The storm I’ve been warning about is coming in faster now. It is time for the right to stand up against the escalating tide of violence fueled by its own rhetoric.
To get a sense of just how fast, you only need to take stock of what’s been happening on the right wing since President Obama’s inauguration:
Wednesday, January 21 — the day after the inauguration — 22-year-old Keith Luke goes on a violent spree in his Boston neighborhood. He rapes and kills one woman, and also kills the sister who tries to help her. He then goes out onto the street and shoots a passing homeless man. Police intercept him on his way to a local synagogue, where he tells them he intended to “kill as many Jews as possible during bingo night.” He also says that he was fighting the extinction of the white race, and had stockpiled 200 round of ammunition to that end.
Tuesday, February 10 — In Belfast, Maine, radioactive “dirty bomb” materials are found in home of James Cummings, who had been shot and killed by his wife after years of domestic violence. Cummings was an admirer of Adolf Hitler, and a large collection of Nazi memorabilia and a filled-out application for the National Socialist Movement were found on the scene.
Thursday, February 26 — In Miramar Beach, FL, 60-year-old Dannie Baker walks into a neighboring townhouse where 14 Chilean students — all in the US legally — are gathered. He fires, killing two and wounding five. Those who know Baker describe him as a mentally ill man obsessed with fear that immigrants are taking over the country.
Sunday, April 5 — Budding white supremacist and recently discharged veteran Richard Popalowski shoots and kills three police officers following a standoff in Pittsburgh. They were responding to a domestic disturbance call. He believed they had been sent by the Obama Adminstration to take away his guns.
Tuesday, April 28 — US Army Reservist Joshua Cartwright shoots and kills two sheriff’s deputies in Fort Walton Beach, FL. His wife escaped from him after he beat her, and called police from the emergency room. In the incident report, she reported that her husband believed the US Government was conspiring against him, and was severely disturbed that Barack Obama had been elected President.
Wednesday, May 6 — Stephen P. Morgan of Middletown, CT kills former NYU classmate Johanna Justin-Jinich, whom he had been harassing since at least 2007. A diary found in his belongings included an entry: “I think it’s ok to kill Jews and go on a killing spree” and “Kill Johanna. She must Die.” Justin-Jinich was Jewish, and the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.
Sunday, May 31 — Dr. George Tiller is shot to death while ushering at his Lutheran church in Wichita, KS. His killer, Scott Roeder, is captured by police within hours. Roeder is found to have ties to several violent right-wing groups, including the Montana Freemen and the Sovereign Citizen movement. He had also been committing acts of vandalism against abortion clinics for years, most recently just days before the assassination.
Wednesday, June 10 — Well-known anti-Semitic blogger James Wenneker von Brunn walks into the national Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and opens fire. Two security guards are shot; one is dead and the other still guarded as of this writing. Von Brunn himself was killed in return fire. He had been prominent in Holocaust denier circles for several decades, and considered Holocaust museums to be a crime against white history.
Eight episodes of right-wing extremist violence in four-and-a-half months. We haven’t gone four weeks since February without some deranged soul—always with a long history of mental illness; usually with a record of military service and/or domestic violence; and invariably jacked up on a toxic cocktail of white male privilege; us-versus-them enemy-seeking; fury at women, blacks and/or Jews; and a belief that the world as he knew it was ending unless he took up arms—taking out his gun and killing innocent Americans in a suicidal bid for glory.
For the record: This is not business as usual. True, there have always been occasional events, usually dismissed by the corporate media as “isolated incidents,” the work of “lone wolf shooters” acting for reasons all their own. But you have to go back a long, long way in American history before you come to a place where you find incidents like this happening an average of once every two weeks. And the chattering classes are finally beginning to realize what those of us who’ve been faithfully watching the right wing for years have been telling them for a long while now: there’s nothing isolated about any of this.
In fact, this is exactly how full-scale terrorism begins.
The thing that worries me most about this rash of shootings isn’t just the threat to public safety posed by domestic terrorism — though that’s becoming a more serious consideration on the American home front with every passing week — but where this kind of thing historically leads. Regular readers know I’m always stepping way back to get the big picture and look for the long-term patterns. This escalating level of violence is adding data points to a potentially emergent pattern that we need to be looking at and preparing for. So far, there are at least five things I’m particularly concerned about.
1. More and Faster. First, there’s just the bald statistical increase in frequency of these attacks. Between January and April, we were seeing shootings on an average of once every 27 days. In May, the last three episodes came at an average interval of once every 15 days—a 40 percent drop. This is hardly a comforting trend, and it points to the likelihood of a long, hot summer.
2. Lone Wolves Join Packs. One of the things that’s striking about the last two shooters is that they’re not lone wolves. Scott Roeder was packed into the same extensive network of anti-abortion co-conspirators that successfully hid Eric Rudolph for over five years (and may have been counting on them to hide him, too). James von Brunn was at the core of the anti-Semitic movement in America. Their actions don’t just speak for themselves; they’re supported by a larger community of people who might not have pulled the trigger themselves, but facilitated their crimes and consider them heroes. This is new. And it should worry us.
As I’ve noted before, groups heading toward major acts of violence always inch up to it by degrees. As shootings become a more common—and by some twisted reckoning, more acceptable—form of political protest, the psychopaths are joined in arms by more rational rebels who feel that they don’t have any other options left. (We saw some of this on the left during the 1960s, as the more psychopathic members of activist groups goaded, indoctrinated, or simply led others into committing acts of domestic terrorism that they might have contemplated, but probably would never have undertaken on their own.) As things accelerate, acts by lone wolves give way to coordinated actions pulled off by small packs acting together. Later on, these packs work in concert with other teams to commit bigger acts. Successes build, confidence grows, skills improve — and before long, you’ve got Al Qaeda. Or the IRA. Or any of a dozen other terrorist organizations that started out walking this exact same path.
3. An Intention to Expand Operations. Plans are already afoot to expand into just this kind of group action. Back in February, the right wing went squealing nuts over this report by the state of Missouri, warning that state’s law enforcement of the threat posed by right wing extremists. It’s a useful read on where the militia movements are right now; but the most interesting part is the section titled “Training,” which outlines specifically what militia groups are doing now to hone their individual and group fighting skills for domestic terrorism attacks.
And the resurgent militia movement isn’t the only group making these kinds of plans. On the Dominionist fringe, Joel’s Army is sending its sons to Iraq to give them the skills they’ll need for a Christian takeover of the nation. Eric Rudolph was supported by the anti-abortion tactical Army of God. There are all kinds of large and small militant groups groups out there, each one arming and training up for their own unique reasons.
4. Making Common Cause. Another thing that’s alarming those of us who watch the right wing is that the historical silos that divided the various right-wing extremist movements are morphing and crumbling. As the Missouri memo notes, the major strains in the past have included the Neo-Nazis; Christian Identity, the religious arm of white nationalism; the Sovereign Citizen movement; the militant anti-abortionists, the tax resistors and the anti-immigration movement. There’s always been some cross-pollination between them, but the Web has made it possible for a broader fusing of all these ideologies into a common culture. Increasingly (as we saw with Roeder, for example), a terrorist who takes up arms for one of these causes may be just as willing to serve another as well.
5. The Tim McVeigh Finishing School. Dave Neiwert coined this phrase for the Iraq War, based on the fact that the most effective domestic terrorists (including McVeigh and Rudolph) have always been those with extensive combat training and experience. The right wing raised holy hell in early April when the Department of Homeland Security released its infamous report pointing out that right-wing extremist groups were aggressively recruiting veterans; but there was no need for DHS secretary Janet Napolitano to apologize. The facts are squarely with the DHS on this score.
As noted above, many of the right-wing groups saw the war from the very first as an opportunity to gain valuable combat skills that could be applied to domestic terrorism at home. In recent decades, the military has been very aggressive about identifying and ejecting these kinds of extremists, since their religious and racist excesses tended to devastate unit cohesion—and the last thing we need is well-armed nutcases running around our home towns with combat skills.
But this war was different. In part because of a growing fundamentalist takeover of the officer corps and in part because recruiters were desperate for warm bodies, the military has been looking the other way and letting these recruits stay and serve for the past several years now. The upshot is swastikas on the walls in Baghdad—and a new corps of well-trained, committed militia members who are also in prime position to seek out new recruits among the young kids who are far from home and overwhelmed.
Those seasoned veterans are coming home now. As with every war, most of them will successfully rejoin civilian life and become some of our most productive citizens. But, as with every war, there will be a handful who come home, struggle for a while, and then start applying everything we’ve taught them to the home front. That’s what’s got DHS worried. And today, even FOX News’ Shepherd Smith admitted that DHS’s concern might not have been wrongly placed after all:
Where does this end? One way that this could play out is that the extremist commandos go a bridge too far and finally succeed on a scale that scares the rational rebels into putting down their guns and bombs. This leaves the really crazy actors without their posse, busted back to the level of lone wolves. Oklahoma City was absolutely that event for the 1990s’ militia incarnation. There’s even a possibility that 9/11 may have been that event for Al Qaeda, but it’s still too early to tell.
If the conservative movement does not take a stand against these extremists, they may find that their silence will give permission to actions that are far worse. Given the number of Americans, both left and right, who are understandably and thoroughly disgusted with the corporatocracy and increasingly convinced that Congress is too corrupt to deliver even the basics to anyone who’s not rich enough to write their problem on the back of a check, it is possible to imagine a right-wing populist movement that sucks large chunks of the frustrated, desperate working and middle classes into more and larger terrorist acts.
Either way, the storm is upon us now. And it probably will be for at least another couple of years. The best thing progressives can do right now is stay in close touch with our base, and keep pressing for a progressive agenda that will restore average Americans’ faith in their government. Now that the shooting has started, it’s more important than ever that we stick together, and stand for the rule of law.