A Thanksgiving holiday marred by shootings should remind us that our biggest terrorist threat comes not from Syrian refugees fleeing extremist violence, but from homegrown right-wing extremists.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, white supremacists shot five African-Americans at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Minneapolis. It was a carefully planned act of terrorism, by men who were radicalized in far-right, extremist backrooms of the internet. The right-wing rhetoric they absorbed online drew blood when their virtual hate mongering became real-time violence.
At 10:45pm, four men dressed in military-style gear showed up at the encampment #BlackLivesMatter activists set up in front of the police station, to protest the shooting of an unarmed 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark. Before they opened fire, the men started filming the protesters, and refused to remove their masked or leave the protest. Five protesters were shot, though none suffered life-threatening injuries.
Allen Lawrence Scarsella III, Nathan Gustavsson, Daniel Macey, and Joseph Martin Backman were arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and rioting while armed. They made no secret of their plans. They’d harassed #BlackLivesMatter activists for several days, showing up at protests yelling “race war” and “Trump 2016.” Emails between the white supremacists showed that they planned these encounters with the intent of provoking confrontations with protesters. A video reported to have been posted on one of the men’s Facebook accounts showed them driving around in a car, talking about going to harass the “dindus” (a derogatory name use to describe the #BlackLivesMatter protesters).
The shooting in Minneapolis came after weeks of conservative rhetoric against the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Republican presidential candidates, right-wing pundits, and conservative media figures compared the movement to the Ku Klux Klan, and accused #BlackLivesMatter activists of inciting and celebrating the murders of police officers.
The logical outcome of this rhetoric was made manifest earlier, when a BlackLivesMatter protestor was attacked and beaten by Donald Trump supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Trump, a frontrunner in the Republican presidential primaries, even appeared to embrace the violence, saying that the protesters “deserved to be roughed up.”
It wasn’t the first time Trump supporters turned violent. They pushed and spit on immigration activists at a Trump rally in Richmond, Virginia. Two brothers and alleged Trump supporters in Boston urinated on and beat up a homeless Latino man, and later told police “Donald Trump was right. All these illegals need to be deported.”
It was just a matter of time before the right-wing’s war on the BlackLivesMatter movement drew blood. How long will it be before right-wing demagogs “get somebody killed?”
Right-wing rhetoric drew blood again in Pittsburgh, where a Muslim taxi driver was shot on Thanksgiving Day, by a customer who ranted against Islamic State militants. The 38-year-old Moroccan immigrant — who is three months away from becoming an American citizen, and wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety — said the customer asked him questions like “You seem to be a Pakistani guy. Are you from Pakistan?” Arriving at his home, the customer asked the driver to wait because he’d left his wallet inside. He returned with a rifle, and fired multiple shots into at the cab, blasting out the rear window and shooting the driver in the back.
The violence in Pittsburgh was on a smaller scale than the Minneapolis shooting, but it was no less driven by right-wing rhetoric. The terrorist attacks in France earlier this month set off a tsunami of anti-Muslim rhetoric on the right, further intensified by existing anti-immigrant sentiments.
That rhetoric led to several threats and incidents of violence against Muslims.
- Masked and armed protesters gathered outside the Islamic Center of Irving, Texas, to “show force” over rumors of a “Sharia court” in the mosque, and the possibility of letting in Syrian refugees. Group leader David Write later caused controversy when he posted the names and addresses of local Muslims online.
- Two Muslim women were harassed and spat on by a man who was identified as a postal worker. The sisters, who wore head scarves, were walking down the street with a baby, when a man bumped into them and made a threat about “burning her temple down.” He then followed the women, and spat in one woman’s face.
- A Muslim student in Austin, Texas, was attacked a few blocks from a local mosque near the University of Texas campus. The student was pushed to the ground by a man who yelled the the student was “taking orders from ISIS” because he was wearing headphones.
- Chester Grove, 37, left an incendiary device at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. Grove was charged with using the device, and possession and using of illegal fireworks, entering the property of another for the purpose of causing damage based on religious conviction, and destruction of property. Grove tried to enter an iron fence around the mosque, and threw two Molotov cocktails and a smoke bomb at the building.
- Martin Alan Schnitzler, 37, called the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg, Florida, and threatened to firebomb the mosque and shoot children in the head. Schnitzler also left threatening voicemails at the Islamic Center of Pinellas County as the Paris attacks unfolded on November 13. Police were able to locate Schnitzler because he gave his name in the voicemail messages.
In an appearance on “All In With Chris Hayes,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) warned that anti-Muslim rhetoric like that spewed by Donald Trump would eventually “get somebody hurt.”
After Paris, anti-Muslim rhetoric quickly graduated to attacks on mosques. Now, attacks on mosques have escalated to attacks on Muslim individuals. How long before right-wing anti-Muslim rhetoric gets someone killed?
On Friday, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and started shooting. When he was done, three people were dead, and nine more injured. After a long standoff, Dear surrendered to police.
Before he walked into Planned Parenthood, Dear had a disturbing record of violent, criminal actions. Police in South Carolina, where Dear lived at one time, reported at least seven times that he argued or fought with neighbors, including a dismissed “Peeping Tom” charge in 2002.
What was his motive? Dear’s ex-wife, who once accused him of domestic violence, said that Dear was politically conservative, religious, owned guns, and was anti-abortion, but not obsessed with any of the issues. Another source told the New York Times that Dear “had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing God’s work.”
Law enforcement officials reported Dear uttering “no more baby parts” as he was being arrested. Dear also made remarks about President Obama. “Baby parts” is almost certainly a reference to the deceptively edited “sting” videos produced by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress (CMP), accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue to researchers for profit.
State investigations cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. The videos were revealed as heavily edited hoaxes, much like the “sting” videos that were used against ACORN back in 2009. Yet, the CMP videos were enough to launch a summer of right-wing invective against Planned Parenthood. Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates ranted about “baby parts” and called for Planned Parenthood to be defunded — even if it means shutting down the government. Pundits like Fox News hosts Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity compared Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to Nazis.
Less than a week before the Colorado Springs shooting, and even during and after, the rhetoric unleashed by the CMP videos continued.
- Eight days before the Colorado Springs attack, GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), proudly announced Operation Rescue head Troy Newman’s endorsement of his presidential campaign. Newman has advocated for the execution of abortion providers.
- Even as Dear was shooting it out with police, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) slammed Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains CEO for suggesting the clinic might have been targeted by an extremist, and demanded an apology if she was proven wrong.
- Following the Colorado Springs attack, Florida Pastor McCall “Mac” Brunson told his congregation that Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richard’s “hates our God because she love death.”
- During an interview on CNN, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called the shooting abominable in one breath, and in the next compared the shooter with Planned Parenthood personnel.
- Fox News host Bill O’Reilly echoed Dear’s words when he said that “Planned Parenthood is in the baby parts business, and deserves much of the harsh criticism directed toward it.”
- Colorado Republican state Rep. JoAnn Windholz wrote on Facebook, “The true instigator of this violence and all violence at any Planned Parenthood facility is Planned Parenthood themselves.”
The CMP Videos also set off a summer of violence against Planned Parenthood clinics. Attacks on abortion providers have increases since the videos were released.
- On July 19, Planned Parenthood officials in Illinois reported an attempted arson attack at a clinic in Aurora, Illinois.
- On September 4, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington was set on fire just before dawn. Security footage shows a “flammable object” being thrown through the clinic window.
- On September 30, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Thousand Oaks, California was attacked by an arsonist or arsonists who smashed a window, splashed gasoline inside, and ignited it.
Conservatives have long incited violence against abortion providers with incendiary rhetoric and “wanted” posters, and most recently with accusations and outright lies about selling “baby parts.” They didn’t pull the trigger themselves, but they triggered the shooters with “stochastic terrorism.”
Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.
Osama Bin Laden was a master at it. He could release a video and inspire “lone wolves” to plan and carry out terrorist acts without getting his finger prints on them. Today, ISIS/Daesh is taking it to new levels, with its extensive internet propaganda and social media recruiting.
Republican lawmakers, conservative media and right-wing pundits have nearly perfected stochastic terrorism, with their rhetoric against abortion providers. Now it’s cost three more lives. The only question is: when will it stop. The likely answer is: not until they stop.