November 2, 2018

IntelBrief: America’s Enduring Blind Spot with Extreme Right Radicalization

People pay their respects Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue to the 11 people killed Oct 27, 2018 while worshipping in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) .
  • In the last week, the U.S. experienced three separate instances of extreme right-wing crime and terrorism.
  • The murder of 11 Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh, of two African-Americans in Kentucky, and the pipe bomb spree against high-profile Democrats, highlights the ever-present threat of crimes committed by de facto domestic terrorists.
  • With every act of jihadist terrorism, U.S. officials, the media, and the public focus on how the perpetrator was ‘radicalized’ and by whom, obsessively focusing on the influence of religion when the motive appears to be Islamic extremism.
  • There is a striking absence of such radicalization concerns after attacks by extreme right-wing terrorists or criminals, when debates over how the perpetrator radicalized are mostly muted, downplayed, and sidelined.


The long-running U.S. double standard with concerns over crime and terrorism that are inspired by the narrative of bin Ladenism versus crime and terrorism inspired by right-wing ideology, appears to have continued last week with several attacks by alleged far-right extremists. Cesar Sayoc was charged on October 29 with mailing at least 14 pipe bombs to prominent Democratic politicians and media figures; he now faces five federal charges of interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and other persons, threatening interstate communications, and assaulting current and former federal officers. Sayoc’s lawyer says his client will plead not guilty.   

On October 24, Gregory Bush allegedly shot and murdered two African-Americans in a supermarket in Louisville, Kentucky; police say the suspect tried to enter a predominantly African-American church just prior to the attack, but left because the doors were locked. There are unconfirmed reports that the suspect made racist comments just after the shooting, and authorities are still considering hate crime charges in addition to the two counts of murder he now faces.

On October 27, Robert Bowers allegedly shot and murdered 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Police say his social media accounts were filled with vitriolic anti-Semitic rantings, as well as statements echoing the hyperbolic and inflammatory remarks made by President Trump about a ‘caravan’ of migrants walking through Mexico with plans to plead for asylum once they reach a U.S port of entry.

After Pittsburgh, one of the deadliest anti-Semitic attacks in U.S. history, there were some but not many, headlines asking where the shooter was ‘radicalized,’ and why didn’t ‘his community’ speak up beforehand and then speak out afterwards, to collectively condemn his actions. Yet these questions, particularly the ‘collective blame’ question, are always asked in the aftermath of jihadist-inspired attacks or foiled plots. In the U.S., domestic terrorism or racial crimes by white supremacists, are treated as outliers by troubled individuals considered to be unrepresentative of a larger community; while jihadist-inspired terrorism is seen as proof of an entire community or religion’s culpability and responsibility. Researchers like J.M. Berger and others, have long studied and written about the scale of the threat posed by right-wing terrorists in the U.S.


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