In this op-ed, writer Lincoln Blades explores why America needs to address the presence of white male extremists.
Since September 11, 2001, preventing terrorism in the United States has become one of the main concerns of citizens, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies. Leaders believe that battling "terror" isn't just done by waging war on jihadists themselves, but also on their ideology. When an attack whose perpetrator is affiliated with Islam occurs on American soil, the nation collectively recoils in horror at the audacious attack, mourns for those we've lost, and then subsequently doubles down on rooting out any semblance of pro-extremist thought in our society.
When the assailant is identified, intelligence agencies conduct a thorough investigation into the subject's known terror ties. These ties are provided to outlets that, in real time, condemn the violent extremism that animated the subject. When bad actors align themselves with extremist Islamic ideology, information about those who propagate this dangerous dogma is eagerly consumed because we deem it essential — not to just know what happened, but everything and every person that may have influenced what happened. Yet when it comes to domestic terrorism carried out by white men, such thorough accounting lacks.
Last week, America found itself in a terrifying and simultaneously familiar place: mourning the loss of life after a mass shooting. On Sunday, April 30, Monique Clark, a 35-year-old mother of three daughters, was killed after a gunman opened fire at guests at a poolside party inside an apartment complex. In addition to Clark, six other people — mostly black and Latinx — were injured in the shooting spree by a 49-year-old white male named Peter Selis. In the wake of the attack, witnesses and victims attested that race was a prominent factor in the shooting. Yet San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said just one day after the shooting that there was "zero information" that race contributed to the attack. (Navy Lt. j.g. Lauren Chapman, one of the attendees of the party, said she felt "heartbreak" at the police's dismissal of this motive, which witnesses say was a major factor.) The shooting received such little immediate coverage that people took to social media to blast major networks and politicians for their lack of reporting, and terror context.
America has been reticent to label white male mass shooters as domestic terrorists, and there's a hesitation from politicians, law enforcement agencies, and society as a whole, to investigate what animates the brutal actions of these attackers, who are mostly white and male, and whose actions are often rationalized. "There were over 300 mass shootings [in which four or more people were injured] in the United States in 2015, and less than 1 percent of them were committed by Muslims," Arsalan Iftikhar, a U.S. human rights lawyer and author, said in an interview last year. "But it was the one committed by Muslims in San Bernardino that was immediately labeled an act of terrorism,'" he said, referring to theDecember 2015 shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, wherein Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 others after declaring allegiance to the Islamic State.
After the San Bernardino shooting, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio all jumped at the opportunity to declare that America was at "war."Then candidate, and current president, Donald Trump took the rhetoric a step further by calling for a broad-sweeping ban on Muslims entering the United States. But, five days earlier, a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs was targeted by a white male devout Christian, and there was no degree of rage expressed by those same Republican presidential candidates or the accompanying hyperbolic war proclamations. In fact, the shooter, Robert Dear, was referred to as a "gentle loner" by The New York Times.
Since 9/11, American citizens are seven times more likely to be killed by a right-wing extremist than a Muslim attacker. Yet, when we speak about the two in comparison, even elected officials refuse to relay that reality to the public.
In a nation where we strive to understand religious propaganda in order to prevent further indoctrination, it's crucial we take a more serious approach in identifying white nationalist, white supremacist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic agitprop. We can not and should not dismiss any prejudiced motive because, by fact, the most common and most lethal form of domestic terrorism isn't carried out by brown-skinned Islamic jihadists. And while the U.S. does not decrease its efforts to root out terrorism based on Muslim fundamentalism, the number one question that Americans of all backgrounds should be asking is: Who and what is radicalizing white male terrorists?
Who radicalized Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who in 2015 executed nine unarmed black churchgoers inside of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina? After he was arrested, it was discovered that he had published a website where he espoused racist ideology, regurgitating bigoted talking points on the false "epidemic" of "black-on-white" crime, espousing that black people are inherently "violent" and that white women need to be protected from black men. It's easy to say that his views were influenced by a small, fringe group of insane right-wing extremists, but it's seemingly far more difficult for us to collectively accept that these prejudiced talking points have been given life through mainstream media bias, and even by the president of the United States, who once tweeted a racist meme that incorrectly cited myths about "black-on-white" crime in America as fact.
What radicalized James Harris Jackson, the 28-year-old white man who allegedly traveled 200 miles on a bus from Baltimore to New York with the express intent of killing a black man in the media capital of the world, according to statements he gave to police? He allegedly stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death with a 26-inch sword with an 18-inch blade. Like Roof, Jackson reportedly had a manifesto outlining his hatred for black people, which he wanted to give to The New York Times, the Times reported. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Jackson expressed that he wished he had killed a "successful older black man with blondes." The link between white men killing black men in the name of white women's virtue has a long and violent ideological place in American history — but lacks evaluation with the same fervor.
In America, where antiterrorist thought has ruled the century, a citizen's safety faces far greater risk due to texting while driving or tripping down the stairs than being killed by a foreign-born refugee jihadist. Women in America face more danger from their husbands than they do a Muslim terrorist. In America, where predominantly white and predominantly male antigovernment militias rank as law enforcement's most prevalent threat, according to a 2015 report, law enforcement agents face more significant danger from armed white men than Jihadists. Yet here we are, willfully aiming to dismantle any semblance of growing extremist thought, while ignoring the many different forms of radicalization that are resulting in a large swath of vicious behavior.
In America, citizens must grapple with reality. Not only is white male terrorism as dangerous as Islamic extremism, but our collective safety rests in rooting out the source of their radicalization.