New York Congressman Peter King's hearings regarding so-called Islamic radicalism in the USA have raised some interesting questions, once again, about how one defines "terrorism." It was as recently as 2009 that a Department of Homeland Security report came out specifically addressing the rise of domestic, homegrown, right-wing terrorism in the USA. The Republican Party immediately jumped on this report as being allegedly biased and partisan but they were never able or willing to refute the actual facts in the report.
On March 10, 2011 Congressmen Benny Thompson and Keith Ellison addressed Rep. King's committee expressing their unease and disagreements regarding the nature of these hearings. Their eloquently worded concerns did not dissuade Congressman King from continuing the hearings. He had earlier ridiculed critics of his actions, suggesting that they were stuck in being 'politically correct.'
Yet the hearings raise an interesting question. If King wishes to investigate communities that support terror and where there is demonstrable and documented evidence of terror, when will Rep. King begin hearings on white America and its links with terror?
In the USA between 2000 and 2009 there was a 54% increase in the number of hate groups, to more than 900. During part of that time (2003-7) there was also an up-tick in hate crimes, specifically against Latinos, where there was a 40% increase. No reference to Muslim terrorists or the Muslim community. No reports of Muslims chasing Latinos around the country. (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/homeland-security-economic-political-climate-fueling-extremism). The FBI reported that 2/3 of the terrorism in the USA between 1980-2001 was committed by non-Muslim, US individuals (and groups). Now, hold onto your hats: between 2002-5 95% of the terrorism was committed by non-Muslim, US individuals and groups, as reported by the Council on Foreign Relations (http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations/militant-extremists-united-states/p9236). Added to this was the interesting fact that while militia groups, as such, had been in decline from 1996-2008, immediately following the 2008 election there was a dramatic rise in the number of such groups. Perhaps i should add that there is also rising concern about the penetration of the US military by domestic, right-wing extremists.
Despite this information, much of which comes from official US government sources, Rep. King and his allies insist–contrary to the facts–that the major threat comes from Muslim terrorists and, by implication, the alleged complicity of some or much of the Muslim American community in the USA. What he does not choose to explore are the reasons why domestic, right-wing terrorism is almost never on the agenda of the mainstream conservative politicians. One only has to remember the aftermath of the Oklahoma city bombing in 1995. The initial popular assumption was that the bombing had been carried out by Muslims. When it was discovered that it had been carried out by white Americans, the entire tenor of discussions changed to a search to better understand the rationale of the terrorists in committing this mass murder.
While I do not promote conspiracy theories regarding how the entire right-wing is one cabal (since it is not), it is important to understand that the mainstream right-wing cannot go after the extremist right-wing without challenging many of the assumptions that the mainstream right-wing itself acts upon and/or promotes. The extreme Right, for instance, is dominated by Birthers, those who believe that Obama is not a US citizen by birth. Well, mainstream right-wing figures, such as Huckabee and Gingrich have both come very close to suggesting just that, while quickly denying that they believe that he is anything other than a US citizen by birth. Yet, when Huckabee suggests–incorrectly–that Obama spent his early life in Kenya, it fuels right-wing theories. Or, when right-wing extremists suggested that the election of Obama in 2008 would lead to the seizure of the personal weapons of US citizens, there were mainstream political figures and pundits who repeated that same message. Or take a look at the response to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords from Arizona. While the alleged assailant appears to be mentally ill, he also appears to be driven by conspiracy theories that have become a mantra on right-wing talk radio, yet the mainstream political Right not only denies this but ridicules the suggestion of any connections.
If there is a community within which there is a long history of the birth, spread and support of domestic terrorism, it is white America. This does NOT mean that all whites are terrorists or that all or most whites support terrorism. It is to say that if one were to use the framework that Rep. King is using in his demonization of Muslim Americans, one would have to conclude that a very close and thorough examination of the institutions of white America is in order.
Would someone like to offer a motion?
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, Visiting Scholar with the City University of New York Graduate Center, Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of "Solidarity Divided."