Posted on May 15, 2019

Tackle White Supremacy as Terrorism, Experts Say

Mallory Simon and Sara Sidner, CNN, May 15, 2019

Americans are being killed. Murdered not for what they have done or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Slaughtered again and again because, whether Jewish, or black, or simply not “pure” white, they are seen as a pestilence to be purged.

Their murderers are followers of a vile and hateful ideology that meets the FBI definition of terrorism. But some top current and former law enforcement officials say that they are not treated as terrorists, because they are American, and they are white.

But amid the rising number of deadly white supremacist attacks, the officials say that must change. White supremacy must be called terrorism and tackled with the same vigor as ISIS and al Qaeda.


66-year-old Timothy Caughman was walking alone in Midtown Manhattan collecting cans to recycle when a man approached from behind. That man plunged a sword through Caughman’s chest.


The answer to Caughman’s question would soon become clear. His killer, James Jackson, had come to New York from Maryland with a plan to start a race war.

This was more than a murder, [Manhattan District Attorney Cy] Vance decided. It was more than a hate crime. It was the targeted killing of a black man with the aspiration of dividing the races to keep killing each other, ending in the death of every black person in the United States and around the world, according to Jackson’s manifesto, Vance said.

The case was a seminal one for the district attorney’s office and for New York state, where it was the first domestic terrorism conviction of its kind. {snip}


It’s just that Americans are having a hard time admitting it, he said. It is much easier, Vance continued, for people to call someone a terrorist when they have a different skin color, or don’t speak English. But if you are trying to spread fear and wipe out a specific group of people, like Jackson was, then you must call them terrorist, he said. Calling someone a terrorist not only raises the profile of the case but can yield additional charges, and higher sentences.

On the face of it, the killing of Caughman fits into the FBI’s category of “domestic terrorism”: Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily US-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.

Caughman’s murder may not have sparked a national outcry. But it is part of a very public and growing, deadly trend of domestic terror attacks committed largely by white men. From the Charleston church massacre through the killing of a protester in Charlottesville and the shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, far-right extremists are responsible for — or suspected of — most of the ideological killings in America in the last 10 years, according to data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks extremist activity.

White supremacist murders in the US “more than doubled in 2017,” with far-right extremist groups and white supremacists “responsible for 59% of all extremist-related fatalities in the US in 2017,” ADL’s audit shows. They were responsible for 20% of these fatalities the year before.

Depending on who you ask, white supremacist terrorism is either not a problem, or the biggest threat to American democracy in years, but one that’s often ignored.

President Donald Trump has said he does not regard white nationalism as a rising global threat.


Intelligence and law enforcement officials under Trump maintain they work to keep up with all threats, though they often don’t single out white supremacism publicly, instead referring to domestic terror as a whole. {snip}

But it’s still a mistake not to call out white supremacy, according to the former head of the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force at DHS, George Selim.


Selim will take his arguments to Congress on Wednesday, when he testifies in front of the House Oversight’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The hearing is titled “Confronting white supremacy: The consequences of inaction.”

Violent Extremism.

It’s a subject Selim feels he knows too well. During the Bush and Obama administrations, he was often in the room — whether the Situation Room or the Oval Office — when key decisions were made about tackling extremism at home.

And as they saw the threat of white supremacists grow, Selim said he worked with colleagues on federal programs, specifically at DHS, that aimed to address and intervene during the radicalization process.


And then Trump took office. Selim said during the first seven months of the administration there was a “decimation of the people, resources and prioritization” of those key programs and infrastructure that was aimed at working with law enforcement, counter-messaging, community resilience and engagement and outreach.

He became so frustrated he quit. He saw that the domestic terrorist acts killing Americans were predominantly perpetrated by those with views tied to white nationalism or supremacy, but the new administration had different priorities.


‘The new normal’: Radicalized white men

In some ways, the precursors to the racist murders mirror those before foreign terrorist attacks. The radicalization, specifically online, is similar to those who pledge allegiance to ISIS or al Qaeda, experts say. One of the noticeable differences is these extremists are white.


The gunman in Charleston and the Pittsburgh and Poway suspects all engaged in hateful speech online before taking their rage and turning it into deadly action.

Selim also said that, too often, there seems to be a reluctance to name white men as possibly dangerous. And that itself is dangerous because white supremacists and nationalists are a “real and persistent threat,” he said.

“As I look forward in the next five to 10 or more years, we need to acclimate ourselves to the new normal, which is increased incidents of domestic extremism, domestic terrorism, anti-Semitism, and all acts of bigotry or Islamophobia, xenophobia that target ethnic and religious minority groups,” he said. “Once we understand that that is very likely the new normal, then we can put in place some of the strong infrastructure related to counterterrorism and community resilience that we’ve already built up and focus it on these new threats that we know we’re going to be facing.”


Sending a powerful message

If Selim is hoping Congress will take steps on the identification of dangerous white supremacists, Manhattan DA Vance is hoping the same people will take action on what can be done with suspects once identified.

Many states do not have terrorism laws on the books or prosecute cases the way he did with the murder of Caughman, who called himself a can and bottle recycler and autograph collector on his Twitter account, where he posted a photo of himself waiting to vote in the 2016 election.


And calling it terrorism and getting a life sentence can send a powerful message that white nationalism will not be normalized in New York, Vance said.


FBI Assistant Director Michael McGarrity testified to the House Committee on Homeland Security last week that the bureau is doing its part to tackle the issue on a federal level. He shared that the Trump administration has added domestic terrorism to its national security strategy, a first for the country.

“We’re highlighting that there is a domestic terrorism threat that is persistent,” McGarrity said. “We don’t differentiate between a domestic terrorism attack we’re trying to stop or an international terrorism attack. It’s a terrorism attack we’re looking to stop,” he said.

But to Selim, the lack of specificity was troubling. He wanted to hear officials say white supremacists. White terror. White nationalist terrorism. To voice what is an unsettling truth — today’s terrorism in the US is most often perpetrated by white Americans who look more like the Founding Fathers than foreign-born jihadis.

Double standards

Outside of perception, the law itself also creates a double standard.

Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions initially told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the killing of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville met the “definition of domestic terrorism.” But James Fields, who drove a car into counter protesters at high speed, wasn’t charged with being a terrorist as there is no single crime of domestic terrorism.


Another case is the Coast Guard lieutenant currently accused of plotting a domestic terror attack. Prosecutors say he planned to conduct a mass killing of prominent Democratic politicians and members of the news media, including CNN. But without a law saying domestic terrorism is a crime, he can only be charged with lesser offences.

A ‘scary’ silence

In last week’s House hearing, members asked the assembled law enforcement chiefs about the online activity of the alleged Poway shooter, who appears to have posted a manifesto on the 8chan site and been cheered on there, as have white supremacist attackers before him.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican member of the committee, asked intelligence and law enforcement experts from the FBI, Justice Department and DHS how the US can tackle the issue, seeking advice to guide possible legislation.


He was met with silence.


The officials then explained the difficulties in monitoring the forums and balancing free speech. And DHS says they have developed robust partnerships with the tech sector.

But at the root of it all, again, is there’s no domestic terrorism statute.


“I think as, as white Americans, we may not be as readily willing to identify this group of terrorists that are like us,” [Vance] said. “And I think that’s perhaps a little bit of human nature it’s easier to identify the enemy as someone who doesn’t look like you or doesn’t speak the language, but when it is your neighbor and like people you know, then it’s, it’s harder to, it’s hard to call that out … and call it terrorism.”