Breaking Glass

Which Terrorism?

The U.S. is about to make a disastrous blunder in its terrorism policies.

In recent months, a series of savage shootings has drawn attention to the dangers posed by far-right, or white-supremacist, terrorism. Commentators from across the political spectrum have demanded a robust response, and law enforcement agencies are clearly listening. In principle, such a focus on the terroristic far right is an excellent idea.

American debates over terrorism invariably involve a dispute between the left and right over where to focus. Broadly, right-wing thinkers view terrorism as something that comes from outside the country, usually from foreign or international movements, whether communist or Islamist. In contrast, leftists focus on domestic terrorism and white-supremacy movements. If the leftist view is correct, then authorities must reorient their efforts away from foreign threats and focus instead on the far right in all its manifestations. Logically, there is no reason why a government should not fight an even-handed war against both threats. But in practice, focusing on one means virtually ignoring the other. The left/right terrorism debate is thus a zero-sum game.

Much is at stake in these ideological wars. If we conclude that the far right is the chief enemy, then activists will use guilt by association with white supremacy to taint any number of nonviolent conservative causes. This manifests notably in debates...

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