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April 20, 2016

White Supremacists Up in Arms over Tubman on $20 Bill

Harriet Tubman. Photo Credit: Ohio History Connection (OHC) via U.S. Treasury Department, dated circa 1887 by H.G. Smith, Studio Building, Boston.

Harriet Tubman. Photo Credit: Ohio History Connection (OHC) via U.S. Treasury Department, dated circa 1887 by H.G. Smith, Studio Building, Boston.

On April 20, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that famous abolitionist and rescuer of slaves Harriet Tubman will be the new face of the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson (who moves to the bill’s back). The move is intended to answer a long-standing call for more diversity on America’s paper currency. Tubman, a former slave herself, helped hundreds of other slaves escape into freedom.

Initial reactions were largely positive—but not among racists and white supremacists, who wasted no time reacting to the news with ferocious–and unsurprising–venom. “Talking monkey Harriet Tubman to replace Indian killer Jackson on $20 bill,” Andrew Anglin, editor and founder of the white supremacist Daily Stormer website, announced on his blog.  A forum member on the white supremacist message board Stormfront warned, “Just make very sure you don’t ‘integrate’ this new $20 bill into your wallet. You’ll likely find the rest of your money missing in no time.”

Other Stormfront contributors posited the idea of “having fun” with the new bill by defacing it. One suggested he would make a stamp with a “white nationalist cross” and the words “White Pride World Wide” to emblazon on every $20 bill he encounters. Yet another pledged never to use the new $20 bill, to demand to be given other bills instead.

On Facebook, racist comments also surfaced quickly. Someone posting as “Pete Lambro” wrote, “Who the hell is harriet tubman [sic]…if Obama want to put an african americans [sic] Picture [sic] on something how about food stamps or ebt cards.”  In another Facebook posting,  a “Nick Francis” complained that “now we have to stare at a monkey every time we get paid.”

Others were quick to introduce anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, alleging that the Treasury Department announcement was the brainchild of the Jews.  One anti-Semite posted to his Facebook page the comment “More Zionist Jack Jew,” referring to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.  A Stormfront poster using the screenname Proud_White_Chap asked, “Who cares who Jews put on their fake paper? Andrew Jackson fought against them and they besmirched his memory by placing him on the 20 dollar bill.” This seems to be a reference to the anti-Semitic belief that Jews control the banking system and to the fact that Jackson dismantled the U.S.’s national bank.

A Treasury spokesperson said the design for the new bills will be made public in 2020, the centennial of women winning the right to vote. The actual currency, however, won’t be in circulation until 2030, giving white supremacists plenty of time to gnash their teeth and accumulate other denominations.

White supremacists will probably be no happier with the new $5 and $10 bills, however, which are to feature five women’s suffrage activists, Eleanor Roosevelt, and African-Americans Marian Anderson and Martin Luther King, Jr., on the reverse sides.

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April 13, 2016

Firearms Increasingly Weapon of Choice in Extremist-Related Killings

extremistkillingswithfirearms1970-2015In the popular imagination, the bomb is the weapon typically associated with terrorists or extremists—but in the U.S. extremists seem to be killing more people with firearms than with any other weapon, and that use may be increasing.

It is certainly true that many of the high-profile terrorist attacks in the United States over the past century have been bombings, including the 1919 anarchist bombing campaign, the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, among many others. Extremist serial bombers such as the Weather Underground, “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and Eric Rudolph have all gotten their share of headlines.

However, extremists use a wide variety of deadly implements to commit their crimes, terrorist-related or otherwise, from fists and boots to airplanes. The most common tool of violence seems to be the simple firearm, a weapon that extremists can use when committing terrorist acts, hate crimes, assassinations, armed robberies, and all manner of traditional crime. In the United States, firearms are easy to obtain and easy to use. American extremists of all possible types, from the far left to the far right, as well as religious extremists, have used firearms to commit deadly acts.

How common is such firearms use in the United States? The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism examined 890 murders committed by domestic extremists in the United States from 1970 through 2015—both ideological and non-ideological killings by extremist perpetrators—and discovered that around 55% of these killings involved use of a firearm; all other weapons combined made up the other 45%.

This figure signifies both the popularity of firearms among extremist movements in the United States, especially right-wing extremists, as well as the fact that attacks with other types of weapons may be less likely to end in death. Attacks using knives or fists, for example, may possibly result in non-fatal injuries more often than firearms. On the other end of the scale, bombings are more difficult to carry out—with many extremist bombing plots detected and prevented by law enforcement from ever being executed.

When one breaks down the numbers by decade, it appears that, after a dip in the 1980s and 1990s, firearms are becoming more popular than ever as the deadly weapons of choice for American extremists. Not only have the numbers of domestic-extremist related killings in the U.S. increased over the past 20 years, but so too has the frequency of firearms as the weapons in such killings.

In the 1970s, extremists—primarily coming from the far left—used firearms in 61% of domestic extremist-related killings in the United States. Many of these incidents involved members of left-wing extremist groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army attacking police officers.

The percentage of firearms use in extremist-related killings dipped in the 1980s, to only 46%, then dropped drastically in the 1990s, down to 20%. This latter figure is greatly distorted by the Oklahoma City bombing, which itself resulted in 168 deaths, but even if the bombing were left out of the calculations, the new number would only be 42%. There are several reasons that seem to account for these lower figures, including the rise of white supremacist prison gangs committing murders behind bars and the growth of the racist skinhead subculture in the United States, whose adherents often eschewed firearms for beating and stabbing attacks.

However, in the 2000s, firearms once more were the deadly weapons in the majority of killings, with 62% of the killings between 2001 and 2010 involving one or more firearms. So far in the current decade, the percentages are even higher, with 72% of the domestic-extremist related deaths from 2011 through 2015 involving firearms.

What accounts for this increase? Several factors seem to have played a role. One is the increased use of firearms by several extremist movements. Racist skinheads seem to use firearms with greater frequency in the 2000s than they did in earlier decades, while the growth of white supremacist prison gang activity on the streets—as opposed to behind bars—has allowed their members much greater access to and use of firearms.

Even more concerning is the apparent gravitation of domestic Islamic extremists towards firearms as a weapon of choice. In the early years of this movement, following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, much of the energy of those extremists with violent impulses were directed at elaborate plots involving bombs or even military weapons—plots typically stopped by law enforcement before they could ever be carried out.

Since 2009, however, there have been a number of high-profile incidents in which Islamic extremists have used firearms to conduct shootings (and one instance, the Boston Marathon bombing, where the perpetrators used both bombs and firearms), including shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and San Bernardino, California.

The rise of ISIS in the past several years may have contributed to the increase in attempted small arms attacks; Al Qaeda generally favored high-spectacle and symbolic attacks, whereas ISIS has been more practical, urging adherents to commit any attack they think they can pull off.

Most of the Islamic-related shootings were mass shootings, which may be the final piece of the puzzle. Though most extremist killings continue to take one victim at a time, the number of multiple victims in deadly extremist-related incidents (both ideological and non-ideological) has certainly grown. Since 2001, there have been 24 domestic extremist incidents in which at least three people were killed—and firearms were the weapons used in the vast majority of these cases, including such deadly shooting sprees as the 2012 Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting and the 2015 Charleston church shooting.

The increased number of multiple victim incidents by extremists is also one of the reasons why the death toll has been rising. From extremists on the right such as white supremacists and anti-government extremists to religious extremists such as domestic Islamic extremists, gun violence seems more likely to increase than decrease in the coming months and years

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March 8, 2016

Shooting Investigation Vindicates Troopers, Raises Questions About FBI Actions

lavoyfinicumshootingOregon authorities revealed today the results of their investigation into the fatal shooting of anti-government extremist Robert “LaVoy” Finicum by Oregon state troopers during an attempt by state and federal authorities to arrest many of the ringleaders of the January 2 armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.

The investigation vindicated the actions of the state troopers who shot Finicum, but revealed that there is a separate misconduct investigation ongoing into some of the FBI agents’ actions at the scene.

On January 26, several weeks into the refuge standoff, Oregon state troopers and agents from the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team attempted to conduct a planned traffic stop of two vehicles filled with occupiers on their way to a meeting, so that they could arrest several of the extremists.  Both vehicles initially stopped but the one driven by Finicum subsequently sped off down the road until it crashed into a snowbank after narrowly avoiding running into a law enforcement roadblock.

As captured on video taken by a police helicopter circulating overhead, Finicum almost immediately jumped out of the vehicle.  As Oregon state troopers approached from two directions, Finicum twice reached towards his jacket, as if to pull out a weapon (he did have a weapon there, it was determined). At the second reach, the troopers opened fire on Finicum, fatally wounding him.

After any officer-involved shooting, there is an investigation. In this case, the investigation took on added importance because of the sensitive nature of the situation: anti-government extremists believe that Finicum was deliberately murdered and since his death have energetically tried to turn him into a martyr for the “Patriot” movement cause, creating a risk of future violence.  Indeed, on the weekend before the investigation results were released, anti-government activists staged nearly 50 rallies across the country to protest his death.

The Oregon investigation concluded that the two troopers who had fired shots at Finicum were justified in so doing, because the troopers believed Finicum was about to injure or kill someone.  Another trooper, who had fired three shots at Finicum’s truck as it was about to hit the roadblock, was also vindicated.

However, in a surprising revelation, authorities announced that the Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the actions of five FBI agents present at the scene of the shooting.  The state investigation uncovered that one FBI agent allegedly fired two shots during the incident, then allegedly subsequently denied to investigators that he had fired his weapon.  Neither shot hit Finicum. The other agents under investigation reportedly may have helped cover for the first agent. It is not clear when this second investigation will be complete.

The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team was heavily criticized in the 1990s for actions and decisions its agents had taken at armed standoffs in Idaho and Texas involving extremists or fringe groups, but it has not had any controversies in recent years.

The admission of possible FBI misconduct will unfortunately provide more ammunition for anti-government extremists attempting to use Finicum’s death to stoke anti-government anger.  This in turn may increase the risk that right-wing extremists may engage in acts of violence out of some sort of desire for retribution. Thus the news of possible FBI misconduct—never welcome under any circumstances—was particularly disturbing in this context.

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