In what papers are calling “one of the most startling and potentially serious cases of an anti-government militia to be brought before the courts in recent years,” three U.S. soldiers have been arraigned for murder and may get the death penalty, stemming from charges they amassed an arsenal, plotted several domestic terror attacks, and killed two friends who had become “loose ends” in their diabolic plans.
You haven’t heard of this? Not surprising, since this story doesn’t square with the narrative that homegrown Muslim radicals are not only infiltrating the government, and the military, but plotting the next big domestic terror assault on American soil. These militiamen, arrested in Georgia where they were stationed at Fort Stewart, are white. They don’t pray in a mosque and certainly don’t want to build one. According to reports, however, they were members of FEAR — Forever Enduring Always Ready — which has been loosely described as an anarchist group set on overthrowing the government and killing President Obama.
These aren’t the first white militia types to be arrested in recent years. Indeed, they join a string of supposed Muslim plotters arrested since 2001. The difference between the recent Georgia case and many of the others is the FBI wasn’t involved from the beginning to set them up and lead them by the nose (the Muslim community is quite familiar with these tactics). These FEAR guys were apparently the real deal. They bought real weapons, and a lot of them, and in the case of the Fort Stewart gang, they committed real murder, killing the guy who allegedly helped to get them the weapons and his girlfriend, execution style, after luring them into the woods.
Turns out there’s been a number of cases that have brought to light the existence of individuals associated with, or who had exhibited proclivities for, white nationalism or neo-Nazism, including Wade Michael Page, who was responsible for the shooting deaths of 12 Sikh worshipers in their suburban Milwaukee temple earlier last month. Page was reportedly a troubled man, an apparent alcoholic, who had been kicked out of the military and was connected with skinhead rock bands, white supremacists and neo-Nazis for the last 10 years.
Sikhs, often mistaken for Muslims, have been the target of numerous hate crimes, including violence, since 9/11.
Indeed there have been only four known cases of Muslim individuals successfully carrying out apparent terrorist attacks/hate crimes against non-Muslims on American soil since 9/11 (chart here). The most high profile occurred in 2009, when U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 fellow service members in a bloody shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas.
So far, of the successful killers, only the Little Rock shooter, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, has been tied to some sort of al-Qaeda training overseas. Though it has been tried, Hasan has not yet been tied to any organized jihad, or holy war, against the U.S.
In Hasan’s case, emails have been recovered between Hasan and his old Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who was suspected of al-Qaeda ties and overseas terror plots, and used to preach in suburban Virginia. No one has established whether Awlaki had played a greater role in the Ft. Hood murders other than “inspiring” the clearly disturbed Hassan to pull them off. No one can really know, since Awlaki, also an American citizen, was targeted and killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen in 2011.
An exception to all this might be Pakistani-born Faisal Shahzad who tried, but failed, to set off a carload of explosives in Times Square in 2011. He reportedly acted in revenge for U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and has been connected to a Taliban group there.
But consider all of the domestic terror attacks conducted by non-Muslims that have not been so widely reported, like when Jim Adkisson walked into the Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church on July 27, 2008 and sprayed a youth group with gunfire, killing two and injuring several others. Police said he was motivated to kill “liberals and Democrats.”
Or Keith Luke, who murdered two people and shot one more in Brockton, Mass., in 2009, and plotted to murder more in an effort to kill as many non-whites and Jews as he could before killing himself. Or prison guard Raymond Franklin Peake, who was sentenced to life without parole in April after killing a man and stealing a gun he reportedly planned to use in an anti-government plot with other militiamen.
A useful compendium of non-Islamist domestic terror plots and attacks can be found here, thanks to The American Muslim website.
We’ve all heard of Muslim extremists, but there have been so many foiled plots by anti-abortionists, anarchists, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan and schizophrenic lone wolves that have not received the same attention. When you put it all together, it renders a much more complicated picture of politics and violence and mental illness than the media and Washington allows us to see.
Instead, angry Muslims have dominated the domestic terror story since 9/11, leaving very little else for examining extremism in other forms. Think about it, when an internal Department of Homeland Security report (.pdf) about domestic extremism suggested the possible rise of homegrown anti-government hate groups and dared to suggest that recent veterans might be able recruits in this arena, the department was lambasted by the right-wing, and forced to withdraw the report.
It just didn’t jibe with the predominant right-wing agenda, which at that time had the ear of the compliant mainstream media and had struck fear in the hearts of vulnerable Democratic pols everywhere.
Case in point: as it happened, the Feb. 18, 2010 incident in which a suicide pilot flew his plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, occurred on the opening day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the biggest congregation of young and old Republican conservatives of the year.
I was covering the event for Antiwar.com that day, and wondered briefly if news that the pilot, a white Caucasian male by the name of Andrew Joseph Stack, had a bone to pick with the government, would penetrate the buzz in the cavernous ballroom or exhibition hall (which, that year, was seriously packed with Tea Party patriots high on a big electoral win that fall).
But that was silly. I knew from experience that the only talk at this confab about terrorists — domestic or otherwise — would involve the Muslim kind. A white guy flying his plane into the IRS certainly did not fit their shopworn but comfortable terror meme.
I was right — while all the right-wing acolytes stayed far away from the what was to be the only successful suicide attack in the U.S. involving a plane since 9/11 (the disgruntled engineer killed one 63-year-old IRS manager and injured 13 others) their attention was focused elsewhere — like how to torture and deprive suspected terrorists (implicit, Muslims) of their Miranda rights. Meanwhile, a capacity crowd listened to Islamophobe jihad hunters Pamela Geller and Richard Spencer talk about how Islamists (implicit, terrorists) have “infiltrated” every level of the U.S. government.
11 Years On and No Jihad
But while Liz Cheney was demanding loyalty oaths from the Justice Department lawyers (suggesting they had ties to terrorists), and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King joined his Senate counterpart Joe Lieberman in raising the alarms over “homegrown jihad,” and Newt Gingrich was talking about how Sharia law was a “mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it,” a funny thing happened on the way to the truth: the jihadist threat never really materialized, at least not enough to match the hype.
Instead, experts say the number of hate groups involving white nationalists and racists and anti-government groups have increased, and, as this New America Foundation study indicates, the most dangerous domestic terror plots — the ones in which suspects actually acquired weapons of mass destruction like cyanide and ricin — involved right-wing extremists.
From Stephen Coll, president of New America on Aug. 9:
The entire decade-long domestic death toll from terrorism (that is, where a political or ideological motive was apparent) was thirty. By comparison, the rate of annual deaths from mass shootings by non-ideological deranged killers—such as the gunman who attacked moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, last month—runs more than thirty times higher (on average, about a hundred deaths each year). In all, there are about fifteen thousand murders in America each year.
Of the three hundred domestic-terrorism cases studied, about a quarter arose from anti-government extremists, white supremacists, or terrorists animated by bias against another religion. And all of the most frightening cases—involving chemical, biological, and radiological materials—arose from right-wing extremists or anarchists. None arose from Islamist militancy.
Then Coll asks, “Why do these statistics seem so poorly publicized? Is the media a symptom of this problem or a cause?”
Good question. I would say both: the poor media coverage is a symptom of the narrative driven by not only the most unreconstructed right-wing interests in government (as all national security affairs have been crafted since 9/11), but by a corporate culture for which maintaining the fear of a radical enemy on American soil is good for business. By ignoring statistics and compliantly pushing the preferred story along, the media has had no small hand in stirring this unfortunate pot of public paranoia.
Islam-bashing and even the paranoia over American jihad seems to have hit a plateau in America, despite all the efforts of the aforementioned American patriots of peace. Newt Gingrich lost his attempt at becoming the presidential nominee, even after he apparently read the tea leaves and toned down his Cassandra-like wailing over Sharia. Glenn Beck, who loved to stoke the Islamophobic fires on his once wildly-popular Fox News television program, is barely mentionable in Republican Party circles today.
A full-on rebuke from Sen. John McCain of fellow Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann after she tried to link Hillary Clinton’s long time aide, who is Muslim, with the Muslim Brotherhood, suggests, too, that the Islamophobes are on a short leash even in the GOP. The same goes for the unceremonious dumping of Frank Gaffney from Wednesday’s Weyrich Lunches, which are invite-only, and a must-do for Washington beltway conservatives.
It also doesn’t help their cause when one of the most brutal post 9/11 attacks in the western world involved a right-wing extremist who quoted Islamophobes like Geller and Spencer in his online manifesto 250 times before killing 77 people and injured hundreds in a terrifying July 2011 spree.
Certainly, politics have always played a role in fear mongering over domestic terrorism. Liberals under the auspices of the Clinton Administration and with Hollywood’s loving touch kept the focus on right-wingers and Christian cults during the 1990’s. History tells us we should’ve been paying more attention to Osama bin Laden, too.
But Timothy McVeigh did exist, and so do a lot of other individuals and groups bent on destruction. It does us no great service to ignore the skinheads because the right-wing politicians and their loyal loonosphere are telling us to look for a jihad that may or may not even exist.
Follow Vlahos on Twitter @KelleyBVlahos.