BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In the little over a month since Donald Trump took the White House, chaos has reigned supreme with executive orders, massive leaks, attacks on the press, a bevy of policy proposals, and the ratcheting up of the level of incidents of domestic hate across the nation. One Trump administration proposal that has slipped by relatively unnoticed has Team Trump signaling that it would de-emphasize combatting homegrown right-wing extremism and terrorism, and totally focus on fanning the flames of fear of Islamic terrorism.
Last week, after hurling ethnic slurs and questioning the immigration status of Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, two immigrants from India relaxing after work at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas, Adam W. Purinton was thrown out of the bar. A short time later, he returned with a vengeance, firing on the two men, killing Kuchibhotia and wounding Madasani, and a 24-year-old man who tried to apprehend Purinton as he fled. "In Washington," The New York Times reported, "White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, rejected any link between Mr. Trump's policy agenda and the shooting, which many Indians believed might have been inspired by the president's harsh tone on immigration."
In early February, it was reported that the Trump administration was seriously considering removing neo-Nazis and white supremacists from the government's counter-extremism program, and concentrating on Islamic terrorists. The possible changes go against recent statistics showing that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents have increased since the first of the year and that over the past year, the number of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have grown.
"Violent extremist threats come from a range of groups and individuals, including domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists in the United States, as well as international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. Lone offenders or small groups may be radicalized to commit violence at home or attempt to travel overseas to become foreign fighters. The use of the Internet and social media to recruit and radicalize individuals to violence means that conventional approaches are unlikely to identify and disrupt all terrorist plots," reads the current description of the program called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website.
The Guardian reported that the CVE initiative "aims to deter groups or potential lone attackers within the US through community partnerships and education and counter-messaging campaigns in cooperation with companies such as Google and Facebook, and is separate from military and intelligence efforts against online extremism."
According to Lizzie Deardon, writing for the UK's Independent, "American officials briefed on the proposed changes told Reuters the CVE initiative could be renamed to 'Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.'" This "reclassification would remove its work combating far-right attacks and mass shootings, such as the massacre of black churchgoers in Charleston, which are rarely classified as terrorism by American authorities," Deardon reported.
"Talk of removing white nationalists and far-rightists from the program sends a green light to a growing number of dangerous would-be domestic terrorists," Devin Burghart, Vice President, the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights (IREHR), told me in an email exchange. "In no uncertain terms, if enacted, these changes put American lives at risk and could lead to a devastating new wave of far-right terror attacks."
Over the past twenty-two years – since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh – attacks by right-wing domestic terrorists surpassed attacks by homegrown Islamic terrorists.
Bud Welch, who lost his daughter in the Oklahoma City bombing, is concerned that the Trump administration will begin ignoring domestic terror threats from right-wing extremists. "ISIS, to me, is really not a hell of a lot different than the militia movement in the US," Welch recently told the Associated Press.
"In recent weeks," Burghart explained, "a South Carolina white nationalist was arrested for allegedly planning a terror attack 'in the spirit of Dylann Roof,' there was a group of North Carolina Tea Partiers accused of threatening to kill Muslims, and the arrest of Three Percenters in three different states. That list doesn't include the at least 68 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions around the country."
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, since the Oklahoma City bombing there have been more than 100 attacks by homegrown right-wing terrorists, including, a bomb planted at the Spokane Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March in 2011; a 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six; the slaying of nine black churchgoers by Dylann Roof during a 2015 prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina; and numerous attacks – some deadly – on abortion clinics across the country.
Terrorists – Islamic or homegrown right-wing extremists – are frequently inspired by postings on the Internet. Legal scholar William Yeomans told the AP that Roof, convicted in the Charleston attack, is a "classic example of a homegrown domestic terrorist. He certainly was inspired by domestic organizations," said Yeomans, who is on the faculty at American University and formerly served as a high-ranking official in the Justice Department's civil rights division. "He spent a lot of time on the internet looking at far right-wing websites."
"Some people …. think of terrorism as foreign, by definition," professor Mark Smith of the University of Washington's political science department, told the Yakima (Washington) Herald. "It's one of these things that political leaders will push to create in-group, out-group divisions."
"In Donald Trump's case, he's wanting to draw these clear lines of who's in and who's out," Smith said. "It just serves his purpose to focus only on foreign sources of terrorism rather than domestic sources."
"The proposed changes are also a reminder that keeping an eye on the far-right shouldn't be left to law enforcement," IREHR's Burghart pointed out. "Keeping our communities safe from far-rightists is a responsibility that falls to all of us. Human Rights groups, including IREHR, will need to intensify our research and monitoring capability in the current political climate."
Burghart noted that in order to assist in community efforts to conduct anti-bigotry research, IREHR "is launching a new smartphone app (IOS and Android) which will give users alerts to local far-right activity, allow users to securely capture acts of bigotry on video, allow them to report far-right activity, and providedetailed toolkit for community response and security."