“Terrorism”: A High-Stakes Convenience Label

“Terrorist” is an increasingly racialized label. In theory, a term can help to define a class of violence in order to combat it (for example, gun violence or domestic violence). In practice, the term “terrorism” is used to perpetuate structural violence against Muslims, not to mitigate any kind of violence.

Not only does the definition of terrorism vary widely across the globe, different agencies within the United States government have varying definitions. Media outlets are essentially free to use the term at their will. Terrorism is less structured than such a label implies. While it may be true that radicalized individuals or groups conspire to incite violence, violence has existed for all of human history, and labeling violent acts terrorism simply because they were committed by Muslims creates a false links between such acts, and perpetuates the fallacy of Islam as a violent religion and Islam as the link.

Those most affected by terrorism within the United States are the Muslims who are stereotyped and labeled terrorists simply because of their racialized religious identity. It is time to reevaluate the use of the terms terrorism and terrorist altogether and explain violent acts in new ways that will not instigate or perpetuate additional violence against those most harmed by a subjective and racist, and impractical label.

How “Terrorism” Protects Whites and Harms Muslims

In 1983, the US State Department defined terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” This definition is broad, leaves a substantial amount of room for the government’s own discretion, and even differs from the definition used by the FBI. Notably, it also excludes state actions. Because of this ambiguity, terrorism is not a stagnant concept – it is employed by government actors as a strategic label to uphold orientalism in order to strengthen support for the U.S. government’s constant state of war, specifically the War on Terror.

President Bush signed the Patriot Act in October of 2001 in response the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The act was designed to expand the power of the government to investigate acts they deemed terrorism. This law codified the government’s ability to, without due process, obtain private records, seize assets, and search property or person of anyone suspected to be engaged in “terrorist” activity. In the twelve months following the 9/11 attacks, according to a council on American-Islamic Relations report,

more that 60,000 individuals [were] affected by government actions of discrimination, interrogation, raids, arrests,detentions and institutional closures.

The subjective definition of the terrorism label precipitates that not only does the government have the power and discretion to determine whose behaviors constitute terrorist activity, they also and to arbitrarily revoke fundamental rights from whomever they consider to be posing that threat –- and they do. More recently, the Trump administration cast its thinly veiled Muslim Bans as a mechanism for perpetrating structural violence against Muslims -– restricting movement, separating families, and risking innocent lives, despite the true reality of that supposed “terrorism” threat being extremely small. The odds of being killed in an international terrorism attack in the United States are roughly the same as the odds of being struck by lightning. The number of people killed globally by international terrorism each year is comparable to the number of Americans who drown in their own bathtubs in the same span of time. Comparatively, epidemics of systemic and preventable violence, such as the traffic safety crisis in NYC, go unaddressed. One person dies every 38 hours in traffic in New York City, and yet the City will not make common sense changes to prevent the very real threat faced by its pedestrians.

The overreaction to extremely rare acts of violence that are labeled “terrorism,” both in the United States and globally, has contributed to far more deaths than the acts considered terrorism themselves have. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died as a result of the US Government’s counterterrorism strategies after 9/11 –- more than the number of fatalities caused by all global “terrorist attacks” in the last century. Refugees from Syria, Lybia, Yemen, and Somalia remain in danger because of this subjectively applied label and Trump’s essentially racist ban. Muslim communities around the country face surveillance, unjust imprisonment, and violence in part due to this label. White America has been primed to overlook legally sanctioned structural violence because the dominant framework has prescribed the belief that all Muslims are terrorists, and thus discrimination against Muslims is necessary and logical for the safety of the dominant group.

Selective Labeling

In reality, the government exercises its discretion by defining Muslims as the perpetrators of terrorism, accompanied by the portrayal of the victim of terrorism as only western white individuals. This was made especially clear through the media and government’s treatment of Dylan Roof, the white man who massacred nine African American men and women at a historically Black church in South Carolina in June of 2015. Despite the fact that Roof’s attack was meticulously planned and motivated by over white racism, he was indicted for federal hate crimes and firearms charges as opposed to domestic terrorism charges.

Roof’s actions were not attributed to his race or his religion and his friends were not subjected to interrogation and charged with conspiracy. His community of self-defined white supremacists was not threatened, intimidated, or entrapped by the FBI. White people were not banned from entering the United States based on his actions. His crime was not seen as politically motivated because the US government does not recognize racism as political, even when it is used as justification for overtly racist, violent actions and murder. His crime was not linked to other mass shootings as a systemic issue let alone mass shootings committed by white men, or other acts of violence and murder committed by white men against Black people.

There have been cases where white violent actors have been brought up on domestic terrorism charges, and yet white Americans have not been systemically surveiled and have not faced violence due to the actions of these white “terrorists.” Some advocates pushed for Dylan Roof to be called a “domestic terrorist.” Each time a mass shooter is identified as a white individual, there is a small chorus of voices advocating for the violent action to be labeled “terrorism.” Should we still be pushing to label any violent action terrorism when 1) it is clear at this point that the label has been constructed with the qualification of the perpetrator being a Muslim, and 2) Muslims living in the US, regardless of citizenship status, face structural violence because of the racist application of the term?

Putting the Label Behind Us

As academics and social justice advocates, abandoning the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” altogether may help to reclaim the power the label has given the U.S. Government to harm to Muslims in the United States and abroad. The racist history of the label’s application has rendered the term “terrorism” useless to those who seek to identify the true causes of violence, and to work to mitigate them.

The field of Critical Terrorism Studies provides some insights as to how we can better understand the label moving forward. Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS) is concerned with the security of the individual as paramount to the security of the state, and explicates that the best way of obtaining security for the individual may be through critical analysis of what terrorism really is. Terrorism

is not a self-evident, exceptional category of political violence. Rather, it is a social construction – a linguistic term or label that is applied to certain acts [and not to others] through a range of political, legal, and academic processes.

Cara Cancelmo currently works as the Development Director at the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center. She plans to study sociology in graduate school.

White Supremacy & Antisemitism After Charlottesville

Although I’ve always known my grandmother, Sara Atzmon, was a survivor of the Holocaust, it took me over 18 years to work up the courage to ask her about her experiences as a Jew in Nazi occupied Europe. As a child, I was terrified of knowing what my grandmother had gone through. On the other hand, as a student of Jewish history, I knew that these stories must be told to prevent their future reoccurrence. When we would discuss her experiences, I would ask about “the war”—always being careful not to ask about a specific incident, but allowing her to share what she was ready and willing to. One of her most vivid and often reflected upon memories was her recounting of the day the Nazi occupation force came to her rural farm to seize her and her family. She was always careful to note that the family who disclosed their Jewish identity was the same local farming family who had come by to sing them Christmas carols for many years. She made sure I understood that when antisemitism becomes promoted by the powerful (Nazis in occupied Europe) that the antisemitism of everyday “good” white Christians will surface for all to see clearly.

On August 15, 2017, the lessons my grandmother taught me began ringing in my ears so loudly I could barely hear myself think. With the election of Donald Trump, open and overt white supremacist demonstrations have once again become common place in the United States. I can see my Jewish friends across the nation begin to uneasily question our place as Jews in white America as I scroll through my Facebook feed. They have good reason to, as well. Despite a recent Pew Research study showing that 90% of Jewish Americans self-identify as white, white supremacists have clearly separated Jews from their socially constructed white racial category. For example, at the recent white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville Virginia, Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke told the crowd

the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause

while supremacist Richard Spencer taunted Charlottesville’s Jewish Mayor, Mike Singer, and asked the crowd how to pronounce his name. They answered by chanting “Jew, Jew, Jew.” Furthermore, a crowd of hundreds of white supremacists marched with lit torches, many of the participants proudly displayed swastikas and images of Hitler while they chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “blood and soil” (and English translation of the old German Nazi “blut und boden”). This recent uptick in overt and public displays of white supremacy begs the following questions: 1) Why are Jews targeted by white supremacists? 2) Where is the resurgence in white supremacy and racialized antisemitism coming from? 3) What can we do, as self-identified white Jews, to combat white supremacy?

To answer the first question, I turn to the work of linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, and sociologist, Joe Feagin. For the sake of simplicity, frames are worldviews that people operate out of in everyday life, and the white racial frame is the racial worldview that the vast majority of white actors in the U.S. and Western societies operate out of.

Central to the white racial frame is the view, or subframe, that most whites are virtuous actors. In addition, anti-“other” views are incorporated into this larger racial worldview—-taking the form of anti-Black, anti-Asian, anti-Latino, and others including anti-Jewish. In fact, almost immediately after terms like “race” and “black and white race” were developed by Europeans in the 17th century, elite white American men used these socially constructed categories to impose a non-white identity on Jews. For example, in 1654, Peter Stuyvesant, who governed the New Amsterdam colony described the first Jewish immigrants to the American colonies as “a deceitful race”—clearly separating them from the “virtuous” white Protestants whom were welcomed in New Amsterdam.

While racialized antisemitism has become less acceptable (yet still present and accepted in white backstage settings) after the 1940s fall of Nazi Germany—-leading most white Americans to impose an off-white identity on Jews-—white supremacists have held fast to this idea that Jews are non-white.

Now that we understand the links between white racial framing, white supremacy, and racialized antisemitism, we can move to a discussion of where this resurgence is coming from. Joe Feagin and Kimberley Ducey note the central role of elite white men in the production and reproduction of systemic white racism, systemic sexism, and systemic capitalism. This also holds true for racialized antisemitism—-a subframe in the larger white racial worldview that justifies and upholds systemic white racism. Today, elite white men, such as financier William H. Regnery II, continue to be at the center of the promotion of this white racial framing, much the way Peter Stuyvesant was in 1654—-complete with narratives of white virtuosity, and overt racialized antisemitism that work in tandem with various anti-“other” frames to reproduce systemic white racism. For example, Regnery has described his greatest political achievement as his discovery of white supremacist Richard Spencer! In addition, Spencer himself has noted that Regnery has played a “vitally important and indispensable” part in the formation of the so-called alt-right movement. Sadly, not much has changed in terms of the central actors who maintain and promote racism and racialized forms of antisemitism in the U.S. over the past four hundred years—they remain elite white men.

How can we combat white supremacy? My answer here is twofold.

1) As scholars of U.S. antisemitism, we must begin to focus on white, and particularly elite white, antisemitism—-a topic that is rarely discussed in studies of contemporary U.S. antisemitism in favor continued discussions of antisemitism in Muslim and black communities.
2) We must begin to work toward building coalitions with communities of color to combat white supremacy. This second goal will require self-reflection regarding the way we, self-identified white Jewish Americans, actively participate in, and passively support through our silence, white supremacy.

What do I mean by actively promoting white supremacy? I refer to the racist language and actions that some Jewish Americans engage in. For example, look to the AEPi chapter of the University of Chicago—a historically Jewish fraternity—and their leaked listserv emails in 2016. In these emails, that span from 2011 through 2015, these Jewish students sound much like white supremacists who do not target Jews. For example, these students planned to celebrate MLK Day at a fried chicken restaurant and regularly used the “N-word” as well as associated other slurs to refer to African Americans. They also regularly used labels like “terrorist” when talking about Muslim students. Yet, perhaps the most telling example of how their emails resemble old white supremacist rhetoric can be found in an email from July 2011. In this email, a member asks other members not to publicly use his newly given nickname because it has the N-word embedded in it. While he is careful to point out to them that he finds it “very, very, funny,” he also notes that it is “very, very, racist” and should be kept to private spaces (their backstage) unless “you need to satisfy your inner klansman.”

What do I mean by silence? I refer to the fact that there is often no outcry or action by leaders of the Jewish community when people of color are murdered by state officials, when Indigenous people’s lands and water are stolen by elite-white-male-owned corporations, and when the myriad of other everyday events occur which promote white supremacy and other aspects of systemic white racism in the United States. We must not be silent any longer and we must teach the next generation of white Jewish Americans to actively and openly engage anti-racist viewpoints and actions. Some groups, such as Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, have begun this work but need more active support from more Jewish Americans.

This is how we, as self-identified white Jews, begin to move toward dismantling white supremacy in America. This must happen now. By participating in, and being silent about, white supremacy, we are breathing life into it and spreading it. If we do not work against white supremacy, it is just a matter of time before our own white neighbors point us out as the local Jews.

Thaddeus Atzmon is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at Texas A&M University. His current research focuses on the co-reproduction of systemic white racism and antisemitism in the United States. He can be contacted at tadd1145@tamu.edu

White Supremacy and White Patriarchy in Today’s Poland

The fact that racism combines with sexism to deepen the oppression faced by Black women has been emphasized by many authors, including such seminal African American intellectuals as Angela Davis, bell hooks and Audre Lorde. One of the most important Black feminist texts, the 1977 statement of the Combahee River Collective, asserted the existence of

racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression.

A decade later, the Black scholar Kimberle Crenshaw coined the now very popular term ”intersectionality” as a way of underscoring the importance of the double burden of oppression weighing on Black women which is more than the sum of racism and sexism they have to face. And in 2010 yet another Black scholar, Moya Bailey, introduced the term ”misogynoir” to ”describe the particular brand of hatred directed at black women in American visual & popular culture.”

Unsurprisingly, the analyses of the toxic combination of racism and sexism usually focus on the interlocking oppressions affecting Black women and other women of colour. White women are now often portrayed as participants and beneficiaries of the system of white supremacy alongside white men; the Nigerian scholar Emeka Aniagolu has even coined the term ”co-whites” to emphasize the complicity of white women in the system of racial oppression in the United States.

It is very frequently overlooked that white women can be affected by a kind of misogyny which is inextricably linked both to racism and to efforts to control and contain female sexuality. Poland is an example of a society where this kind of misogyny takes a very overt, virulent and obsessive form, which makes it easier to observe and analyze its manifestations. This phenomenon found a recent and very characteristic illustration in the Facebook comments left by Pawel Kukiz, a white Polish politician and rock musician who leads the party Kukiz’15 (36 MPs in the Polish parliament) and gained more than 20 percent of votes in the first round of the 2015 presidential election.

When the activist Joanna Grabarczyk from the organization HejtStop which fights against online hate speech reported some Facebook posts written by Mariusz Pudzianowski, a well-known MMA (martial arts) fighter and owner of a transport company, to a District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw

(Pudzianowski had written, among others: I have no pity – this human trash!!! I should be there!! I’d gladly use a baseball bat, zero tolerance!!! Folks, what tolerance??? I no longer have tolerance for this human trash-and they dare to call themselves human beings!!!!!” — and he meant migrants who were trying to get on trucks in Calais in order to reach the British coast),

the outraged Pudzianowski described her in another Facebook post as a ”frustrated woman with low self-esteem who is causing harm to normal people.”

As to Kukiz, he sarcastically wrote on his Facebook wall: ”If I were her, I would also be dreaming about immigrants in the context of the New Year’s Eve.” When his post met with disapproval from, among others, the popular journalist Monika Olejnik and the TV presenter Tomasz Kammel, Kukiz mockingly stated:

I did not intend to offend Joanna Grabarczyk. I assumed that racial barriers did not exist for someone as open and tolerant as her.

It is clear that Kukiz exploited the powerful stereotypical image of the white woman rejected by white men and therefore seeking solace in real or fantasized encounters with non-white men: an image obviously based on the assumption that white men occupy the highest rank in the hierarchy of sexual attractiveness.

This idea, very often expressed in online comments, was reflected in an article published in 2010 in the newspaper Dziennik soon after a Nigerian street vendor, Maxwell Itoya, was shot dead by a police officer in Warsaw in still unexplained circumstances. The article, titled “The Nigerian Mafia. Ugly Wives and Drugs,” portrayed the Nigerian diaspora in Poland in an extremely negative light: as aggressive men who ”increasingly look like men in the video clips of the stars of gangsta rap,” sell drugs and are able to stay in Poland thanks to the fact that they are “expertly using marriage fraud.” The article quotes a Warsaw official who claims that Polish women who fall in love with Nigerians “are not attractive” and, moreover, ”not well-developed intellectually.” There is also a documented case of racist harassment where the harassers – a woman’s neighbors – claimed that she had decided to have a child with a Black man because she “did not have a Polish guy.”

Very importantly, in the case of Joanna Grabarczyk the stereotype of the unattractive white woman who turns to non-white men because of being rejected by white men has been used in order to cruelly ridicule a woman who is fighting against hate speech. Such attacks can be an effective form of silencing women who have opportunities to publicly denounce racism and speak in defence of non-European migrants and refugees. Women’s commitment to human rights, justice and equality can be thus portrayed as merely a hypocritical façade hiding their longings for love and sex. In this way, not only the idea that a woman can be sincerely committed to struggle against racism is cynically rejected, and the single (or supposedly single) female activist is depicted as a new incarnation of the despised figure of the old maid/spinster.

Not less importantly, the idea that some Polish women turn to non-white men out of desperation can be seen as an expression of the deep anxieties, fears and insecurities of Polish men faced with the multifarious consequences of late neoliberal capitalism – greatly increased job insecurity, the very limited social safety net in Poland, mass-scale economic emigration to Western Europe and a greatly facilitated access to holiday tourism in the countries of the global South – as well as with the increasing emancipation of women and easy access to various kinds of pornography (with its racialized codes of representation). In this context, the image of the unattractive and frustrated single white woman drawn to non-white men may be interpreted as one of the devices used by deeply insecure white men in order to cope with their own feelings of inferiority, powerlessness, humiliation and anger.

An analysis of the lyrics of two virulently racist Polish songs can provide insights into the psychological mechanisms leading to extreme racism and misogyny; it is necessary to emphasize here that the racism of white supremacists is merely an extreme form of mainstream white racism. Symptomatically, Polish women bear the brunt of the hatred expressed in both texts. In one of the songs of the neo-Nazi music band Nordica (formerly known as Agressiva 88), titled “The N…r’s White Whore,” a beautiful Polish girl gets involved in a relationship with a Black man; the lyrics assume that she is ”doing it only for money.” The song contains a direct threat of deadly violence against Polish women who are in relationships with Black men, as indicated by such lines as “You will hang, whore, such is your fate” and “When I get you, you will be among Blacks in heaven”). The lyrics make it clear that one of the most potent sources of the insecurities of many Polish men is the fact that their economic status decreases their attractiveness in the eyes of current or potential partners.

“I Don’t Have Enough Words,” one of the songs by the musician Kelthuz (his real name is Tomasz Czapla), directly alludes to the previous one: the refrain contains the words ”Die, you n…s’s white whore”, so there is a deliberate continuity between the two songs. In the first part of “I Don’t Have Enough Words” Kelthuz describes the hypocrisy of young Polish women who are seasonal economic migrants in the United States: “each one of them hangs a picture of her boyfriend over her bed/And calls him in the evening when possible,” but later “goes to a downtown disco to f..k n…s in the toilet” because every Polish woman allegedly ”gets crazy when she sees a black guy”.

In the second part “mature” Polish businesswomen “on the lookout for a man” indulge in sexual adventures with local men in Egypt. Finally, the song reveals “the truth” on female nature and on Polish women: “every woman is in two-thirds a whore” and ”there are three black cocks in every Polish woman.” The second image evokes the pornographic representations of “interracial” heterosexual encounters: representations which hyper-masculinize Black men and can reinforce both the sexual insecurities and the racist prejudice of many white men.

The song not only portrays female sexuality as uncontrollable and dangerous – the lyrics even claim that young Polish women are infected with HIV by Black men in America and later transmit the virus to the unsuspecting Polish boyfriends – but also suggests that the only way to contain female sexual desires is through physical violence and sexual degradation; that Polish women have to be literally terrorized into suppressing their attraction to Black men:

If you don’t beat your woman, her liver will rot,
So she’ll look for cock in African forests,
The hamster in her head is getting crazy,
Shut up, whore, and suck me slowly!

In these lines Polish patriarchal tradition, reflected in the proverb justifying domestic violence against women (”If you don’t beat your woman, her liver will rot”), fluidly intermingles with the very recent and Western-derived metaphor of the “rationalization hamster”: this metaphor, visualised in many Internet memes, is based on the idea that women find it easy to rationalize and justify their decisions and behaviour, no matter how unreasonable and unacceptable they can be.

As in the case of the first song, the unhidden contempt for women seems to derive from deep male insecurities and fears. The thought that Polish women can be attracted to dark-skinned and supposedly inferior men, and that they now have access to spaces of erotic freedom – whether as economic migrants in the West, or as tourists in the countries of the global South – is plainly terrifying to many Polish men. The latter’s anxieties are inseparably connected to the myth of the sexual superiority of Black men (a myth clearly believed even by some Polish artists and intellectuals, as proven by the words of the well-known artist Zbigniew Libera who has claimed in an interview that during a visit in Liège he

saw vividly that the civilization of the white man was nearing its end, and that he will be replaced by a black guy with an ‘enormous cock’, of whom the white man is afraid.)

The visceral connection between the sexual insecurities of many white men, sexual myths on Black men and racism was revealed with unequaled frankness, brilliance and poignancy in James Baldwin’s short story “Going to Meet the Man.” Baldwin’s masterpiece, just like Fanon’s seminal Black Skin, White Masks or Eldridge Cleaver’s highly controversial book Soul on Ice, indicate that issues related to sexuality, masculinity and femininity are not less important than, say, economic or political issues when it comes to an analysis of the genesis and mechanisms of racism. It is also necessary to emphasize that one of the ways in which global white supremacy is upheld is through the shaming and ridiculing of white women who openly disobey its rules. It is noteworthy that white patriarchy’s efforts to discourage white women – and especially middle- and upper-class women – from transgressing the “color line” in the sexual sense, or to force them to hide such transgressions or view them as merely insignificant adventures, have not yet attracted much attention of feminist/womanist scholars, activists and movements.

Joanna Tegnerowicz, a sociologist and historian of ideas, is an
Assistant Professor at the University of Wroclaw in Poland.

Ron Paul Gains Supporters at Stormfront, according to Don Black

Don Black, the founder of Stormfront, the largest (currently over 236,000 registered users) and longest-running white supremacist site on the web, appeared on the show “Young Turks” yesterday and said that he and many of his followers agree with Ron Paul on the issues, currently a Republican hopeful in the U.S. presidential race.

Ron Paul’s newsletters have recently been in the spotlight of the mainstream press in a bit of a johnny-come-lately attack on Paul’s long standing racism and homophobia. In 2007, Daily Kos ran a story “Ron Paul: In His Own Words,” which exposed much of this (and so have many others prior to the current dust up), but this round of attention seems to have been sparked by Paul’s surge in the polls and support among some white liberals and libertarians.

There is a tendency, especially among white liberals, to dismiss white supremacist rhetoric – like that of Don Black and those who agree with him at Stormfront – because it exists outside the ‘mainstream.’  I argued in my first book that the extremist rhetoric of white supremacists and the mainstream rhetoric of politicians elected to public office overlap in significant ways.   While the standard way of viewing these groups is that they are “fringe,” I contend that much of what they are saying is very similar to what mainstream politicians are saying.  Here, Don Black and Ron Paul are simply the most recent example in a centuries-long tradition of this sort of overlap in American politics.

Oklahoma City Bombing: Reflections on the 15th Anniversary

April 19th marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.   It was, until the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the worst terrorist attack in United States history.  Timothy McVeigh was convicted, and ultimately put to death, for this crime which he described as motivated by a deep antipathy for the federal government because of the events at Waco and by his reading of The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist dystopian novel.

Literally thousands of extremists from around the country, many of them armed, plan to march in the capital and in Virginia to “celebrate” the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.   In fact, white supremacists, white nationalists and assorted militia groups have a whole roster of events scheduled for today, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), including:

  • Longtime Georgia militia organizer Jim Stachowiak reportedly has called on his fellow militiamen to discharge their weapons at midnight, thereby causing a flood of citizens to call 911 and overload emergency services.
  • Members of the Patriot movement, for whom the specter of gun restrictions is a recurring theme, will join gun rights advocates for a “Second Amendment March” in Washington, D.C. Speakers will include: Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, a conspiracy-minded, antigovernment organization composed mostly of active-duty police and military officers and veterans.
  • An open-carry rally to “Restore the Constitution” will be held at Ft. Hunt National Park near Mount Vernon, Va. Designated a “call to muster,” those rallying want the federal government to know that they “will not be ignored anymore.” Daniel Almond, who believes the federal government is “bringing totalitarian socialism to America” and is a member of the Georgia chapter of the Oath Keepers, organized the event.

These types of “celebrations” are, of course, a threat to democratic society because they valorize a lawlessness.  They also demonstrate a remarkably callous disregard for the continuing impact of the bombing on the victims that survived, many of them toddler in the day care that operated in the building. Of the 168 people killed in the attack, 19 were children in that day care center.  Incredibly, 6 children survived and are now teenagers and young adults.  Here are a few of their stories, from CNN:

P.J. Allen, now 16, was 18 months old when the bomb brought the building down on top of him, forcing him to inhale hot air and smoke.   …. Brother and sister Brandon and Rebecca Denny were hurt in the attack, although it was the older brother who received the more permanent injuries.   … While then 2-year-old Rebecca Denny required 240 stitches to patch her up, her brother — then 3 — suffered severe brain injuries, leaving the right side of his body weak.  …. Chris Nguyen, now a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma in nearby Norman.  “I’ve been given like a gift, you might say, and if I don’t make something of my life to succeed and make a difference of some kind, then I would have wasted my life,” Nguyen said.   “I think about the other parents — all the other day care children and families — who’ve lost someone … but I feel guilty almost that Brandon, Rebecca, P.J. and I, we get to live our lives … and the other people, they don’t get that opportunity,” he said.

Despite calls by prominent people involved in the case, such as the prosecutor, to focus on the victims this anniversary, no doubt much of the mainstream news coverage will lead with stories about Timothy McVeigh and the reported rise in white supremacist, white nationalist, and militia groups.   While it’s important to discuss these aspects of the anniversary, it would be a mistake to think about McVeigh and the time just before the bombing as somehow anomalous.  In fact, white supremacist groups are an enduring feature of the American political landscape.

Fighting Cyber Racism

In Cyber Racism, I examine the many ways racism is being translated into the digital era from the print-only-era of newsletters (such as those I explored in my earlier book, White Lies).   I also spend some of the new book exploring ways of fighting cyber racism (see Chapter 9).  There is a recent example that illustrates both the pernicious threat of cyber racism and an effective strategy for combating it.

Allen McDuffee is a NYC-based freelance journalist whose writing has appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, DailyKos and HuffingtonPost.  McDuffee as well as for his own site, Governmentality.   Here’s McDuffee’s account of how this incident began (from July 15, 2009):

Last night as I looked at the results from my statistical gathering software program, I was disgusted to learn that an individual had posted and linked to some content from my blog. Most writers and bloggers work hard to get their work linked to, but when I saw the content of this individual’s blog, I literally became sick to my stomach.A white supremacist, with a screen id and blog called Kalki666, found a post I had written critical of Israel and decided to repurpose it for his anti-Semitic agenda. He also used me as his research assistant for the main part of that same post when he found this post on my blog from May 21 and just re-posted it yesterday. And then there are the swiped images, too. Not only had he posted my content and linked to me on his blog, he further linked on white supremacist discussion boards.  In no way, shape or form will I allow him to attribute his agenda to my reporting and blogging. I fully condemn Kalki666’s actions and everything that he, his blog and his community stand for.  Yes, I am critical of Israeli policies. I am also critical of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. But beyond that, it needs to be clear that being critical of Israel does not make one anti-Semitic.

This kind of “re-purposing” of content intended for a white supremacist agenda is one of the characteristics of cyber racism.   In the book, I talk about the way other white supremacists have used this same strategy to re-frame material from the Library of Congress archive of WPA recordings with freed, former slaves to make their argument that slavery was “sanitary and humane” rather than the brutal and de-humanizing institution it was, in fact.   Lifted out of context and re-posted on a white supremacist website, the oral history of slavery becomes part of an arsenal of web savvy white supremacists.   In McDuffee’s case, text he authored critical of Israel – but not intended as antisemitic – ends up re-posted on a white supremacist forum to further their antisemitic agenda.  On the web, as in print publishing, context and authorship matter; but, unlike printed-media, the copy/paste technology of the web makes the migration of ideas from one context and author to another several orders of magnitude easier.

Then, McDuffee’s story gets even more interesting.   He writes:

Now, upon further research, I learned that Kalki666 was surfing and posting from an IP address registered to Wheaton College (IL)–a conservative, Evangelical Christian college.   [And…] I’m writing to Dr. Duane Liftin, the President of Wheaton College. He should be made aware of the types of activities that are occurring on the Wheaton College IP address. If it’s an employee, I’m sure this violates the usage policy of the College. If it’s a student, well I suppose this opens a whole host of other issues.

I’m also going to bring it to the attention of WordPress, where the blog is hosted. While the post that I’ve described here probably does not violate their usage policy, I’m certain that I saw several others that do–ones that, in my mind anyway, provoke violence. To me, this is the difference between free speech and injuring speech that ought be censored. As a journalist, I take this issue very seriously and, again, I think this deserves its own post where I will elaborate in the next few days.

So, while the form of this digital-era white supremacy is thoroughly web-based, so is the response.  First, McDuffee identifies the IP address (the unique identifier for each computer) and locates it geographically and institutionally to a suburban Chicago college.  He then uses email to contact the president of the college and the software company that runs the blog software.   McDuffee smartly invokes the “usage policy” (sometimes called “TOS” for “Terms of Service”) in place at the college.  Indeed, most institutions, software platforms, and Internet Service Providers (the company that provides your Internet service) have some sort of TOS that prohibits explicitly racist / antisemitic language that encites hatred or violence.   I’m often asked if fighting cyber racism isn’t “impossible” because of “free speech protection” – and the answer is no, it’s not impossible.  This sort of hate speech over the Internet is a “TOS” issue, not a free speech issue.   However, enforcement of these policies is almost entirely left up to individuals – like McDuffee – to pursue the issue and demand action.

Furthermore, McDuffee deftly uses his blog to document and post the responses from the college president, the blogging software and from the white supremacist in question.    McDuffee was understandably horrified by this turn of events, and he was tenacious in his quest for a just resolution.   And, his efforts paid off.  Within 48-60 hours (approximately 2 days) of the initial discovery, McDuffee posted this:

UPDATE #9: Wheaton College President Duane Litfin emails me (July 17 1:44pm)

The culprit has been found and escorted off campus. More details to follow shortly.

As it turned out, the culprit was neither a student, nor an employee of the college, but was an interloper who had accessed one of several free-to-the-public computers in the college library.   He was identified as Merrill Sech, 38, of Westmont, IL.  When the campus police and a local Wheaton police confronted him on the college campus to escort him off campus and issue a do not return letter because he violated their computing policy, he assaulted the officers.  So, Sech was arrested.   According to McDuffee’s FOIA request, Sech also has a history of other criminal offenses and is currently in DuPage County Jail.    For more info, there’s also this podcast about the incident.   According to McDuffee, the story is still unfolding in various ways, so you’ll want to check his Governmentality blog (or follow him on Twitter @allen_mcduffee) to catch all the updates.

For my purposes here,  I want to highlight that in order to effectively fight cyber racism, you need people who are 1) committed to the value of racial equality,  2) web-savvy and 3) willing to take action.   McDuffee embodies all these qualities as an individual.   On what might be called the structural side, you need laws and policies in place that regard hate speech as unacceptable (as the college did in this case), and officials that are willing to take action against these sorts of violations (as the college president, campus and local police did).

McDuffee’s encounter with this white supremacist illustrates several of the points that I make in Cyber Racism,  chiefly that the threat from white supremacy online is less a threat of “recruiting” and more a threat to ideas and values of racial equality.    McDuffee’s encounter also illustrates that the political struggle for racial equality is one that requires us to be committed, web-savvy and willing to take action and demand a response from institutions and organizations that may be unwitting perpetrators of white supremacy.

Neo-Nazis Arrested in Plot to Kill Obama

The ATF has disrupted the plot of two neo-nazis to kill 88 black people, decaptitating 14 of them, and ending their killing spree with the assassination of Barack Obama. The numbers 88 and 14 hold significance within white supremacist movement rhetoric, “88” stands for “Heil Hitler,” (H is the eigth letter of the alphabet) and “14” represents the “14 word” slogan of white supremacists (“we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”).

The two men, Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tennessee (picture here in an undated MySpace photo picked by the AP), and Paul Schlesselman 18, of West Helena, Arkansas, are being held without bond.

This news story, like the one of the failed hoax by Ashley Todd who claimed she was assaulted by a black man, will no doubt get filed away and dismissed for most Americans as the behavior of a “few nutcases.” But, I want to suggest that interpreting this sort of behavior through a mental health lens is another way of using the white racial frame to interpret events that obfuscates a larger pattern. While it’s true, as Adia points out, that whites are supporting Obama in record numbers, it’s also the case that there is a centuries-long history of this sort of racist activity in the U.S. For example, at one time another white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, included 4 million members nationally. Of course, their numbers are nowhere near that level today (the SPLC estimates there are probably 800 groups nationally). But that doesn’t mean white supremacists are not a threat. It simply means they are a different kind of threat. They are not likely to draw large numbers to their ranks, but those that are in the groups are potentially very dangerous, as is evident in the arrest of Cowan and Schlesselman.

The problem with interpreting the actions (or planned actions) of individuals like Cowart and Schlesselman merely as “nutcases” is that such an interpretation blinds us to the fact that white supremacist groups have been a consistent presence in this country since 1866. And, each time their numbers fall, whites who are not members of these groups, claim that these groups “are dead.” Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking more than accurate observation.