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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 24, 2015

Lafayette Shooting Suspect Fixated on Perceived Moral Decay

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John Russell Hauser (Louisiana State Police)

A preliminary examination of the on-line writings of John Russell Houser, who killed himself last night after a vicious shooting spree at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, that left two dead and nine others injured, reveals a twisted, angry man upset at a perceived moral decay that he thought was destroying the United States.

Houser, originally from Georgia but who had lived in various places across the South prior to the shooting, spent much of his free time in recent years making short, angry posts to on-line discussion forums and comment sections on various websites, often using the screen name “Rusty Houser.” In many of these posts, Houser discussed his belief that the United States was “about to fall.”

His discontent with the United States led him to make extreme anti-American statements, such as describing the United States as “the enemy of the world.” When, in the winter of 2015, some 200 cars piled up in a multi-vehicle snowstorm accident, Houser claimed that “the lack of moral Americans standing for anything makes me wish it were 200 747’s.”

In another posting, he wrote that he was “with all those who hate the filth farm known as the U.S.” In 2014, Houser claimed that “all countries that hate the U.S.” needed to unite.

As some of these statements indicate, Houser was obsessed with the notion of moral decay in the United States; this obsession fueled much of his anger.

Anti-black racism played an important role in Houser’s vision of decay and doom. He repeatedly argued that blacks should be deported because they, as he said in one 2013 posting, “WILL NOT WORK and have NO FAMILY VALUES.” This was language Houser used again and again, sometimes referring to blacks explicitly, at other times describing them in other ways, such as “another race, not Latinos.”

In 2014, Houser claimed that “failing to mention the role of Blacks in building and maintaining the alliance of evil that literally grips the globe” would slow the re-taking of America. “Elsewhere, this particular role is the Jew. Here in the U.S., it is the Black.” In another 2014 posting, Houser elaborated on the morality-hating people who allegedly controlled America, an alliance consisting of 1) upper class whites; 2) Blacks; and 3) “misfits,” which Houser listed as “homos, transvestites, people who will not work, people with no culture, etc.”

Other sources of decay for Houser included atheists, liberals, and gays—in the latter instance, Houser even supported the rabidly homophobic Westboro Baptist Church.

In contrast, Houser admired other ethnic or religious groups, such as Latinos or Muslims. This was because he viewed such groups as either hard working or with strong moral values, or both. “I will never understand,” he posted in 2013,” why the hard working, morally superior Latinos never bring up for discussion the other race which is known to be completely the opposite for the most part.”

Referring to Muslim immigrants, for example, he said, “those coming in are far more decent morally than the average American.” Iranians, he wrote in late 2013, were “far higher morally than this financially failing filth farm.”

Faced with this fantasy scenario of doom and decay, Hauser seemed to have hoped for a man on horseback who would sweep away all the perceived moral filth—a Travis Bickle writ large. “The one bright spot,” he wrote on one forum in 2013, “is that all matters in need of tidying up will be dealt with in summary fashion soon.”

One of his models for such a leader was Adolf Hitler, whom he repeatedly praised. In 2013, he wrote that “Hitler’s reaction to much would be invaluable now, if 98% weren’t brainwashed in the U.S.” In early 2015, he claimed that Hitler “accomplished far more” than any other leaders. Around the same time, he claimed that “decent people can retake the entire world, as Hitler proved.”

In a different 2015 posting, Houser wrote that “Hitler is loved for the results of his pragmatism” and that “the U.S. is no more than a financially failing filth farm. Soon the phrase ‘ruling with an iron hand’ will be palatable anew.”

In 2013, Houser had similar views on American white supremacist figure David Duke, writing that “at one time [Duke] appeared exactly what the U.S. needed.”

Houser also admired the Golden Dawn, a Greek neo-Nazi political party, describing them in 2014 as “composed of moral people.” Elsewhere, he described their ideas as “a legitimate effort to solve problems” and their leaders as “intelligent, well spoken, and exercising good faith.”

Houser had similarly admiring views of a variety of other extremist groups and movements, including radical Islamists. “Yes, I am saluting the fundamentalist Muslims,” he said in January 2015, “They have stood against evil.” He added, in a follow-up post, “They have my complete Christian respect.”

These attitudes and opinions, which reveal themselves so strikingly in Houser’s writings, raise the unsettling but real possibility that he deliberately chose a showing of the movie Trainwreck at which to launch a Taxi Driver-like spree of violence. The writer and star of the movie, talented young comedian Amy Schumer, has received considerable media attention thanks to the movie and her popular television show, and, given her chosen comedic persona of a sexually free-wheeling woman, as well as her liberal opinions, one could imagine how a disturbed mind like Houser’s could come to focus on the movie as a symbol for all of his dark fantasies about moral decay in America.

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June 19, 2015

White Supremacists React To Charleston Tragedy With Anger, Vitriol

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Dylann Storm Roof

As news spread of the tragic shooting rampage at the Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, America’s white supremacists reacted swiftly.  The killing spree left nine dead and a community in shock. The alleged shooter, Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested on June 18 and charged with nine counts of murder one day later.

Some white supremacists were, predictably, openly delighted by the massacre. On The Daily Stormer, a popular neo-Nazi web site, there was unabashed praise for Roof. “He had the balls to do what most white supremacists only talk big about,” commented Spartan 117 (punctuation and wording in comments reproduced here are as in the originals). “He is probably tired of all the race mixing propaganda, arrogant blacks, and tired of the negro getting pushed down his throat at every turn…. who cares what fate befalls the negros. We should have as much consideration for blacks as we do a fucking tapeworm latched onto to our gut. Face it, negros are an enemy people to us, we shouldn’t care what happens to these arrogant n—–s.”

Others cheered Roof because they believe his actions would hasten the destruction of American cities, seen by some white supremacists as ground zero for the diversity “problem.”  A poster identifying himself as John Sovereign wrote on the white supremacist discussion forum Vanguard News Network (VNN) that “the best thing that will come out of this is more ape rage and more cities destroyed…Good! Keep it up.”

Many posters on Stormfront, the most popular white supremacist Internet forum, fretted over the impact the shooting would have on the white supremacist cause, emphasizing the apparent lack of connection between Roof and organized racist groups. “I’ve heard of targeting ‘soft targets,’” wrote user Fiddler, “but this latest lone wolf nitwit picked a ‘mushy target.’Could he have possibly chosen more sympathetic victims?”

Generally, comments on Stormfront were more muted than at some other white supremacist venues, with a few Stormfronters even expressing disgust over the violence. This drew the ire of white supremacists on other forums, such as VNN.  “They are crying over the split blood of these ‘Christian’ N—–s over on Stormfront,” posted user EricPowers on  VNN. “Can’t believe so many people have sympathy on these N—–s just because their Christians. Like that some how makes them sympathetic.”

The real “victims” in this tragedy, according to some white supremacists, were the white supremacists themselves—and their 2nd Amendment rights. Right-wing extremists frequently cast violent acts in the news as conspiracies and “false flag” operations intended to falsely cast blame on the extreme right, possibly as an excuse for some sort of crackdown.  Roof, to many extremists, was just a pawn in a larger conspiracy–perhaps orchestrated by the Jews—to exacerbate racial tensions and deprive Americans of their guns. The true risk after a shooting like this, according to Daily Stormer poster Bennis Mardens, was that “the Jews” would respond by cracking down on gun ownership. “The kid is nuts,” Mardens wrote. “He’s not a ‘hero.’ He didn’t help our cause. Now the Jews will push for gun confiscation and more hate crimes legislation….Furthermore, not all black people hate white people. They ARE more tribal than we are, for sure, but their anger toward us is CAUSED by the Jew media and Jew academics.”

Brian Avran, a self-described National Socialist, raised the idea of “race war” in a June 18 Facebook post: “I smell a psyop/ government op. just like Sandy hook, Aurora and Columbine. This church shooting is what the media needs; a random act of white-on-black violence to push their hate whitey agenda, since an epidemic of black-on-white violence is happening every day, which goes unreported. ‘They’ want a race war. it might also be used as incentive for more gun control laws. “

“It didn’t take long for the media to begin the race baiting with the Dylann Roof shooting,” wrote Stormfront member “stuck on stupid.”  “This will be used to flame the fires of the on going race war. Please arm yourself and be prepared to defend your life at any moment.”

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