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The Creative Expert Invention of ‘Far Right Terror’

In case you have been lost in the woods and have managed not to hear the news, the United States is facing a blood-chillingly scary white supremacist terrorist threat. The “stunning violence” of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol is perhaps only a prelude of what’s to come, for all experts agree that the biggest terrorist threat in America is far right white supremacists.

But how do the ever-reliable experts justify this claim?

For starters, it’s helpful to define what terrorism is. “Violent criminal acts in furtherance of ideological goals stemming from domestic issues,” is how Michael McGarrity, the former Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI Counterterrorism Division defined it in 2019.

This definition is not limited to violence directly against persons. Terrorists also target property, a fact demonstrated by the actions of the left-anarchist revolutionary Weather Underground. In the 1970s, they detonated more than two dozen bombs at police stations, government buildings, and the homes of police officers, judges, and politicians, hurting people and damaging property. Their avowed political goal was to “bring the war home” and force the American government to withdraw from Vietnam.

The terrorist attacks committed by the Weather Underground seem oddly similar to the burning, looting, and assaulting done by Black Lives Matter and Antifa revolutionaries throughout 2020. Yet somehow these acts are not counted as terrorism on the lists compiled by experts.

Instead, “right wing” terrorism is the major focus of these experts, as evidenced by a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. One example, picked at random, follows:

“Two white supremacists murdered a 53-year old African American man” in Eureka, California on October 4, 2011. The case involved David Pedersen and Holly Grigsby, who killed four people starting with the murders of Pedersen’s father and stepmother, the former of whom allegedly sexually molested several people in his own family. The couple later killed two more people they encountered, one of whom was the black man. Yet the police gathered little information that lends itself to the interpretation that any of the killings were fundamentally motivated by white supremacy or the desire to “further ideological goals.” The much more obvious motivating factor was the combination of familial dysfunction and the glaring fact that Pedersen was a violent career criminal basically unsuited for life outside of prison.

Another example included in the report is “White supremacist teens beat a Hispanic man to death.” This occurred in 2008 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania when the involved parties got into an alcohol-fueled argument over the kind of trivial matter that ignites physical confrontations in bars on a daily basis. The evidence of the offenders’ “white supremacist” beliefs basically consist of the fact that they called the victim a racial epithet during the fight and told him to “go back to Mexico.”

A number of prison murders are also included in the list of white supremacist terror incidents. A white inmate killed his black cellmate in Chipley, Florida in 2006 after numerous violent incidents between the two. There was no evidence of a racial or ideological angle to the killing, which seemed rather to simply be the result of two unpleasant, antisocial, and disagreeable people resolving their disagreements through violence. Another prisoner murdered a convicted sex offender ex-priest. His motivation, according to testimony, was the ex-priest’s bragging about his crimes. The murderer, again a white inmate, had at some point in the past indicated involvement in a white nationalist prison gang, and this was enough to place him in the far right terrorist category.

Many of these are clearly the mundane violent acts typical of prison, without any obvious white supremacist angle to the killings other than that the white killers had affiliated with white nationalist gangs in prison. This is a common phenomenon, and black inmates have their own black nationalist gangs. Interestingly, prison killings that involve black or Hispanic offenders and white victims do not count as terrorist attacks in experts’ lists.

But let’s move beyond incidents and look at the role time frame plays in these acts of domestic terrorism. It is an established methodology in expert circles that when counting domestic terrorist acts in the U.S., one must always start at some point well after 2001 to ensure that Islamist violence doesn’t easily top the list. It’s also important, if you want to keep leftist terrorism out of the picture, not to extend the framework back to the roughly 25-year period from the early ‘60s to the mid-1980s. Doing so would include the massive mountain of leftist bombings, carjackings, and murders of police during that period that frequently ended with the injuries and deaths of both public and private individuals.

Finally, a recent tactic of the terror experts is to mercilessly distort the definition of “right wing” and creatively turn fights between opposing street demonstrators into “right wing terror.” Violence between Black Lives Matter and Antifa militants and rioters and any groups opposed to them—such as the Proud Boys—now frequently counts as examples of “right wing terrorism.” By this logic, the Proud Boys are the authors of quite a few such attacks because of their insistence on showing up at BLM riots and physically confronting rioters or obliging those who show up to fight them at their own rallies. Fully half of the right wing terror attacks documented in a Center for Strategic and International Studies report had to do with the “target[ing]” of “demonstrators.” In many cases, these were the same “demonstrators” who were frequently looting, burning, and assaulting America’s cities, but who avoided terrorist classification because of the partisan nature of this game.

Likewise, Incel murderers, who commit their crimes because of their failure to find any woman interested in an intimate relationship with them, are now frequently classed as far right terrorists. Why? Because they hate women, and, it is claimed, misogyny is wholly a right wing thing. Yet it is clear in these acts that the offenders are people suffering serious psychological pathologies unrelated to any political ideology.

In essence, the American media and governmental effort to understand terror seems to be driven by the skillfully creative efforts of experts to distort reality to get the outcome they want. This is yet another in the growing number of cases in which experts’ claims must be modified with scare quotes to accurately represent their trustworthiness.

Alexander Riley

Alexander Riley is a professor of sociology at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

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