Do We Understand Terrorism?



An American white supremacist, James Von Brunn, entered the Holocaust Museum with a rifle and opened fire. The octogenarian was shot and taken to the hospital in critical condition but not before firing shots which eventually killed a guard in the museum.


It is easy to be appalled at the news that someone, an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier, would walk into such a museum and threaten the lives of guards and others inside.


What is not so easy is considering the act within the context of our understanding of terrorism. But, we must. In fact, it is imperative to our future as a society.


Should Our Understanding Begin with 9/11?


After September 11th, our reaction was a combination of disbelief, horror, and fear. Americans asked who did this and why did this happen. We became enraged and the government enlisted our rage in a battle against the tactic that those involved in the action had used against America.


Americans then encouraged and let their friends and family join wars in the Middle East; first, in Afghanistan and later, in Iraq.


Both wars violated international law and our Constitution, and both were borne out of fear that others who think differently than us and who look different from us and who hate what we stand for would somehow from their impoverished country come and attack and possibly take down the supreme superpower in the world.


Many Americans have gallantly and heroically fought what they believe to be a "war on terror," but the truth is that battle has not begun. We cannot seriously believe that we have taken any steps to defeat terrorism because the harsh reality is that terrorism, up to this point, has held captive America.


Since we let Bush tell us we didn’t have to make any sacrifices and all we needed to do was go shopping, we’ve been held captive.


Since we let the Department of Homeland Security be formed in addition to the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation that already existed, we’ve been held captive.


Since we let the NSA engage in warrantless wiretapping and suspend the writ of habeas corpus whenever they deem it necessary, we’ve been held captive.


Since we allowed for a color-coded terror alert system to be created which would get inside of our minds each time we were in an airport waiting to fly somewhere, we’ve been held captive.


Since we let airport security be ramped up to "protect" America, since we decided it was okay to have to go hours early to take off our belts, shoes, empty our pockets, dispose of our water bottles and soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, and any other substance that might be a liquid or powder before boarding the airplane, since we agreed to unreasonable searches and seizures in order to "protect" our so-called freedom, we’ve been held captive.


And, since we agreed that our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives had to deploy overseas in the Middle East to fight the terrorists there so we didn’t have to fight them here, we’ve been held captive.


That was what they—the terrorists—wanted, right? The "terrorists" wanted us to battle them and get bogged down in war and we did and we continue and in fact, the hope and change we voted for in November is moving supplemental funding to continue these wars as we speak so unfortunately the terrorists will continue to get what they want.  


Terrorism is More Than Violence


You see, terrorism is not simply violence. It is not just an anti-abortionist firing on an OB/GYN or a Muslim convert shooting two U.S. soldiers taking a break outside of a recruitment facility or a white supremacist attacking a celebrated museum.


Terrorism includes the effect after the violence is committed. It includes the changes in society and the shifts in the consciousness of the people who wake up and go to sleep within the borders of that society on a daily basis.


Terrorism did not begin on September 11th. Yet, many American accepted the notion that we now live in a post-9/11 world. And, why do some believe we live in a post-9/11 world?


Why doesn’t anyone believe we live in a post-8/7 world? That’s the date when two U.S. embassies were bombed in Kenya and Tanzania.


Why doesn’t anyone believe we live in a post-4/19 world? That’s the date when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols set off a car bomb killing 168 people in Oklahoma City.


Why doesn’t anyone believe we live in a post-2/26 world (when the World Trade Center basement garage was bombed by militant Islamists), a post-12/21 world (when a New York-bound Pan Am Boeing 747 exploded from a terrorist bomb), or a post-11/4 world (when Iranian radical students seized a U.S. embassy and took 66 people hostage)?


Could it possibly be because after each of those incidents Americans returned to their everyday lives in the same way that we all have gone back to business as usual after the recent attacks over the past 10 days?


Why Not Terror Suspects?


And why is it that those who commit acts of violence like Scott Roeder and possibly James Von Brunn are charged with murder instead of terrorism? Why do we react and interpret those acts differently than terrorist attacks committed by members of al Qaeda?


Scott Roeder, prior to the act, had connections with Operation Rescue and a history of vandalism (gluing the doors of abortion clinics shut). The organization, Operation Rescue, whose public face is Randall Terry, indoctrinates people to become foot soldiers aimed at bringing God’s law to America. Its members would tacitly condone the result of clinic bombings and attacks on doctors protected by the rule of law and they would hardly work to distance themselves from militant pro-life organizations like the Army of God.


James Von Brunn, a hero among pro-White activists, is celebrated for the act of "direct action" he committed against the Federal Reserve in the 1980s, which he hoped would "deal with the banking cartel that controls and destroys so much of our lives." (This according to a posting on a message board over at Stormfront.org, a website whose members, prior to this action, considered Brunn a "white racialist treasure.") 


Al Qaeda, Army of God, Stormfront —Aren’t these all enormously ideological organizations which find it acceptable to inflict terror on a mass population of people through acts of violence?


Where do our nation’s politicians fit into all of this? What is the politics of hate and how have politicians failed to properly open a conversation aimed at helping a public understand terrorism?


Does the GOP Bear Any Responsibility?


First off, no matter how much the GOP would like us to think it is not connected to recent acts of right wing terrorism, the public should not accept their argument. Republicans have allowed their party to devolve into a sideshow devoid of any real leaders.


The recent nomination of Sonia Sotomayor makes it difficult to believe that Republicans have nothing to do with the presence of hatred in America.


Newt Gingrich twittered, "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw." 


Since sending that message out on Twitter, he has retracted the word "racist" and replaced it with "racialist." And, he has even publicly called Sotomayor a Latina supremacist.


Retired congressman Tom Tancredo equated Sotomayor’s membership in a national civil rights group, La Raza, to a membership in the KKK. 


Charles Krauthaummer, a syndicated columnist and contributor to the FOX News channel, thinks Sotomayor is a woman who has endowments which make her think she is superior to a white judge. He would like Americans to believe like Gingrich does that Sotomayor is a Latina supremacist, a person who believes her ethnicity gives her superior entitlements. 


Rush Limbaugh has discussed Sotomayor in connection with David Duke


And, Michael Steele said, "God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench." 


This is the flip side of white supremacy—you cringe when it looks like other ethnicities or races might eclipse you in power.


All of this would be meaningless except within the party these are the people whom Republicans consider to be "leaders." And since these are the people the public most often hears from on the news, this isn’t fringe right thinking anymore—it can now be considered mainstream.


A recent poll indicates how vacuous the party has become—Around half of Republicans and Republican-independents, when asked, failed to come up with a single name when asked who the party’s spokesperson is and those who did name names said Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, John McCain, and George W. Bush.


The two "leaders" who polled highest are arguing that a Supreme Court nominee will subject us all to a harsh set of values that she possesses because she is a Latina.


Such are comments are a symptom of hatred and racism—the very kind of hatred and racism that leads depleted and drained men to lose control and commit acts of violence all so they can "protect" themselves or the ideas they cherish and hold.


And without leadership, "crazy right wing myths" like Obama aims to create a master race through population control, he’s created his own version of Hitler Youth, and Obama wants to take our guns away are all able to rise to the top. 


Spinelessness When Faced With Hate & Hysteria


As for the Democrats, their role in this starts with Obama and works its way down the totem pole. Democrats have not been influential or outspoken enough.


Throughout Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency, the party often chose to simply ignore and let the public decide how to react to the hate speech being reported at McCain-Palin campaign rallies. Were they correct in doing so?


The Editor & Publisher reported in November of 2008 that racist incidents were happening all across America.


The worst part of the report is that it not only included reports of people voicing racial anti-Obama epithets but also included stories of police officers engaging in acts of racism and hatred too.

"In Durham, N.C., two officers have been accused of making derogatory anti-Obama remarks on their MySpace pages. Police Chief Jose L. Lopez Sr. said in a telephone interview with The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, "It wasn’t a racial slur, but we’re still investigating it."…

…AP reports today: "While the world watched a Grant Park celebration heralding the election of the first black U.S. president, some white Chicago police officers committed hate crimes against black residents cheering Barack Obama’s victory elsewhere in the city, attorneys alleged Thursday." Lawsuits have been filed."

Additionally, Obama had many chances to address the death threats, hate speech, and racist attacks that were being fired at him. He did not, and in fact, chose during the third presidential debate to downplay McCain-Palin’s whipping up of hate and racism on the campaign trail. 


In the same debate, he also repeated a criticism of Democratic Representative John Lewis who, as Obama described, "made a statement that he was troubled with what he was hearing at some of the rallies that your running mate was holding, in which all the Republican reports indicated were shouting, when my name came up, things like "terrorist" and "kill him," and that you’re running mate didn’t mention, didn’t stop, didn’t say "Hold on a second, that’s kind of out of line."


Democrats have allowed right wing fear to erode our civil liberties and the human right to due process. They have allowed a debate on whether some humans who are more dangerous than others should be kept in detention indefinitely. 


And, every time we justify abuse and torture of terror suspects, every time we subvert the rule of law in the name of terror, we as a people let the enemy control us. We let that which we despise and hate enter us and infect our body and soul.




From the campaign trail to the summer of 2009, the wave of radicalization has been largely ignored and downplayed. A rightwing terrorism report has come and gone. And, some of us continue onward fearing that Obama will move detainees at Guantanamo to prisons in our backyards because he would like to bring to an end one of the worst travesties in our nation’s history.


If you recall, Obama said during his Inaugural Address, "That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."


What Americans thought of when they heard that was Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists who hate America. But, we must reassess our thinking on violence and hatred in the world. Whites have had just as much (if not more) to do with acts of violence and hatred than Muslims ever have.


We could fight a "war on terror" that involved going after rightwing terrorism, those who incite racism, hate, and violence. But, I suppose the government response would be something tantamount to martial law or a further roll back of civil liberties that we saw commence after September 11th.


Something about fighting domestic terrorists just doesn’t allow for the spread and dominance of empire that terrorists from the Middle East make possible. They don’t quite allow for the same level of war profiteering, don’t help us become united as a nation, and as evidenced by recent events, don’t really make us afraid of much at all.


But then is there really anything for us to be afraid of? Is the jury still out on this "war on terror" or can we begin to call it what it is—a phony war of terror?


In closing, during a summer with a probability of heightened levels of civil unrest and domestic terrorism by Americans who have been afflicted and broken mentally if not physically by the economic recession, we owe it to ourselves to contemplate the wilding of Americans, we owe it to ourselves to investigate and ask what creates this beast within, we owe it to ourselves to do what we collectively have not had the courage to do up to this point.


We owe it to ourselves to further define terrorism, examine the semantics, and decide if we wish to let a percentage of the world’s population—those filled with racism and hate—define our lives.

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