In a 1981 essay titled Socialization and Racism: The White Experience, Rutledge M. Dennis, a sociologist studying race relations in America, stated: “in order to understand the dynamics and the impact of racism, we must view it as a faith – and, for the American society, a permanent belief system rather than a transient apparition. Its longevity has been tried and tested. It now occupies a place in the American value pantheon alongside such concepts as democracy and liberty.”
In the aftermath of the January 6thattack on the Capitol, there have been increasing calls for the appointment of a Special 9/11-like Commission to investigate the insurrection. There have been calls for instituting new laws to deal with homegrown domestic terrorism. While it is unclear how far those chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” those bringing zip ties, those carrying guns inside the Capitol building, those bringing the guillotine, those carrying confederate flags; and those that viciously assaulted the police, are willing to go, hardcore militia groups, white supremacist, and neo-Nazi organizations will not be deterred by arrests and prosecutions. Domestic terrorists will continue to metastasize on the political landscape.
White racist extremists and those calling for an overthrow of the government are a consistent and ever-present danger. Can their networks be dismantled and defunded? Will those elected officials that encouraged the Capitol coup be held accountable? Will punitive measures taken by the government result in a crackdown on free speech and assembly?
Warnings about the dangers of domestic terrorism extend far beyond the past two decades. The 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho; the Timothy McVeigh-led bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, the rise of the Michigan Militia and other armed groups in the Midwest and Northwest, planned abortion clinic assassinations, the advent of VDARE and other anti-immigrant organizations, were clear warning signs that America’s homegrown terrorists were arming themselves, and living next door.
Since 9/11, homegrown domestic terrorism has wreaked more damage and destruction than attacks by foreign terrorists. A 2002 FBI report stated that “between 1980 and 2000, the FBI recorded 335 incidents or suspected incidents of terrorism in this country. Of these, 247 were attributed to domestic terrorists, while 88 were determined to be international in nature.”
As Joel Rubin recently wrote in Foreign Policy, “White supremacist terrorism has been a feature, not an outlier, of American life.” While there’s no shortage of reports recognizing the rise of domestic terrorists, Rubin, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress and a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, wrote (https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/01/18/washington-must-treat-white-supremacist-terrorism-as-a-transnational-threat/): The “U.S. government is not properly equipped to counter the threat. Something structural needs to urgently change in the national security bureaucracy to deal with right-wing violence.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged over and over again that he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep the “rapists” out, and he would keep America safe from “radical Islamic terrorism.” Both those promises were aimed at stoking fear and loathing against immigrants and Muslims. Concomitantly, it certainly stirred up his base. Trump, who claimed to know nothing about the white supremacist David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, turned a blind eye on terrorism perpetrated by extremist right-wing groups. On January 6, 2021, Trump’s encouraging a raging nearly all white mob, ended up biting him in the ass.
In 2009, right wing activists and commentators pummeled the Department of Homeland Security for issuing a report on the growing threat of rightwing extremism in the US. Conservatives called for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s resignation, and for the study to be deep-sixed. Although Napolitano did not resign, the report was subsequently withdrawn.
In 2012, The Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point produced a study of far-right organizations — written the previous November — that found that “since 2007, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from individuals and groups who self-identify with the far-right of American politics.”
In late-August 2018, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), issued a report titled “Domestic Terrorism: An Overview,“ which maintained that while it was important to focus on terrorist attacks emanating from outside the country in the post-9/11 period, “in the last decade, domestic terrorists—people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based extremist ideologies and movements—have killed American citizens and damaged property across the country.”
However, “[a]ccording to the CRS report, it’s clear that domestic terrorism is not a top federal counterterrorism priority,” the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Daryl Johnson recently reported “Nevertheless, domestic terrorist threats feature prominently among state and local law enforcement concerns.”
Despite all the reports and warnings, the Trump administration took great pains to weaken structures combatting white supremacy and domestic terrorism. Groups like the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Movement, QAnon have already spread their tentacles overseas. Similar to the Nazis attempt to bring its ideology to the US through pro-Nazi groups all across the country prior to Pear Harbor, “today’s alt-right white supremacists echo the same themes of white power used back in the 1920s and ’30s—and they have supporters abroad,” Rubin wrote.
At the Capitol on January 6, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnoners, and MAGA-ites were raging about together, occupying the same space. It should be recognized, however, that there are many factions and divergent ideas among these groups. If there was a unifying thread to the insurrection, it is the belief and acceptance of the twisted conspiracy – egged on by Trump’s refusal to concede — that the election of Joe Biden was a rigged election, perpetrated by the Democratic Party, election officials — many of them Republican – a big portion of the judiciary – including those appointed by Trump – rigged election machines, communists, pedophiles, African American communities, mail-in ballots, and even the ghost of long-dead Hugo Chavez.
The American Jewish Congress’ Joel Rubin suggests that the Biden administration “create the position of a special presidential coordinator to counter white supremacist terrorism. … Their goal should be to seek out the links between international backers of domestic white supremacist terrorist groups and vice versa, disrupting the ties between them. This individual would take with them the mindset that U.S. officials have been using for years to disrupt state sponsors of terrorism and their clients. Such an approach has worked on foreign threats. Now it’s time to apply these lessons learned to domestic ones.”
Domestic terrorists are not a one-size-fits-all phenomena. Whether these groups continue to work together, or are divided by political differences, remains to be seen. Whether they initiate a cooling off period, drifting quietly back into their refuges, is also unclear. How elected officials and government agencies respond also remains to be seen. There is a danger of overreach, but there is also a clear and demonstrably present danger from right-wing domestic terrorists. One thing appears abundantly clear: The forces that staged the Capitol insurrection will not be going away anytime soon.