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August 12, 2015

From Charleston to Chattanooga: The Face of Terror in America

By Oren Segal and Mark Pitcavage
Directors of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism

Terrorism is sometimes referred to as the “faceless enemy,” but it has hardly been faceless in the United States this summer.  Too many people have emerged from the shadows to inflict death and suffering.

The parade of violence has seemed unending, from Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, who attacked police officers providing security for the so-called “Muhammad Art Exhibit” in Texas in May, to John Houser, the Hitler-admiring man obsessed with the moral decay of America who recently opened fire at a Louisiana movie theater showing the movie Trainwreck.

Of the various killers and would-be killers this summer, two stand out.  The first is Dylann Storm Roof, the white supremacist who allegedly confessed to the June massacre at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine African-Americans dead.dylann-storm-roof-gun-confederate-flag-600

The second is Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who in July engaged in a shooting spree targeting a Chattanooga military recruiting center and a nearby naval reserve center.  Abdulazeez, who may have been inspired by radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, killed five people—all military personnel—before being killed by police.

In many ways, Roof and Abdulazeez personify America’s terrorist threat; they are the faces of the “faceless enemy.”  Most obviously, each represents a major source of terrorism.  Roof was a white supremacist who allegedly hoped to start a “race war” in which whites would prevail.  White supremacists have for decades been the most prolific source of domestic extremist-related lethal violence.  Along with the other main segment of the extreme right, anti-government militia groups and sovereign citizens, they are responsible for the great majority of extremist-related deaths in the U.S.

Abdulazeez, on whom there is less information regarding motivation, may well have latched onto the ideas of al-Awlaki—including his encouragement of attacks on military targets—as a way to atone for some of his personal demons, including drugs and alcohol.  Domestic Islamic extremists have in recent years attempted or conducted a large number of terrorist plots, conspiracies and acts, despite being fewer in number than right-wing extremists.

Both men also chose targets typical of their movements.  For Abdulazeez, it was the military; here he followed in the footsteps of Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who killed a soldier at a recruiting center in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2009, and Nidal Malik Hassan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, that same year.  Other Islamic extremists have also recently plotted attacks against military targets in the U.S., though without success.mohammad-youssef-abdulazeez

Roof went on a shooting rampage against African-Americans.  Sprees of violence against racial, ethnic, or religious minorities are a common type of white supremacist terrorism.  In recent years, there have been a number of such episodes, including Frazier Glenn Miller’s attacks on Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kansas, in 2014; Wade Michael Page’s rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012, and Keith Luke’s attacks on African immigrants in Brockton, Massachusetts, in 2009.

Both Roof and Abdulazeez used firearms for their attacks, which is also typical of American terrorism.  Although the public usually thinks of terrorism in terms of bombs, terrorists like Ted Kaczynski and the Boston Marathon bombers are rare in America.  The vast majority of extremist-related murders involve guns—easy to acquire, simple to use, and deadly.  This is why Charleston and Chattanooga number among the 10 deadliest extremist-related attacks of the past 50 years.  Indeed, with the exception of the Oklahoma City bombing, the “top 10” attacks all involved firearms.

Abdulazeez and Roof were both young men, disaffected, facing personal stresses of different kinds (Abdulazeez also suffered from mental illness).  Although terrorism knows no age limits—Nidal Hasan was 39 at the time of his Fort Hood rampage, while white supremacist James Von Brunn, who attacked the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009, was in his late 80s—many of the attacks and plots in recent years by both Islamic and right-wing extremists have been committed by men in their mid-20s or younger.

Like Abdulazeez and Roof, a number of these extremists committed their attacks as lone wolves, unattached to any particular group.  Overall, the number of lethal lone wolf attacks in the past two decades has been fairly low, numbering only a few dozen, but in recent years, lone wolves seem to have been emerging at a faster rate.  One reason may be the increasing role played by the Internet in facilitating self-radicalization.  It was through the Internet that Roof educated himself in white supremacy; it was via the Internet that Abdulazeez downloaded recordings of al-Awlaki.

Here one can see a significant difference between right-wing extremists and domestic Islamic radicals.  While they can both easily immerse themselves in a sea of on-line propaganda designed to instill and reinforce extreme views, right-wing extremist Internet sources are primarily based in the United States and, therefore, must watch what they say.  White supremacists who openly use the Internet to encourage violence and terrorism open themselves up to criminal investigation and, if violence occurs, possible civil liability; as a result, their encouragement of violence is often more implicit than explicit.

Domestic Islamic extremists, in contrast, receive most of their radicalizing messages from abroad, from terrorist groups and like-minded supporters who are freer to use the Internet to call for violence and terrorism within the U.S.  Propaganda from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, for example, was an inspiration for the Boston Marathon bombing.  In the past two years, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken such tactics to a new level altogether, employing a virtual army of on-line recruiters who use social media platforms to reach and radicalize susceptible individuals across the globe.  Seeking to instill a deep sense of community and purpose, ISIS supporters encourage Americans to come to the Middle East to help it fight its wars—many of the 80+ U.S. residents linked to Islamic extremist activity since 2014 have made such attempts. But ISIS also urges people to launch attacks in the U.S.

Roof and Abdulazeez were both cold-blooded killers.  Their attacks deeply affected the citizens of Charleston and Chattanooga and, indeed, the whole country, though not always in the same ways.  In particular, the Chattanooga shootings, like some similar attacks before them, stirred anti-Muslim sentiments directed at America’s entire Muslim community, a disturbing phenomenon for which there is no parallel with regard to white supremacist attacks.

But their attacks were similar in that they were both essentially futile, able to achieve little but death and misery.  Indeed, the reactions to the attacks illustrate just how ineffective they actually were.  The Chattanooga attack, for example, inspired an outpouring of support for the U.S. military. The Charleston response was even more powerful.  Far from starting a “race war,” Roof’s slaughter not only brought Charlestonians of all races together but also resulted in a bipartisan effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol.

American extremists, of whatever stripe, can hurt and even kill, but the one thing they can’t do is win.

Mr. Segal is an authority on Islamic extremism and terrorism in the United States; Dr. Pitcavage is an expert on right-wing extremism and terrorism in the United States.

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July 8, 2015

White Supremacists Angry About Alleged Demise of White Race

Claiming that they are an endangered species accounting for a mere 9% of the world’s population, white supremacists are reacting with anger to what they view as societal focus on creating white guilt and hatred against white people, white heritage and Christianity.endangered species

The hype spreading through their ranks warns of their “cultural cleansing” and ultimately “white genocide.” This rhetoric is not based on any new concepts, but there are some new irritants that are galvanizing white supremacists and revitalizing their notion that without action the white race is doomed to extinction.

The most recent irritant stems from the revelation that racist Dylann Storm Roof, the alleged murderer of nine black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina church, used the Confederate flag as a symbol of hate.

White supremacists are incensed over the recent nationwide movement to rid public parks and buildings, license plates, and retail stores of Confederate flags after the Charleston shooting. One Klan group is planning a July rally to protest of the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Statehouse.

In addition to white supremacists’ mounting frustration over public disdain for the Confederate flag are the numerous petitions and efforts to rename dozens of parks, bridges and university buildings which are named after confederate soldiers and/or Klansmen.

The frustration over these attempts is not new. In 2013, approximately 75 white supremacists protested the renaming of three Memphis, Tennessee, parks previously named in honor of the Confederacy, its leader, and a Klan leader. This protest demonstrated unusual unity among white supremacists with three different Klan groups, a neo-Nazi group, and members of several racist skinhead groups in attendance.

Another issue disturbing white supremacists is their perception of the way the media covers crime. Extremists believe black on white crime is under-reported compared to white on black crime. This viewpoint was recently compounded following media reports regarding the killing of black men by white police officers, the “black lives matter” movement, and the subsequent civil unrest.

One noteworthy reaction by white supremacist to these media reports has been their support for law enforcement officers, which they have normally withheld. In 2014, at least three Klan members attended an Imperial, Missouri, rally in support of Darren Wilson, the police officer who fatally shot unarmed black robbery suspect Michael Brown in Ferguson.

More surprisingly, due to their long standing cultural disdain for police, a small group of racist skinheads recently demonstrated for a week in May 2015 in support of police in Olympia, Washington, after an officer shot two unarmed black men.

White supremacists are also mimicking the “black lives matter” slogan. Not only did white supremacist leaders of the neo-Nazi National Alliance and Tra­di­tion­al­ist Youth Net­work interrupt a May 2015 “black lives matter” press conference in Cincinnati, but members of the Aryan Renaissance Society distributed “white lives matter” fliers in Rhode Island and Connecticut last month.

White supremacists believe that American society is espousing an anti-white agenda that promotes diversity and integration in order to insure that whites become a minority. In reaction, they have declared that the days of fence sitting are over and are calling for whites to fight against the so-called destruction of the white race.

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July 2, 2015

Confederate heritage group denounces extremists, but has them in ranks

The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), a so-called Confederate “heritage” group, recently denounced the decision of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a North Carolina-based Klan group, to hold a July 2015 protest in front of the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia.

Missouri CCC members receive SVC awards

Missouri CCC members receive SVC awards

According to a press release issued by the SCV, the group’s membership “vehemently oppose[s] and denounce[s] this hateful and divisive event.” The SCV also trumpeted what it referred to as its “strictly enforced ‘hate’ policy,” claiming that anyone with ties to any racist organization or hate group is denied membership and will be “immediately expelled.” The statement was attributed to Charles Kelly Barrow, the “commander-in-chief” of the SCV.

One may legitimately wonder how “strictly enforced” the SCV’s “hate” policy actually is. After all, one of the major figures in the SCV for many years has been Kirk Lyons, who has played a major role in the politicization of the SCV during that span. For decades, Lyons has been a friend to and represented numerous white supremacists in court cases, once describing himself as an “active sympathizer” of their causes. Lyons has also spoken to or before a variety of extremist groups, ranging from the white supremacist website Stormfront to the equally white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC).

The SCV has its own CCC problem. The connections between the “heritage” group and the white supremacist group—the latter allegedly a source of education and inspiration for Charleston church shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof—are extensive. In January 2014, for example, three members of the Council of Conservative Citizens, including its founder and leader Gordon Lee Baum (who died in March 2015), all of whom were SCV members, received “SCV War Veteran Medals” from one of the group’s Missouri chapters. Another CCC founder, Leonard Wilson, who died in 2013, was an SCV member and the former Alabama state commander of the SCV.

In 2014, SCV member (and former Tennessee state commander) Gene Andrews spoke at the CCC’s annual national conference. Andrews also contributed an article to the CCC website in 2010. In 2009 and 2011, Cecil Fayard, then the “National Chaplain” of the SCV, spoke before the Carroll County, Mississippi, chapter of the CCC. In 2008, SCV member John Flippin, also a CCC member, spoke before the Webster County, Mississippi, chapter. These are just a few examples of SCV-CCC crossover.

Even Charles Kelly Barrow, the current commander, may have had extremist ties. According to a 2002 Southern Poverty Law Center report, Barrow was a member of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate hate group that has recently organized protests that have included neo-Nazis and issued dire warnings of “race war.”

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