Just days after Canada suffered a deadly gun massacre at the hands of a homegrown, right-wing radical who opened fired on praying Muslims, the Trump administration is moving to downplay the threat of homegrown, right-wing radicals in the United States.
Coming in the wake of Trump’s controversial decision to sign an executive order temporarily barring individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, Reuters this week reported that the Trump administration would direct a government-run program called Countering Violent Extremism to change its name to Countering Islamic Extremism or Countering Radical Islamic Extremism. In doing so, the program “would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.” (The FBI and the Justice Department will still track hate crimes and prosecute homegrown terrorists.)
Downgrading the scrutiny given to right-wing radicals has long been a goal of conservative media in America. Now Trump is moving to turn that desire into policy.
Back in 2015, Fox News’ Eric Bolling was part of a chorus of conservative media voices who denounced a Department of Homeland Security report that warned about violence from “right-wing sovereign citizen extremists." Bolling insisted there weren’t any examples of far-right attacks in the U.S., while his colleague Greg Gutfeld offered there had been just two in “over four decades.”
“A survey last year of state and local law enforcement officers listed sovereign citizen terrorists, ahead of foreign Islamists, and domestic militia groups as the top domestic terror threat,” CNN reported at the time.
Concurrently, a 2015 report from the New America Foundation found that of the 28 deadly homegrown terror attacks since 9/11, 18 were incidents inspired by right-wing extremism, while 10 were inspired by Islamic extremism.
Dr. John Horgan of the University of Massachusetts at Lowell told The New York Times that year, “There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown. And there’s a belief that the threat of right-wing, antigovernment violence has been underestimated.”
But some on the “alt-right” were furious over the government’s 2015 report. “It really is the most egregious politicization of national security,” Breitbart’s Sebastian Gorka insisted during a Fox News appearance. “We're going to be looking for right-wing extremists when ISIS prepares to attack us? It's outrageous."
Meanwhile, white supremacists continue to express their deep appreciation for President Trump and his administration's plan to radically change the CVE program. “My hands are shaking right now as I prepare this article – I’m just that unbelievably happy,” announced neo-Nazi website Infostormer. “This measure would be the first step to us going fully mainstream, and beginning the process of entering the government in full-force without the fear of being attacked, financially-assailed, and intimidated into silence by the nefarious Jews.”
At neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, editor Andrew Anglin announced to readers, “Donald Trump is setting us free.” He continued, “This is absolutely a signal of favor to us. We are not a threat to America, we are American patriots trying to save this country. It is also a slap in the face to the kikes of the SPLC and the ADL who pushed for us to be classified along with actual Islamic terrorists as a way to legally justify outrageous abuses against us by the federal government.” (In the same article, Anglin called the actions of white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof, who was recently sentenced to death for massacring African American worshipers at a church, “silly” but “perfectly understandable if you put it in context.”)
This remains the hard truth: From neo-Nazi killers, to a string of women’s health clinic bombings and attacks, as well as assaults on law enforcement from anti-government radicals, acts of right-wing extreme violence led by self-described revolutionaries continue to unfold regularly in the United States.
The Southern Poverty Law Center maintains a running tally of confirmed radical-right terror plots. Its most recent entry was from October 14, 2016:
Three members of a southwest Kansas militia dubbed “The Crusaders” are arrested after an eight-month investigation on charges stemming from a plot to attack a housing complex in Garden City, Kansas, that houses a mosque... The attack was planned for the day after the 2016 general election. According to an affidavit filed in the case, the men had repeatedly referred to Somalis as “cockroaches.”
That looming, present danger drives the conservative media, and the emerging alt-right media, to distraction. Simultaneously obsessed with pushing that idea that Islamic terrorists are pouring across America’s borders, while insisting domestic, far-right extremists pose no real danger, the right-wing media regularly attack the government for its interest (until now) in tracking homegrown terrorists of all ideologies.
In 2009, they tried to sabotage a report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis that warned law enforcement agencies how “right-wing extremist groups” might be out recruiting members in the wake of the first black president being elected.
Then too, there was a coordinated, hysterical reaction from the conservative media, which wildly misconstrued a report about skinheads and white supremacist terror groups to claim the Obama administration was trying to criminalize conservatives who opposed the new president.
In truth, CNN reported the study was actually “produced by staff members during the Bush administration,” and not released until early 2009. The report focused on “rightwing extremists,” “domestic rightwing terrorist and extremist groups,” “terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks,” and “white supremacists,” making it abundantly clear the government was not targeting mainstream political activists.
Of note in that the 2009 report was the fact that right-wing recruitment in the U.S. had previously spiked during the 1990s, “but subsided after increased scrutiny by the government following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings,” which were masterminded by right-wing domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.
Today, with the threat of homegrown, radical-right extremists still looming, the Trump administration is doing the opposite and following the Fox News lead. Rather than increasing scrutiny, it’s proposing to scale it back.