Just a few months into the Obama presidency, congressional Republicans and conservative media claimed to be outraged by a general alert to law enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security. The document at the time highlighted the DHS’s findings about domestic extremists and their interest in politically motivated violence – none of which seemed controversial.
But as longtime readers may recall, a controversy ensued anyway. Despite the fact that the report had been commissioned by the Bush/Cheney administration, Republicans and much of the right freaked out, with some conservatives insisting that concerns about violent radicals could implicate mainstream conservative activists. Some GOP members of Congress even called for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s resignation.
The reaction may have been bizarre, but it nevertheless convinced federal officials to scale back their scrutiny, at least for a while, of home-grown extremists and potentially violent fringe radicals.
That was unwise. The New York Times reported earlier this month, “White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist.” The report added that there were 65 terror-related incidents totaling 95 deaths in the United States last year, and most of the incident “were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies.”
The Washington Post published a related report yesterday.
Over the past decade, attackers motivated by right-wing political ideologies have committed dozens of shootings, bombings and other acts of violence, far more than any other category of domestic extremist, according to a Washington Post analysis of data on global terrorism. While the data show a decades-long drop-off in violence by left-wing groups, violence by white supremacists and other far-right attackers has been on the rise since Barack Obama’s presidency – and has surged since President Trump took office.
This year has been especially deadly. Just last month, 13 people died in two incidents: A Kentucky gunman attempted to enter a historically black church, police say, then shot and killed two black patrons in a nearby grocery store. And an anti-Semitic loner who had expressed anger about a caravan of Central American refugees that Trump termed an “invasion” has been charged with gunning down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history.
This month brought two more bodies: A military veteran who had railed online against women and blacks opened fire in a Tallahassee yoga studio, killing two women and wounding five. All told, researchers say at least 20 people have died this year in suspected right-wing attacks.
Fortunately, a reporter recently asked Donald Trump what he intends to do about this. Unfortunately, the president’s answer offered very little.
Q: In 2017, shortly after you took office, your Homeland Security Department shuttered a program to counter homegrown, right-wing extremism, white supremacism, and related terrorist groups – domestic terrorist groups; and redirected that funding towards fighting Islamic terrorism. Do you believe that white supremacists, terrorists, right-wing terrorists, these homegrown terrorists on that side of the spectrum are a problem, sir?
TRUMP: Yeah, I do. I do believe that’s a problem.
Q: And what is your administration going to do about it?
TRUMP: I believe all hate is a problem, but I do believe that is a problem.
Q: What are you going to do about it, sir?
TRUMP: And it’s a problem we want to solve…. I do believe it’s a problem. And can I tell you what — it’s a problem that I don’t like even a little bit.
This was from the president’s White House press conference the day after the midterm elections. Later, at the same event, a reporter noted the recent rise in hate crimes and anti-Semitic violence. Trump responded by bragging about his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel, which didn’t relate in any meaningful way to the question.
Pressed further for some kind of answer about “healing the divides in this country,” the president responded by talking about the economy in China.
All of which suggests that if Americans are looking for leadership on this issue, we shouldn’t look to the Oval Office.