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May. 27 2010 - 1:28 pm | 354 views | 3 recommendations | 1 comment

US to focus on non-white homegrown extremists

PULASKI, TN - JULY 11: Fraternal White Knights...

Fraternal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Pastor Ken Gregg poses in his Klan robe. Image by Getty Images via @daylife

John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism and homeland security, has announced a new national security strategy that will focus on the threat posed by homegrown extremists. Except, the target of this strategy doesn’t seem to be all domestic terrorism, but rather domestic terrorism with foreign roots.

There has been a surge in right-wing extremism in the U.S., copiously documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, but which was also predicted by Homeland Security. In fact, the report warned that right-wing extremists, who are “angry at the economy and the election of a black president” might recruit GWOT veterans.

I have been writing about how white domestic terrorism has slipped from the media’s radar, but sadly, it seems like the government is also uninterested by the surge in right wing extremism — possibly because such violence doesn’t fit the helpful war narrative of the “dangerous other” being brown, and from a desert landscape.

There have been a couple recent domestic terrorist attack that have been largely ignored by the media and government:

Robert Joos Jr.

A firearms and explosives expert suspected of involvement with two white supremacist brothers in the sending of a bomb to the office of a municipal diversity officer was sentenced to 6½ years in prison in Missouri on Tuesday.

And then there is the unknown man who bombed a mosque in Florida.

Unlike in the case of Faisal Shahzad, these bombs actually detonated. In a rational world, these stories would probably receive considerably more coverage than the Shahzad incident, but again, Shahzad, a Muslim Pakistani-American, fits the narrative of a “dangerous domestic threat with foreign roots.” Joos and the unknown man don’t fit that character description.

In the U.S., having ties to a foreign land is slowly becoming a crime. Those individuals, who are innocent of having ties to extremism, are simply guilty for looking foreign (as in the case of the Arizona racial profiling law.) Recently, this frenzied pandemic of nationalist paranoia almost resulted in a legal citizen being deported to Mexico.

Instead of developing a uniform definition for “terrorism,” the government has adopted the two-tier Newsweek strategy and directed the “terrorist” label only at dangerous “others.” Domestic, white attacks are…something else. The enemy must be clearly defined as living outside U.S. borders, or things would get terribly muddied.

Brennan describes the exact target of this new strategy:

“The president’s national security strategy explicitly recognises the threat to the United States posed by individuals radicalised here at home.

“We’ve seen individuals, including US citizens, armed with their US passport, travel easily to terrorist safe havens and return to America, their deadly plans disrupted by coordinated intelligence and law enforcement.”

Brennan is very clear that the domestic terrorists the administration are interested in are those individuals with ties to foreign nations. They are uninterested in the domestic terrorists, who are also trained and radicalized within the U.S..

It seems a silly strategy, or at least a misguided emphasis, considering some right wing recruits have received far superior training from the military than the average Middle East terrorist receives in al Qaeda camps. A domestic terrorist with a military background probably knows how to make a bomb that will actually explode, unlike the clusterfuck attempt made by the panicked Shahzad.

The teevee is all atwitter right now with news of Obama’s official rebranding of the War on Terror. Obama recognizes that waging war against a psychological state is a pointless, eternal endeavor. (Of course, that hasn’t stopped him from expanding the Forever Wars, but that’s another post.) Random acts of political violence will always exist, as will other things like fear, love, hope, and hatred. These things can never be completely extinguished unless the human race ceases to exist.

Yet, this new strategy picks up where the War on Terror left off. This kind of profiling directs law enforcement at an amorphous “other,” specifically brown people with ties to foreign lands. Foreigners, and foreign-like individuals, become automatic suspects even as white domestic terrorists blow up government employees, and mosques.

It makes good sense for the government to guard against threats from international terrorism cells, but it also makes sense to adopt a uniform standard of terrorism, and to turn that concern inward. This doesn’t mean the government should spy on gatherings of concerned citizens, which it did in spades during the Bush years, but rather that one standard be applied to this “terrorism” business if we are to have any hope of understanding the parameters of acceptable behavior. Otherwise, the government is legitimizing a two-tier, frankly racist, policy where brown terrorism is the real deal, while white terrorism are acts of “lone wolves,” or “survivalists.”


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    I co-host Citizen Radio, the alternative political radio show. I am a contributing reporter to Huffington Post, Alternet.org, and The Nation.

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