Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism

I've been struck the past week or so by the blithe coverage of two acts of domestic terrorism which have occurred in the U.S.; the abortion doctor murder and yesterday's shooting rampage at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.

WASHINGTON — An 88-year-old white supremacist with a rifle walked into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, one of the capital’s most visited sites, on Wednesday afternoon and began shooting, fatally wounding a security guard and sending tourists scrambling before he himself was shot, the authorities said.

The gunman was identified by law enforcement officials as James W. von Brunn, who embraces various conspiracy theories involving Jews, blacks and other minority groups and at one point waged a personal war with the federal government. Police believe he acted alone.
I love that line, "acted alone". That was said over and over in the case of Scott Roeder, the man accused of killing abortion doctor George Tiller, as well.

The implication is that these are not acts of domestic terrorism; that somehow a "lone gunman" was not influenced, tied in with, materially supported or otherwise nurtured by like-minded hate organizations.

When you review the long history of von Brunn, for example, you find an individual well-connected to hate groups, white supremacist organizations and other like-minded "kooks." Ditto accused murderer Scott Roeder and his connection to "extremist" organizations opposed to abortion.

Let me re-frame the debate. If these individuals had been of middle eastern or Arabic descent, with names like Rasul or Muhammad, would the reaction be so blithe in the mainstream media coverage or by government authorities? Would we refer to them as "lone gunman" and easily dismiss their actions as that of "kooks"? Shouldn't we be issuing national terrorist alerts for doughy, old, white males throughout the U.S.? Or told to be "suspicious" of anyone who looks like they stepped out of "Grumpy Old Men"?

I think it's a safe bet to assume if those who had committed similar crimes were of Arabic descent, a new panic wave in the "war on terror" would be underway at the moment.

As professor Jack Levin notes in his work on domestic terrorism, there have been hundreds of acts of terrorism committed on U.S. soil since 9/11/01. If you look at the definition of terrorism, "acts of violence or threats of violence used as a political strategy by an individual or a group," doesn't that fit the actions of these two "kooks"?

Isn't Roeder sitting in his jail cell right now warning of "further attacks" against abortion clinics? Shouldn't law enforcement do something more than warn clinic workers that potential violence is a possibility if they choose to work at an abortion clinic?

From abortion-related violence, to the spike in "hate crimes" after President Obama's election (which I've written about several times), to anti-Semitic acts of terror, to eco-terrorism, we are inundated with domestic acts of violence which meet the definition of terrorism, but which are rarely referred to as such by law enforcement or the mass media. If it doesn't fit the racial stereotype (radicalized, religious, Arabic males), then I guess it isn't terrorism to the American public.

Levin also makes an interesting point regarding ideology and domestic terrorism. Extremist organizations are often painted in terms of "far right" political ideologies, but the reality is there are equally as many groups fomenting anti-Semitism and hatred on the left (for example, extremist pro-Palestinian organizations which foment anti-Semitism).

Hatred is hatred, and terrorism is terrorism. Most of the convictions in the "War on Terror" have been for providing "material support to terrorist organizations." One wonders if it isn't time to start going after these groups (which shield themselves behind the first amendment) for their aide and support of terrorism.

No one is a bigger advocate of free speech than your humble correspondent, but the first amendment (like all of our rights) has limitations. Just as you can't "yell fire in a crowded theater" without suffering sanctions, perhaps we should start holding those who advocate violence accountable for their actions as well.


Adam Miller said...

I understand what you are saying here; but I am worried about how the term terrorism is being thrown around. Under the PATRIOT Act, when one is 'thought' to have committed a terrorist act, they lose many of their rights (ie. due process). Under the new definitions in the PATRIOT Act and those put out by the DHS, almost any violent crime may be considered an act of terror. These instinces may or may not be terrorist acts... I am not debating that point. But, terrorists or not, they still deserve the same rights possessed by all human beings.
Hate crime laws cause me concern as well. While I understand and appreciate the purpose of these laws, I worry about their implications on civil rights. A great example is H.R. 1966(the Megan Meier Cyberbulling Prevention Act) introduced in the house. This bill would make it a felony to "coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person using electronic means." Essentially making it a felony to 'make fun' of someone. Now, I respect what these laws are trying to protect...I just ask where will it stop? As you know, once freedom is given up to "protect," it does not come back easily. As John Adams said, "The Jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing."

Todd Krohn said...

Adam,I would completely agree regarding the cyber-bullying act. While I applaud the motives, it does open up the slippery slope of subjectivity. One person's "harassment" may be another person's joke. Deterring this kind of behavior is fine, but what, specifically, we are trying to prevent seems awfully arcane.

On the "war on terror" let me reiterate a point I've made on this blog many times: if we conceptualize of terrorism as a crime (which the laws say it is), then contrary to popular opinion, it should be treated as a criminal justice problem.

I'm no fan of the Patriot Act (an unnecessary loss of freedom for everyone). I just find it ironic that law enforcement is saying about Roeder and von Brum "oh yeah, we've known about these guys for years," and there isn't any hue and cry from the public. Can you imagine the reaction if these guys had been al-Qaeda or Arabic descent? "You knew about them for years and you didn't stop it?" Every blowhard politician would be on t.v. demanding "investigations" etc.

We need to get out of the racial profiling, stereotypes, and discrimination and recognize that terrorism is something committed by all kinds of people.

And just as we marginalized organized crime over the past 50 years, we can prevent and prosecute these people without abridging everyone's Constitutional protections in the process.