For many years after 9/11, pundits in right-wing media scoffed at the idea of white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Christian nationalists and far-right militia groups posing a major terrorist threat in the United States. Law enforcement’s anti-terrorist resources, they argued, should be focused solely on fighting radical Islamists.
Liberals and progressives would respond that the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has a long history of domestic terrorism, including attacking African-American churches (such as the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963). In the 1980s, according to federal prosecutors, neo-Nazis planned to dump 200 pounds of pure cyanide into the municipal water supplies of New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. in addition to blowing up natural gas pipelines in states ranging from Texas to Illinois. Prosecutors estimated that if the attack on the water supplies in those cities had been successful, at least 400,000 people would have been killed.
The claim that white supremacists and white nationalists do not pose a major terrorist threat in the U.S. is not a view embraced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to Newsweek reporter William M. Arkin, the FBI is “conducting three times (more) domestic terrorism investigations than it was five years ago, with 70 percent of its open cases focused on ‘civil unrest’ and anti-government activity.”
Targets of far-right white terrorists in recent years have ranged from African-Americans (the Mother Bethel AME Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015) to Jews (the Tree of Life Synagogue attack in Pittsburgh in 2018) to Latinos (a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas in 2019) to gays. A gunman’s attack on Club Q, a gay club in Colorado Springs, on November 19 left five people dead and others injured. And anti-gay hate crimes have been on the rise.
In North Carolina, two Duke Energy substations were attacked by gunmen in early December, resulting in over 40,000 people in Moore Counting losing electricity. Police, as of Monday morning, December 5, have not identified a motive in the attack, but the attacks occurred during a drag show in Southern Pines, North Carolina that Christian nationalists were railing against. One of them is activist Emily Grace Rainey, who was part of the “Stop the Steal” demonstrations in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021.
Online, Rainey posted, “the Moore County Sheriff’s Office just checked in. I welcomed them to my home. Sorry they wasted their time. I told them that God works in mysterious ways and is responsible for the outage. I used the opportunity to tell them about the immoral drag show and the blasphemies screamed by its supporters. God is chastising Moore County.”
When the drag show lost electricity following the attack on the energy substations, it continued by candlelight. Security was quite heavy at the event, according to WRAL News, because the performers and organizers feared violence.
Reporting in Newsweek, Arkin explains how FBI agents distinguish between “hate crimes” and “domestic terrorism.” An FBI report issued in October said, “A hate crime is targeted violence motivated by the offender's bias against a person's actual or perceived characteristics, while a DT (domestic terrorism) incident involves acts dangerous to human life that are in violation of criminal laws and in furtherance of a social or political goal."
Notably, nearly two years after the fact, investigations into individuals who participated in former President Donald Trump's January 6th insurrection are taking up a substantial amount of the Bureau's resources.
Arkin reports, “Of 2,700 open cases, where an individual or group of individuals has been designated domestic terrorists by the FBI, almost a third relate to the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol or subsequent political activity connected to it. Since then, the counter-terrorism agencies have also focused on the transnational links of domestic individuals and groups — an approach that provides the intelligence agencies more authority to conduct surveillance and intrusive collection of information."
The Newsweek reporter adds, “Domestic terrorism investigations are being conducted in all 50 states and in all 56 FBI field offices, the FBI says, with more than double the number of investigators assigned to domestic terrorism work since January 6…. The FBI uses five categories to describe violent extremism: racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs), including white supremacists; anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists (AGAAVEs), including everyone from militias to Antifa; violent extremism associated with ‘civil unrest’; animal rights/environmental violent extremists; and abortion-related violent extremists.”