By David Neiwert
The Guardian (11/26/17)
In the days before he walked into Charleston’s Mother Emanuel church with a gun and murdered nine people, Dylann Roof put together a manifesto. It was a bizarre, rambling tract loaded with racial and political animus, much of it cribbed from white-supremacist groups with ties to South Carolina’s Republican establishment. In the final section, Roof wrote:
“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
Roof ’s manifesto was reminiscent of a similar document penned in 2008 by a conservative Tennessee man named Jim David Adkisson. Adkisson was enraged by the looming nomination of a black man as the Democratic candidate for the presidency.
“I’m protesting the DNC running such a radical leftist candidate,” Adkisson wrote. “Osama Hussein Obama, yo mama. No experience, no brains, a joke. Dangerous to America, he looks like Curious George!” He was appalled by the race-mixing mores of modern times as exemplified by Obama’s mother: “How is a white woman having a niger [sic] baby progress?” he asked.
In July 2008, Adkisson walked into a Unitarian Universalist church in downtown Knoxville during a performance of a children’s musical, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. He opened fire, killing two people and wounding seven more.
Rightwing pundits in particular have viciously attacked and silenced anyone who tries to bring up rightwing violence in the framework of terrorism. They have grown touchy about their own ideological and rhetorical proximity to the extremism that is fueling the violence.
The image most Americans have when they think of terrorism is an act committed by someone wearing a turban. That is mostly a result of the al-Qaida attacks of September 11, 2001, and their lingering aftermath, especially a declared ‘war on terror’ that focused on battling radical Islamists in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.
In much of the public imagination, Adkisson’s and Roof’s rampages were isolated incidents. In reality, however, they were key manifestations of a larger, more disturbing phenomenon, one which has been ignored or even actively discounted by elected officials and the mainstream media – rightwing domestic terrorism.
In the seven and a half years between those two attacks, domestic terrorism in America – acts that are plotted and executed on American soil, directed at US citizens, by actors based here – spiked dramatically. But hardly anyone noticed.
During that time span, there were 201 total cases of domestic terrorism in the United States – almost three times the rate of the preceding eight years. The large majority of these crimes were committed by rightwing extremists – some 115 in all, compared to 63 cases of Islamist-inspired domestic terror, and 19 cases of leftwing-extremist terrorism.
Rightwing extremist terrorism was more often deadly than Islamist extremism: nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of seventy-nine deaths, whereas just 8% of Islamist incidents caused fatalities. However, the total number of deaths resulting from Islamist incidents was higher – 90 – due largely to three mass shootings in which nearly all the casualties occurred: in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, and in 2015 in San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida, in 2016. Incidents related to leftwing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights actions, were comparatively rare: 19 incidents resulted in five deaths.
For at least a generation, rightwing homegrown extremists have been far and away the largest source of terrorism in the United States. The most damaging domestic terrorist attack ever committed on American soil was the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people and injured another 680. Initially, media speculation focused on Islamic radical terrorists as the possible source of the terrorist attack, but the perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, turned out to be white rightwing extremists. …
Just as Donald Trump’s victorious campaign for the US presidency shocked the world, the seemingly sudden national prominence of white supremacists, xenophobes, militia leaders, and mysterious “alt-right” figures mystifies many. But the American extreme right has been growing steadily in number and influence since the 1990s with the rise of patriot militias. Following 9/11, conspiracy theorists found fresh life; and in virulent reaction to the first black US president, militant racists have come out of the woodwork. Nurtured by a powerful right-wing media sector in radio, TV, and online, the far right, Tea Party movement conservatives, and Republican activists found common ground. Figures such as Stephen Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Alex Jones, once rightly dismissed as cranks, now haunt the reports of mainstream journalism.
Investigative reporter David Neiwert has been tracking extremists for more than two decades. In Alt-America, he provides a deeply researched and authoritative report on the growth of fascism and far-right terrorism, the violence of which in the last decade has surpassed anything inspired by Islamist or other ideologies in the United States. The product of years of reportage, and including the most in-depth investigation of Trump’s ties to the far right, this is a crucial book about one of the most disturbing aspects of American society. …
“Over the last two decades, David Neiwert has been one of our finest analysts of the American far right, paying sustained, serious and careful attention to the seemingly fringe movements of conspiracy theorists and insurrectionists. Now it turns out these movements are not so fringe after all but have helped elect Donald Trump as president. This crisply written book, grounded in his solid reporting, tells the whole sordid story with clarity and force. More than anyone else, Neiwert understands that Trumpism has deep roots in American culture and history. In this book, he lays out those roots for all to see.”