TSG IntelBrief: The Resurgence of Racist Terrorism in America
August 14, 2017

The Resurgence of Racist Terrorism in America

 

Bottom Line Up Front:

• The issue of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it spawns can no longer be dismissed as fringe elements not worthy of a concerted national response.

• The intense focus on ideology, radicalization, online propaganda, and youth recruitment witnessed in the aftermath of attacks linked to international terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State is often missing when it comes to the larger threat of domestic terrorism posed by white supremacists. 

• The openness with which these groups operate is a sign that they believe the public and the government are on their side, either explicitly or tacitly.

• A clear and unambiguous denouncement and shaming of this movement, by name, from the President of the United States would be a powerful statement and is badly needed for what will be a long battle ahead.

 

The centuries-long struggle against racism and domestic terrorism in the United States reached another low point in Charlottesville, Virginia. On August 11, hundreds of torch-carrying protesters—exclusively white and nearly all-male—marched through the campus of the University of Virginia, deliberately invoking the imagery of America’s violently racist Jim Crow south in an attempt to intimidate their opponents. The marchers were protesting the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the commanding general for the Confederacy, whose illegal secession was founded, despite attempts to rewrite history, on the continuation of slavery.

Unlike many past marches by such groups, those in Charlottesville did not bother to cover their faces with masks, as they fear neither public shaming nor repercussion. The normalization of white supremacy in 2017 is such that media coverage of the movement—which is a mixture of neo-nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and assorted white supremacist groups—often focuses more on the superficial minutiae of these groups, such as members’ clothing styles, than on their root causes. The intense focus on ideology, radicalization, online propaganda, and youth recruitment witnessed in the aftermath of attacks linked to international terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State is often missing when it comes to the larger threat of domestic terrorism posed by white supremacists. 

On August 12, full-scale civil unrest took place in the streets of Charlottesville, as the white supremacists gathered in the park where the controversial statue is located. As is increasingly the case at protests in the U.S., extremely well-armed men in military attire were present to protect the white supremacists. This presents law enforcement with serious challenges of balancing second-amendment rights (Virginia has strong open-carry laws) with maintaining public order and safety. As the violence spread, police in riot gear and the Virginia National Guard had to contend with men dressed in similar clothing with semi-automatic rifles roving the park and streets. The risk of a gun battle erupting between police and the white supremacists’ de facto militia is very real, especially in a complex environment in which a mix of heavily-armed militia members and lightly-armed demonstrators are bent on violent confrontation. While the deaths and injuries witnessed in Charlottesville did not involve firearms, if the trend lines of violent protest involving armed militia members continue on their present trajectory, it is likely only a matter of time before such events spark serious incidents of gun violence. 

During the protests, a 20-year-old white supremacist drove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, a paralegal who lived and worked in Charlottesville. The suspect was earlier seen in the front ranks of a racist group calling itself Vanguard America; as expected, the suspect had a long and open history of racist ideology. He has been charged with second-degree murder, among other charges, and is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Adding to the tragedy, a Virginia State Police helicopter that was monitoring the events crashed on the outskirts of Charlottesville, killing Lt. H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper Berke Bates, who died one day before his 41st birthday.

The issue of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it spawns can no longer be dismissed as fringe elements not worthy of a concerted national response. The openness with which these groups operate is a sign that they believe the public and the government are on their side, either explicitly or tacitly. The lack of a clear and unambiguous rejection of white supremacy—which is at the heart of all the groups that coalesce around the identity of ‘alt-right’—from the White House is a consistent concern, especially considering the administration’s professed desire to name and shame terrorist ideologies. It is important for President Trump, who has shown no hesitation to publicly denounce people and groups by name, both on Twitter and in public statements, to do the same with a racist movement that feels it has the administration’s support. A clear and unambiguous denouncement and shaming of this movement, by name, from the President of the United States would be a powerful statement and is badly needed for what will be a long battle ahead.

 

For tailored research and analysis, please contact: info@soufangroup.com

 

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