TSC IntelBrief: Terror Inside the United States
Bottom Line Up Front:
• On May 26, two men were murdered on a train in Portland, Oregon by a white supremacist.
• On May 20, a visiting student was murdered by a white supremacist on the campus of the University of Maryland – College Park.
• The suspects in both incidents had extensive histories of racist social media postings, yet there has been little outcry about how the men were ‘radicalized.’
• In the U.S., the incidence of racially motivated crimes and terrorism significantly exceeds that of Islamic State-inspired attacks, yet does not generate the same level of response.
Despite the level of attention given to Islamic State-related terror threats, in the U.S., other forms of hate-motivated terror attacks and crime represent a more immediate threat. Indeed, two recent attacks demonstrate just how skewed public perceptions and reactions are to domestic terrorism. The U.S. has long struggled with racism and violent white supremacy, along with anti-government extremists euphemistically called ‘militia’ groups rather than terrorist groups. While the overwhelming focus of counterterrorism efforts in the U.S. is on preventing attacks directed or inspired by groups such as the Islamic State, the greater day-to-day criminal and terror threats in the country come from violent domestic racists.
On May 26, a man with a history of open support for white supremacist ideology and ‘alt-right’ beliefs murdered two men on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon. Rick Best, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, and Micah Fletcher intervened when the suspect began to yell anti-Muslim comments at two young women on the train. The suspect killed Best and Meche with a large knife, and seriously injured Fletcher. As is often the case in most such attacks, the suspect had been quite open on social media about his racist and violent views, and was filmed earlier this year giving a Nazi salute at a demonstration in Portland.
It is difficult to overstate how different the national reaction would have been had the attacker acted in the name of the Islamic State or shouted in Arabic while committing the attack. There is no such thing a casual hate crime, and for those subjected to public threats and taunting, the experience is truly terrorism. The two young women who were verbally assaulted on the train did not know their assaulter or those who came to their defense. The men that stood up on the train reacted in the spirit of human decency and courage, which ultimately cost two of them their lives. Best was a retired Army sergeant who had served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan; Meche was a recent college graduate.
A week earlier and on the other side of the country, another U.S. serviceman was murdered by a white supremacist who had also been openly racist on his social media profile. On May 20, Richard W. Collins III was killed while visiting the University of Maryland – College Park campus. Collins, a Bowie State student who was set to graduate three days after his murder, had just been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, specializing in military intelligence. He likely would have spent a great deal of time in his military service focused on countering violent ideologies espoused by groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The muted reaction by the U.S. government—and the Trump administration in particular—to these two attacks is in stark contrast to the reaction to any attack claimed by the Islamic State. Statistics clearly point to a systemic threat inside the U.S. that comes from violent white supremacists who are radicalized by and adhere to an ideology equally as dangerous as violent jihadist ideology. Though Islamic State and al-Qaeda-motivated threats certainly warrant thorough attention, the U.S. can and should broaden its counterterrorism strategies to account for the prevalent threat of domestic white supremacists at home.
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