It was 19 years ago, on September 11, 2001, that the United States suffered the deadliest terrorist attack in its history. Almost 3000 people were killed when members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes, flying two of them into the World Trade Center in New York City and one of them into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.; the fourth plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Although the 9/11 terrorist attacks underscored the dangerous fanaticism of far-right Islamist groups, countless Republicans and supporters of President Donald Trump have ignored or downplayed another terrorist threat from the far right — white supremacy and white nationalism — and that threat is alive and well in the Trump era.
Time and time again, Fox News and others in the far-right media have encouraged Republicans to believe that Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) and Boko Haram have the market cornered on terrorism. Fox News will cover white supremacist attacks, but in a calmer way; when Islamists carry out terrorist attacks, Fox News’ message is, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” And anti-Islam extremists like Jihad Watch’s Robert Spencer and his ally, Pamela Geller, would have us believe that the terrorist threat posed by white supremacists and white nationalists and the terrorist threat posed by Islamist groups are in no way comparable. But one need only look at the history of white supremacist terrorism to realize how ignorant that claim is.
To be sure, the Islamist ideology of ISIS and al-Qaeda — which is anti-democratic, anti-feminist and anti-gay — is something that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation should keep a close eye on. But it’s important to stress that groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are by no means typical of Islam on the whole; countless Muslims, as even President George W. Bush acknowledged, reject that ideology. And when it comes to terrorism, the claim that white supremacists are white nationalists are somehow less dangerous than radical Islamists is ludicrous.
White nationalists and white supremacists have carried out one terrorist attack after another in the Trump era.
Item: in August 2019, more than 20 people were killed after a racist gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas and killed more than 20 people, mostly Latino. His motivation was to combat “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
Item: in October 2018, a white supremacist/white nationalist gunman attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people simply because they were Jewish.
Item: in 2018, domestic terrorist and Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc mailed a series of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, including Barack and Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Item: in 2019, white nationalist Christopher Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant, was arrested on gun and drug charges and — according to law enforcement — was planning a terrorist plot against critics of Trump. Hasson’s hit list, investigators said, ranged from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to media figures like CNN’s Chris Cuomo and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (a former Republican congressman and Never Trump conservative).
Item: at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, neo-Nazi James Fields, Jr. rammed his vehicle into a group of counterdemonstrators and killed activist Heather Heyer. Fields was sentenced to life in prison.
Item: federal investigators have accused Steven Carrillo, a member of the far-right Boogaloo movement, of fatally shooting a security officer in Oakland on May 29.
But despite all that, Trump and his sycophants have downplayed the terrorist threat that white supremacists and white nationalists pose in the United States. Trump’s analysis of terrorism is painfully flawed. While he is correct that radical Islamists are a threat, Trump’s claim that left-wing Antifa is a terrorist movement is absolute nonsense: Antifa, for all their militant rhetoric, do not carry out the type of attacks that ISIS or the Ku Klux Klan are known for and do not fit the definition of terrorists. And Trump seriously downplays the threat posed by white nationalist extremists like QAnon and the Boogaloo movement (which calls for a race war).
Elizabeth Neumann, a conservative Republican who formerly served as assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security, has announced that she plans to vote for former Vice President Joe Biden in November — and one of the main reasons is the fact that Trump has been downplaying the white nationalist/white supremacist threat. During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Neumann explained that for too long, Trump was uncomfortable with the term “domestic terrorism.”
Neumann told NPR, “The irony is that when (Trump) finally was comfortable with using the word domestic terrorism, it was in the context of Antifa and trying to exploit or sell a story that the looting and the violence that we have seen somewhat associated with peaceful protests is Antifa. And yet, if you look at the arrests that have occurred in the protests of the summer, it’s the Boogaloo movement — or it’s an association with QAnon. It’s the right side of the spectrum; it is not Antifa.”
Of course, white supremacist terrorism didn’t start in the Trump era. The Ku Klux Klan has been carrying out terrorist attacks for generations. But in the Trump era, white supremacists and white nationalists feel empowered by his racist rhetoric.
One of the most idiotic talking points one sometimes hears in the right-wing media is that the KKK are liberals. Never mind the fact that the KKK have a long history of targeting liberals and progressives for terrorist attacks.
The way to honor the memories of the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks is not by promoting Islamophobia. President George W. Bush, for all his blunders, was spot on when he characterized al-Qaeda as a disgrace to Islam. The victims of 9/11, 19 years later, are honored by showing compassion for the victims of terrorist attacks in general — included those killed or injured by white nationalist and white supremacist supporters of President Donald Trump.