We Need to Name the Threat

Early on Friday, a 28-year-old white man who described himself as “an actual fascist” entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, armed with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people and injuring many others. New Zealand authorities also report that the attacker had placed two explosive devices in his vehicle, which apparently did not detonate.

In a gruesome contemporary twist, the gunman apparently streamed parts of the attack live on Facebook. Although that feed and other accounts associated with the shooter have been taken down, but the New York Times reports that both the 17-minute video and a manifesto posted by the shooter have been widely disseminated on social media. Others were taken into custody, but reports suggest that the 28-year-old man, who by his own account was born and raised in Australia, was the sole shooter.

That man appears to have posted a manifesto online before the attack. In it, he rages against “Islamic invaders” who are “occupying European soil,” and writes that he used guns to commit this massacre in order to call attention to debate about the Second Amendment in the United States. The alleged mass murderer also claimed that he donated money to American white supremacist organizations, and quoted the “14 words” pledge often used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

According to reports, the alleged terrorist specifically cited Donald Trump as an inspiration. His online manifesto praised Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

Friday’s massacre appears to be an example of what is known as “stochastic terrorism,” when someone who has a large platform describes the kind of violence that they want to be carried out, but stops short of direct incitement. They identify targets, but leave it up to their viewers or listeners to carry out the violence, giving themselves just enough plausible deniability if/when violence occurs. It is another case study in how right-wing terrorists, with no official group affiliation, can be radicalized online.

Of course, every right-wing provocateur came out to demand that we ignore where this man got his hateful ideas. Their gaslighting was wrapped up in virtue signaling, “starve them of attention” they said, just as they peddled the hate that fuels these attacks.

They don’t want you asking questions. They didn’t want you to ask after Norway, or Charleston, or Charlottesville, or Quebec, or Pittsburgh. And now, they don’t want any questions after Christchurch either. And it’s worth asking: Why?

It has been repeatedly documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as well as other organizations, that Donald Trump is considered a hero by white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Since Trump launched his presidential campaign nearly four years ago, there has been a surge of hate crimes, including violence against Jews, Muslims, and immigrants of various backgrounds.

There have been many documented examples of assaults and other forms of violence by Donald Trump supporters, in some cases the perpetrators even wearing MAGA hats and other regalia, shouting his slogans or claiming to act on his behalf. These hateful actions have included the so-called MAGA bomber, who mailed pipe bombs to public critics of Donald Trump, the man who killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and the neo-Nazi mass murderer who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Trump has suggested that the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia, included “very fine people.” He sought to ban Muslims from entering the United States and pursued a policy of separating immigrant children from their families and placing them in concentration camps. He has suggested that Latino immigrants are a natural criminal class who come to America with the express goal of raping and killing white people.

Trump has described predominantly black nations such as Haiti and Nigeria as “shitholes.” He basically abandoned the people of Puerto Rico after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, implying that they were lazy and did not deserve humanitarian aid. At least 5,000 people died.

Trump has shared neo-Nazi talking points and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. He has condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and has said that African-American athletes who exercise their constitutionally protected freedom of protest are traitors who should be kicked out of the United States.

Trump was and remains one of the leading voices for the “birther” conspiracy theory alleging that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S. and may be a secret Muslim. The Trump administration is working to remove language in UN documents that condemns racism, xenophobia, bigotry, or nationalism.

Some would like to look away from this list. Others will find it tedious and complain that they have seen this all before. Some will mutter that we all know that Trump is a racist, but so what? And yes, many other people who will see such a list and feel validation. Numbness to this kind of horror is one of the main ways through which evil is normalized.

Later on Friday, Donald Trump issued an obligatory public statement condemning the Christchurch massacre, apparently committed by a self-identified fascist who claimed him as an inspiration. The president wrote, “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques.”

As usual at such moments, there is something deeply awkward and strained about Trump’s pronouncement. We all understand the reason for that awkwardness. Trump does not value the lives of Muslims, or nonwhite people more generally, as equal to those of white Americans.

Windy City Blues

Earlier this week, Jussie Smollett, best known for his portrayal of R&B singer Jamal Lyon on the Fox television series Empire, exited a Subway (the restaurant) in Chicago and was attacked by two men in ski masks. As the men attacked Smollett, who is black and openly gay, they hurled racial and anti-gay slurs at him and told him “This is MAGA country.” Smollett suffered a broken rib but was discharged from Chicago’s Northwestern Hospital Tuesday morning. Chicago police are investigating the attack.

Before his arrival in Chicago, Smollett had received threats, which for him is probably pretty common sadly, but many far-right extremists are claiming the Jussie Smollett attack is a left-wing hoax and a “false flag” and insist that Smollett is lying.

Because of course they are.

One of the would-be detectives on right-wing cesspool The Donald posted that Smollett “got mugged and is trying to turn himself into a race martyr.” Another described the attack as “another phony hate crime.” It’s not clear whether they think that the attack or hate crimes in general are “phony”.

In fact, many right-wing commentators and outlets been pushing the “fake news” narrative as well. Generally they’ve been following a, “That two Trump supporters were just waiting with rope and bleach at 2 a.m. for some celebrity to attack makes no sense” line of thinking.

Even right-wing Republicans who are expressed sympathy for Smollett were not safe from outraged Trump enthusiast and conspiracy buffs who believe that the attack on him is a hoax. Anti-Trump conservative Ana Navarro posted on Twitter, “I saw Jussie Smollett in Miami last week. I can’t believe this happened. It is sad and disgusting and deplorable.”

That didn’t sit well with Trump supporters who furiously attacked Navarro in the comments. One angry Trumper replied, “You disgusting hateful bitch….. U r the epitome of fake news and of a FAKE REPUBLICAN! Can not WAIT til God knee jerks you down ten notches @ananavarro!”

Gosh, who could possibly think that Trump supporters, who get this bent out of shape over tweets, would target and attack someone? Especially given their Dear Leader’s propensity for publicly attacking people who criticize him.

When a long list of prominent Democrats and CNN became the targets of a domestic terrorist in 2018, many on the far-right were quick to claim it was all a left-wing hoax as well. And now, many on the far right are assuming that the violent attack on Jussie Smollett is yet another left-wing plot to discredit Donald Trump’s presidency.

This presumes that Donald Trump’s presidency has any credibility to begin with.

Let’s Not Get It Wrong This Time

Within hours of the terrorist attacks in Paris, politicians and presidential candidates in America and abroad have stated their desire to ramp-up military “involvement” in the Middle East. Given the horrors we witnessed, it’s certainly understandable on a certain level. But before jumping on the “tough on terrorism” bandwagon, we should reflect on the lessons learned in the 14 years since the 9/11 terror attacks and consider what actually works to counter this global problem and what doesn’t.

We can’t kill our way to victory:

There is a role for the U.S. military in responding to terrorism, however counterterrorism policy that relies too heavily on warfare and not enough on addressing the causes of terrorism is doomed to fail. As President Obama said in July:

Countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort. Ideologies are not defeated with guns, they’re defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and compelling vision.

While I am generally very critical of the president’s policies in this area, he is exactly right in this statement. There are no easy solutions, but helping countries address the causes of terrorism; including human rights abuses by governments and the rise of extremism, is critical to making everyone safer. Simply killing more suspects and unintended civilians doesn’t do the job but it does fuel terrorist recruitment.

Suppressing human rights creates more terrorists:

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, a panicked U.S. government rounded up thousands of suspects, both at home and abroad, and denied them basic due process rights. Those at home were detained based on minor visa violations as “persons of interest” to authorities.

Overseas, suspects were abused during interrogations, sent to CIA “black sites” where they were tortured, and eventually sent to the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of U.S. law. That backfired: not only did the Supreme Court eventually step in, but to this day, al Qaeda and ISIS invoke Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and US torture of Muslims in their recruitment propoganda.

That network of global recruitment is what makes terrorists so difficult to defeat. We should not be adding fuel to their fire and we should likewise make every effort to encourage our allies to treat suspects humanely.

We lose critical counterterrorism cooperation from our allies when we don’t respect human rights and the rule of law:

Our allies have refused to share intelligence with us out of concern about the United States’ drone program, and refuse to turn over terror suspects out of concern that they’ll be sent to Guantanamo Bay. The United States should instead be the model of lawful behavior and remind our allies that valuable U.S. cooperation depends on their adherence to the rule of law as well.

Refugees are fleeing the same terrorism we’re fighting, so it’s in our interest to help them and not demonize them:

In the wake of the Paris attacks, we’ve already seen politicians in the U.S. and abroad suggest this is cause for denying admission to Syrian refugees. The opposite is true: Refugees to the U.S. are more carefully vetted than any other immigrant population, and offering them assistance and asylum not only helps desperate people in need, but supports the stability of our allies in the region as well as our own standing in the Middle East which has greatly eroded since 9/11.

The US can’t afford to alienate Muslims:

The post-9/11 mistakes and abuses understandably led many Muslims to mistrust U.S. authorities. We can’t afford for that to continue. If law enforcement and the military want an effective policy to counter ISIS and al Qaeda, it will need to work with and support Muslim communities, both at home and abroad.

Muslims suffer from Islamic terrorism more than any other religious or ethnic group, particularly in the Middle East. As they craft their counterterrorism policies, politicians and presidential candidates need to keep in mind that, aside from the actual terrorists, we’re all on the same side and we will be most effective if we fight terrorism together.

Once More With Feeling

Via Huffington PostAfter the beheading of a second American journalist, Shirley Sotloff, by ISIS militants, the overwhelming narrative on nearly all sides of the media and government has been that we need to seriously consider reentering the conflict in the Middle East in a profound way. In fact, earlier today President Obama vowed to build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” the group.

“We will not be intimidated. Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists,” Obama said. “And those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”

If this sounds familiar, it should.  Minus a couple of invasions (so far), the steps being considered or already in effect to deal with “the threat of ISIS” are a reasonable summary of the last 13 years of what was once called the Global War on Terror. It’s shocking to think after the massive debacle that was the war in Iraq that there would be a situation possible that would make us consider reengaging militarily, especially given that it was likely our decade-plus long efforts to “degrade and destroy” al-Qaeda and the subsequent destabilizing of the region that has allowed ISIS to gain such power and influence.

When the U.S. embarked in the Global War on Terror  it set off a process that led to insurgencies, civil wars, the growth of extremist militias, and the collapse of state structures, it had also guaranteed the rise of something new: ISIS as well as of other extremist outfits ranging from the Pakistani Taliban, now challenging the state in that country, to Ansar al-Sharia in Libya and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.

All in all, the invasions, the occupations, the drone campaign, the deaths that ran into the hundreds of thousands, the uprooting of millions of people sent into external or internal exile, the sending of trillions of dollars all proved to be jihadist recruitment tools par excellence.

What reason do we have to think that a war with ISIS will prove to be anything different?

If the U.S. were capable of destroying ISIS, as our secretary of state and so many others are urging, that might prove to be anything but a boon.  It was easy enough to think, that al-Qaeda was the worst the world of Islamic extremism had to offer. The fact that we can’t now imagine what could be worse than ISIS doesn’t mean anything given that no one could imagine ISIS before it appeared. 

The American record in these last 13 years is a disastrous one.  Do it again should not be an option.