Sheldon Kirshner

The Specter of White Supremacist Terrorism

The first anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on American Jews in US history is approaching.

On October 27, a heavily-armed, middle-aged antisemite named Robert Bowers walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and, in a frenzy of untrammelled hatred, fatally shot 11 of its congregants.

Exactly six months later, John Earnest, 19, entered the Altman Family Chabad Community Center in Poway, California, and killed an elderly woman and wounded its rabbi as he unleashed a litany of antisemitic slurs. In a racist screed, he said he had been inspired by the atrocity in Pittsburgh and the massacre of 51 Muslims in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, perpetrated by the Australian shooter Brenton Tarrant.

In the wake of these incidents, a 21-year-old lone gunman, Patrick Crusius, opened fire at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 shoppers, the majority being Hispanics. Crusius, in a hate-filled manifesto, wrote he had drawn inspiration from Tarrant and Earnest.

In all four cases, the assailants were white supremacists motivated by the belief that caucasians are gradually being “replaced” by non-whites and non-Christian minorities.

White supremacists, having killed almost 100 people in the past year, have called attention to a recurring problem that has been downplayed since the events of September 11, 2001, when Arab terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda crashed three commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and an empty field in Pennsylvania, killing some 3,000 civilians in the worst single terrorist affront in American history.

As a result of 9/11, the US, government began to focus almost entirely on Muslim terrorists, virtually neglecting the dire threat posed by homegrown white racists.

Their overarching objectives are to disrupt civil society and undermine federal institutions. But ideally, they want to impose a Jim Crow segregationist system on African Americans, strip Jews of their civic rights or send them to Israel, partition America into separate racial enclaves, and, as a last resort, to ignite a cataclysmic race war in the United States.

They’re fanatics who would engulf the United States in tyranny, terror and bloodshed, but until very recently, the American government seemed oblivious to this unholy alliance of white supremacists, garden-variety bigots, Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis.

Last month, however, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kevin K. McAleenan, served notice that the United States is keenly aware of the spectre of violent white nationalism and intends to do something about it.

Describing this phenomenon as one of the most dangerous threats facing the country, McAleenan, in a speech to law enforcement officials, said, “I would like to take this opportunity to be direct and unambiguous in addressing a major issue of our time. In our modern age, the continuation of racially-based extremism, particularly violent white supremacy, is an abhorrent affront to the nation.”

In a sign of the seriousness with which he views the problem, McAleenan distributed a document to police departments outlining a strategy to deal with it effectively. According to reports, he will release an implementation plan in the next few months. By all accounts, a campaign will be launched to  combat hateful rhetoric online, among other tactics.

McAleenan is not the only top-level federal official concerned by white supremacist terrorism. Three months ago, the director of the FBI, Christopher A. Wray, told Congress that the bureau has arrested an equal number of foreign and domestic terrorists this year, and that many of them were white supremacists.

If this problem is finally being recognized by the federal government, Daryl Johnson can probably take much of the credit for this apparent awakening.

Johnson, a former senior analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, wrote a report on right-wing extremism a decade ago. The report, intended only for law enforcement agencies, documented a resurgence of extreme right-wing activity in the United States and warned that extremists could well target U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for recruitment.

Johnson cited two causes for the upsurge: the election of America’s first African American president, Barack Obama, and the eruption of a financial crisis that resulted in a stock market crash and the near bankruptcy of a major U.S. company, General Motors.

Conservative media leaked Johnson’s report, and as he writes in a 2017 piece in The Washington Post, “a political backlash ensued because of an objection to the label ‘right-wing extremism.'”

Republicans called on then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to rescind his report, and this is what she did. The Obama administration feared that undue attention paid to their cause might legitimize white supremacist views.

“Amid the turmoil, the Department of Homeland Security caved in to the political pressure,” Johnson writes. “Work related to violent right-wing extremism was halted. Law enforcement training also stopped. My unit was disbanded. And, one-by-one, my team of analysts left for other employment. By 2010, there were no intelligence analysts at DHS working domestic terrorism threats.”

Johnson claims that, as the white supremacist threat grew, the federal government continued to focus on Muslim extremism.

He believes that the alt right has been reinvigorated by current debates over Confederate monuments, same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

According to Johnson, President Donald Trump has pandered to the radical right. Trump’s endorsement of the border wall along the Mexican frontier, his Muslim travel ban, and his determination to deport illegal immigrants are all white supremacist ideas.

And his refusal to single out the extreme right for condemnation after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 has further emboldened the alt right, Johnson claims. “As former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke tweeted, ‘Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville & condemn the leftists terrorists in BLM/Antifa.”‘

In conclusion, Johnson wrote in 2017, “The U.S. government has not only failed to implement an effective strategy to combat right-wing terrorism. It is afraid to even raise the subject in public for fear of political backlash.”

Judging by McAleenan’s recent statement, this is no longer true. But it remains to be seen what exactly the Trump administration will do to root out white supremacist terrorism, a plague that must be contained, if not altogether eradicated.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,