BY JOE CONASON
Confronting acts of domestic political violence, the conditioned response of major media outlets is to blame “both sides,” signaling their own supposed neutrality amid intense national polarization. Some voices even attempt to equate loud speech or angry words in restaurants to the murderous spray of an assault rifle.
But to pretend that left and right inflict equivalent levels of deadly violence in American society is both inaccurate and irresponsible. Examining the data on domestic terrorism and hate crimes leaves no doubt: The majority of politically motivated killings in our country over the past two decades have been perpetrated by individuals identified with the far right, not by any faction of the left and not even by radical Islamists.
It is a pattern that continued in recent weeks, when three horrific crimes – a double murder of two African-Americans in Kentucky, a massacre of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh and the attempted bombing of former Democratic presidents and many other potential victims – were perpetrated by right-wing fanatics.
A year ago last summer, in June 2017, the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute published a comprehensive study of extremist violence in the United States by David Neiwert, a journalist with long experience covering extremist groups. [Disclosure: I work as editor-at-large for the Investigative Fund.]
Working with a team of reporters and editors from the Investigative Fund and Reveal, the National Public Radio program sponsored by the Center for Investigative Reporting, Neiwert compiled a database of incidents between January 2009 and the end of 2016. Neiwert and his team found that the far right – militia outfits, so-called “Patriot” organizations and Klan or Nazi hate groups – was responsible for nearly twice as many domestic terror plots and acts of violence as Islamist cells during those nine years.
While the researchers identified 63 cases of terror motivated by Islamist ideology, as espoused by the Islamic State or ISIS, they found 115 terror incidents motivated by right-wing extremism. More than 75% of the Islamist efforts were “foiled plots” in which an attack was prevented, but the majority of the right-wing attempts resulted in casualties, including at least 79 deaths. Until the mass shooting in Fort Hood, TX, the far rightists had killed three times as many Americans as the jihadists.
The only relevant change since 2016 is the ascension of a president whose rhetoric and style routinely encourage his violent supporters on the right. Emerging from the shadows, organized thugs in groups like the Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, the Atomwaffen Division and the Rise Above Movement now commit assaults on the streets of Berkeley, Portland, Charlottesville, New York and other major cities.
Twenty years earlier, when right-wing extremists blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, the Clinton Administration went after their ilk. But even as right-wing violence began to grow again in succeeding decades, federal law enforcement devoted far greater resources to countering the jihadist threat. Such a response was understandable in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attack, when al-Qaida was clearly plotting massive attacks on American soil.
That policy makes no sense today.
Not surprisingly, however, the Trump Administration has virtually disbanded the Department of Homeland Security division aimed at thwarting right-wing terror. Within the White House, presidential advisers such as Sebastian Gorka – a supposed “terrorism expert” and a figure connected with Nazi nostalgists in his homeland of Hungary – insisted Islamist terrorists were the only real threat. Gorka is long gone from the National Security Council, but his misguided outlook remains influential.
Now we know how wrong he was to discount the murderous ambitions of the far right. And we should stop deluding ourselves that “both sides” represent an equivalent threat to security and order. It is a very dangerous lie.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer