August 5, 2019
IntelBrief: El Paso, Texas and the Scourge of Radical Right-Wing Extremism
On Saturday, a terrorist allegedly motivated by anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic beliefs murdered 20 people and injured dozens more in a shooting in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old man from Dallas, TX drove to El Paso, TX and opened fire in a Walmart with an AK-47-style assault rifle. Before the attack, a manifesto that authorities believe was posted by the terrorist to 8chan, an internet forum frequented by white nationalists, praised the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand and stated plainly the motive: 'this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.' The terrorist's social media accounts, which have been taken down since the attack, showed support for hashtags like #BuildtheWall and another that used guns to spell out the word 'Trump.' President Trump, who has been embraced by many radical right-wing extremists on social media, railed against Mexicans who come into the United States during his presidential campaign, famously associating them with drugs, crime, and rape. El Paso, TX is located just across the border from Mexico.
The act of domestic terrorism is one in a string of incidents perpetrated by radical right-wing extremists in the United States in the past few years. Just last week at a garlic festival in Gilroy, CA, a nineteen-year-old gunman killed three people; in the hours before the attack, he posted a photo on Instagram urging people to read a novel widely associated with white supremacists, although authorities still have not confirmed a motive in the case. In October 2018, 11 Jewish worshipers were slaughtered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by a virulent anti-Semite and racist. This year in April, on the final day of Passover, a synagogue in Poway, CA was attacked by a gunman firing an AR-15-style rifle, killing one person and injuring others. In the Poway attack, the killer also posted a rambling manifesto to 8chan and praised the incidents in Pittsburgh and Christchurch. The scourge of radical right-wing extremism is not relegated to domestic or local contexts but is instead a global phenomenon where a shared ideology of hate, racism, and a call to violence have energized a transnational movement.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) recently warned against fringe conspiracy theories as a major source motivating potential domestic terrorists. The U.S. has witnessed a string of violent incidents related to conspiracy theories which are frequently peddled on fringe websites favored by radical right-wing extremists. QAnon is a community of individuals that propagate conspiracy theories online and believe in a 'deep state conspiracy' against President Trump. The F.B.I. has warned that these online activities have the potential for real-world violence, as witnessed in the 'Pizzagate incident' from 2016 where an individual inexplicably became convinced that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex trafficking operation from a pizza shop in Washington, D.C. and drove to the store armed with an AR-15-style rifle and fired three shots in the restaurant. Earlier this year, Cesar Sayoc, Jr., who was also enamored with online conspiracy theories, pled guilty to 65 felony counts related to pipe bombs he built and sent to journalists at CNN, as well as prominent Democratic officials and donors.
The U.S. government has done little to address the obvious threat of domestic terrorism, especially from radical right-wing extremists. Even as the threat posed by radical right-wing extremism surges in the U.S., Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) have decided to devote their energy on passing legislation that would brand left-wing agitators collectively known as ANTIFA as a domestic terrorist organization. Meanwhile, radical right-wing extremists continue to commit acts of political violence as the U.S. government struggles to cobble together an effective strategy to counter this threat. Just last week, F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray told Congress that since October 2018, the Bureau had recorded over 100 domestic terrorism arrests, most of which have been linked to white supremacist violence. U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services need the tools to combat violent white supremacy and the transnational threat of violence perpetrated by radical right-wing extremism. Effective legislation takes time to craft properly, but a federal statute built around domestic terrorism could provide authorities with the prosecutorial power and resources necessary to address radical right-wing extremism head-on and make progress toward better protecting American citizens.
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