally conducted by the nonpartisan New America Foundation, right-wing extremists have killed 37 people in the United States since 9/11. By contrast, terrorists inspired by Al Qaida’s ideology have killed 21. (A foundation director also writes: “Although a variety of left-wing militants and environmental extremists have carried out violent attacks for political reasons against property and individuals since 9/11, none have been linked to a lethal attack.”)
So we appear to have a blind spot about our own politically murderous misfits, a misguided belief that terrorism is perpetrated solely by swarthy people with funny names. But in the words of Homeland Security, “non-Islamic domestic terrorism” is a clear and present danger—just ask those shocked cops in Vegas—and we should call it what it is. There’s no point in obsessing about the five Taliban fighters when the enemy is already among us.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns are distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.