Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that the FBI is currently investigating about 1,000 white supremacist and domestic terrorism cases. That’s roughly the same number of investigations the FBI has opened into terrorists inspired by the Islamic State.
Surprised? White supremacists (also referred to as “domestic terrorists” and “right-wing extremists”) have been responsible for more than 73 percent of deadly terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 2001. In that same 15-year span they’ve also killed 34 police officers, compared to 10 from left-wing extremists (including the five officers killed within minutes of each other in Dallas), and one from a domestic jihadist terrorist.
Despite these stats, police kill black people 2.5 times more frequently than they kill white people. What’s more, police kill unarmed black people at five times the rate they kill unarmed white people. That gap is racism at its ugliest.
Perhaps not its ugliest. White supremacists have a pretty fucking ugly history. I’d say they’ve got the cops beat. But get this: They’re also on the cops’ beat. This January the Intercept published an important but overlooked story about another FBI investigation: White supremacists have infiltrated law enforcement organizations around the country.
That’s right: white supremacists want to kill cops, and white supremacists want to be cops.
In light of Charlottesville, an increasingly militant alt-right, and the Trump effect generally, these reports have profound implications. But you know what I don’t get? Why anyone would immediately dismiss these facts or excuse them. Or just say “but radical Islamic terrorism.” As if these facts accuse everyday white Americans of being worse people than jihadists. No: These white terrorists are horrible human beings, just like jihadists, and they pose a bigger threat than most Americans understand. We all know jihadists are out to kill Americans. Do we know white supremacists are, too, and in a big way? That they’re out to kill cops?
The FBI does. It allots equal attention to each threat. But we don’t. That’s the point of everything that follows in this article: Re-envision, if only for a moment, a broader terrorist landscape in the United States, one that includes a whole lot of very bad white people.
In other words: Think like an FBI agent.
White Lives Matter, Blue Lives Don’t
After the Dallas terrorist attack in July 2016, when Micah Johnson killed five Dallas police officers and wounded nine others, as well as two civilians, then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted this:
But before Dallas (and Baton Rouge after that) white men were responsible for 70% of police killings” that year. 70%. And police killings were up 59% overall: In 2016, seventeen police officers had been shot to death before June, compared to ten in that timeframe the year before. Where was the outrage?
Mr. Trump didn’t hesitate to send out this maniac’s mug shot as the presidential race heated up last September:
But the “law & order” candidate didn’t post a helpful visual aide for the blue lives lost to these white psychos that same year.
Later that year, Mr. Trump, who is slow to respond to any tragedy that doesn’t further his race-driven political agenda, rushed this next tweet out the week before the election, beating Clinton to it by about two hours.
Before a suspect in that killing had been named or arrested, a police spokesman in the district had not so subtly implied the killing had likely been carried out by a black person. Surprise! It was a white guy named Scott Michael Greene.
Note a few coincidences here. Two weeks earlier, police had confronted Greene when he waved a Confederate flag in front of black people at a high school football game. “I was offended by the blacks sitting through our anthem,” he wrote online. “Thousands more whites fought and died for their freedom. However this is not about the Armed forces, they are cop haters.?”
Another coincidence: Greene had a Trump sign in his front yard.
Of course, Mr. Trump isn’t unique in his abuse. He shares this base hypocrisy with much of the right wing, and, obviously, his base. They don’t love police so much as they love to love police. These people devalue not just black lives—they devalue the “blue lives” that aren’t politically beneficial to them. and exploit the ones that are.
The table below probably doesn’t come as a shock, but it drives home how gross this hypocrisy is. Note that 2016, the one outlier here, itself had the outliers of the Dallas and Baton Rouge mass ambush shootings, yet right-wingers still killed more cops that year. (The Baton Rouge copkiller, a black man, was also a member of the Oathkeepers, so he straddles left-wing and right-wing groups.)
And it’s not just cops. As mentioned above, more than 70% of all deadly terrorist attacks in the U.S. have come from far-right groups. According to a U.S. government report, violent right-wing extremists have killed more people than violent jihadists in 10 of the 15 years we have data for since September 11, 2001. (In three other years the groups killed the same number of people.) But the frequency of attacks is much different: White supremacists have carried out three times as many deadly attacks as jihadists in that same timeframe. That’s fifteen years of data.
That USG report also points out that two the groups were responsible for approximately the same number of deaths: 119 to right-wing groups; 106 to jihadists. But it makes a point to mention that “41 percent of the deaths attributable to radical Islamist violent extremists occurred in a single event—an attack at an Orlando, Florida, night club in 2016.”
With this in mind, compare the two graphs below, one of stats from 2016 and one from 2015. See how the three outlier attacks skew the 2016 data on these terrorist attacks: Dallas, Baton Rouge, and the Pulse nightclub shooting. I say “outlier” not to wriggle out of anything; mass-casualty terrorist events on those scales are incredibly rare in the U.S. Orlando was far and away the deadliest terrorist attack since 9/11, accounting for 41% of the death toll in those years. It happened, and a jihadist did it. But it’s not a normal year.
So imagine what the graph on the left would look like without those outliers. It’d look a lot more like the graph for 2015, on the right.
Two things leap out to me. First, the lethality of “lone wolf” attacks today is terrifying, and that has everything to do with the kinds of weapons readily available to Americans. Second, right-wingers launch far more attacks. This is why I’d add that attacks like San Bernardino skew the data: That was a single massive attack; the other killings are individual attacks across both time and place.
Not only have white terrorists killed more people (including police) in these years, they also carry out far more attacks than any other group. If there’s a terrorist attack in the U.S., a white dude is the odds-on favorite to be responsible. A roulette wheel wouldn’t even have the black-to-white ratio of a piano.
Hell, let’s look at this year. There have been nine terrorist attacks in the U.S. Six of them have been carried out by white dudes. One of them was a U.S. military veteran named Joshua Cummings who lived in Texas, went to war, then converted to Islam. He looked like this.
All in all, right-wing extremists are far more systemically and violently anti-cop/anti-government than any other group. You could argue this indicates how successfully law enforcement has pressured jihadist groups. If that’s your argument, the stats say it’s high time we started applying that kind of pressure to white extremists.
Oh, wait. We are. It’s just that no one knew it.
And we can’t ignore this fact, either: Right-wing extremists want to kill cops, but they also want to be cops. The FBI is investigating both ends. Why?
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Why do white supremacists want to be cops? Bottom line is obvious: So they can get away with shit.
At the top I mentioned that in January The Intercept published a trove of internal FBI documents, some of which contributed to a story about how the FBI investigates white supremacist groups that have infiltrated law enforcement.
In 2009 the Department of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the FBI, released a study that showed that right-wing extremism unsurprisingly surged after we elected a black President. These groups used the historical event to radicalize and recruit new members, muster existing members, and reach out with broad new propaganda campaigns. The report specifically listed “disgruntled military veterans” as prime targets of these efforts: “Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”
Right-wingers were upset at the mention of veterans, and the report got panned. The Secretary of DHS, Janet Napolitano, caved to right-wing PC culture. She apologized, shelved the study, and more or less shut down the investigations. That left the FBI as the only agency working these cases, and it left local LE departments without any available training for identifying and acting on extremist infiltration.
Naturally, groups such as the Oathkeepers, the Peace Officers Association, the Three Percenters, and the Constitutional Sheriffs (count Joe Arpaio and the Bundy camp among them) took advantage of the security vacuum to recruit and metastasize, just like ISIS and al Qaeda do in other parts of the world. These efforts in part targeted active and retired law enforcement officers. Then Donald Trump handed them a recruitment opportunity that they couldn’t have dreamed of back in 2009. The threat predictably grew, until this May FBI and DHS warned us of an increased threat from right-wing extremists. Three months later they killed one protester and injured dozens more in a vehicle ramming attack in Charlottesville.
But right-wing groups have long influenced law enforcement at both state and local levels. They haven’t just recruited from the law enforcement community, they’ve also infiltrated the ranks. Pete Simi, a Chapman University sociologist who studied white supremacists in the military for decades, put it this way: “If you look at the history of law enforcement in the United States, it is a history of white supremacy.”
Look, we assume police departments have been around forever more or less in the form they are today, but that’s not exactly true. In the early days of the U.S., policing was part-time work for the willing and able. Over time populations grew and that system evolved into the first constabularies, which were mostly responsible for policing Native Americans. The first official urban police departments were founded in northern cities, but, of course, things went differently in the South. There, policing was first implemented to monitor and control the slave population. Southern police departments grew directly out of these slave patrols.
Policing in America has roots in slavery.
The tradition, as The Intercept makes clear, obviously hasn’t gone away. As recently as the 1950s and 60s, the KKK had a heavy presence throughout American police departments, and when you think about the way the police often treated black people at the time, it makes perfect sense. When you think about the way the police treat black people today, it also makes perfect sense. In 2015, former FBI Director James Comey said in a speech, “All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty.” And Norm Stamper, former Seattle Chief of Police, told the Intercept that “to think that that kind of thinking has dissolved somehow is myopic at best.”
But here’s the thing: It’s not illegal to belong to the Klan. Police departments can fire cops who associate with hate groups, but whether the firing stands up to a First Amendment appeal is another matter. Just last year 14 San Francisco police officers got fired for exchanging white power texts, including stuff like “all niggers must fucking hang.” Most of them are still members of the SFPD.
On top of that, note that although it’s a federal crime to provide material support to a foreign terrorist group, there’s no such law about supporting a violent white supremacist group.
That’s right: These snowflakes will bitch that getting fired is a violation of their constitutional right to advocate for the extermination of large groups of human beings.
The Next Wave of Whitecaps
It should go without saying that this isn’t a small problem. Mr. Trump gave Charlottesville a pass, which could have serious implications. The Daily Stormer said, “Trump’s comments were good. He didn’t attack us… There was virtually no counter-signaling… He said he loves us all.” David Duke thanked Trump for his “honesty & courage” in condemning leftists. Richard Spencer interpreted it the same way. Things will escalate as Mr. Trump continues to carry out the culture war which, as it was recently reported, he admits he’s engaged in on behalf of his base. The FBI/DHS report from this May concluded that right-wing groups will “likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.”
But here we hit another paradox: White supremacist violence was actually down in 2016, yet according to the Anti-Defamation League those groups had been more active that year, largely because of the platform and propaganda the alt-right exploited during the election season. Going on that fact, could it be a good thing that Trump gives these groups a voice? Perhaps they’ll be less violent now that they have a chance to be heard.
No fucking way. These groups predicate their very existence on violence: They exist only because they want to remove or exterminate entire races and ethnicities. Also, recall the types of people who have carried out most of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. this year.
These groups have chosen to use Trump’s ascendancy not just to recruit, but to shift their presence from the gutters of the Internet to the real world. They’ve been focusing especially hard on attracting young members on college campuses. And you don’t recruit by suddenly going apeshit and getting violent. No, you build to that.
So imagine, as the FBI would, a sizable chunk of a police force that’s sympathetic or indebted to (or part of) armed extremist groups who adhere to these tenets and now feel empowered. Imagine a police force ideologically opposed to groups that come out to demonstrate against those extremist groups. Now imagine that these seeds possibly lie dormant in local and state law enforcement departments throughout the country.
Now imagine that about one out of every ten Americans are accepting of Nazi (NAZI) ideology. Because they are.
The numbers aren’t big, but they’re troubling, and the trends are more troubling still. I’m confident this is changing: One great thing about the First Amendment is that it not only gives marginalized people a voice, it gives the monsters among us the opportunity to helpfully identify themselves. I don’t think we’re the next Weimar Republic.
That said, it’s worth remembering one story that got lost in all the Charlottesville insanity. At the same rally, after the ramming attack, a white supremacist pulled out a gun and shot it near a black man’s feet. Fortunately, local police stood just a few yards away. But that’s all they did. They stood, and they watched.