A Thanksgiving holiday marred by shootings should remind us that our biggest terrorist threat comes from homegrown right-wing extremists.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, white supremacists shot five African-Americans at a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Minneapolis. It was a carefully planned act of terrorism, by men who were radicalized in far-right, extremist backrooms of the internet. The right-wing rhetoric they absorbed online drew blood when their virtual hate mongering became real-time violence.
At 10:45pm, four men dressed in military-style gear showed up at the encampment #BlackLivesMatter activists set up in front of the police station, to protest the shooting of an unarmed 24-year-old black man, Jamar Clark. Before they opened fire, the men started filming the protesters, and refused to remove their masked or leave the protest. Five protesters were shot, though none suffered life-threatening injuries.
Allen Lawrence Scarsella III, Nathan Gustavsson, Daniel Macey, and Joseph Martin Backman were arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon and rioting while armed. They made no secret of their plans. They’d harassed #BlackLivesMatter activists for several days, showing up at protests yelling “race war” and “Trump 2016.” Emails between the white supremacists showed that they planned these encounters with the intent of provoking confrontations with protesters. A video reported to have been posted on one of the men’s Facebook accounts showed them driving around in a car, talking about going to harass the “dindus” (a derogatory name use to describe the #BlackLivesMatter protesters).
The logical outcome of this rhetoric was made manifest earlier, when a BlackLivesMatter protestor was attacked and beaten by Donald Trump supporters at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama. Trump, a frontrunner in the Republican presidential primaries, even appeared to embrace the violence, saying that the protesters “deserved to be roughed up.”
Right-wing rhetoric drew blood again in Pittsburgh, where a Muslim taxi driver was shot on Thanksgiving Day, by a customer who ranted against Islamic State militants. The 38-year-old Moroccan immigrant — who is three months away from becoming an American citizen, and wished to remain anonymous out of fear for his safety — said the customer asked him questions like “You seem to be a Pakistani guy. Are you from Pakistan?” Arriving at his home, the customer asked the driver to wait because he’d left his wallet inside. He returned with a rifle, and fired multiple shots into at the cab, blasting out the rear window and shooting the driver in the back.
The violence in Pittsburgh was on a smaller scale than the Minneapolis shooting, but it was no less driven by right-wing rhetoric. The terrorist attacks in France earlier this month set off a tsunami of anti-Muslim rhetoric on the right, further intensified by existing anti-immigrant sentiments.
Chester Grove, 37, left an incendiary device at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. Grove was charged with using the device, and possession and using of illegal fireworks, entering the property of another for the purpose of causing damage based on religious conviction, and destruction of property. Grove tried to enter an iron fence around the mosque, and threw two Molotov cocktails and a smoke bomb at the building.
After Paris, anti-Muslim rhetoric quickly graduated to attacks on mosques. Now, attacks on mosques have escalated to attacks on Muslim individuals. How long before right-wing anti-Muslim rhetoric gets someone killed?
On Friday, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear walked into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and started shooting. When he was done, three people were dead, and nine more injured. After a long standoff, Dear surrendered to police.
Before he walked into Planned Parenthood, Dear had a disturbing record of violent, criminal actions. Police in South Carolina, where Dear lived at one time, reported at least seven times that he argued or fought with neighbors, including a dismissed “Peeping Tom” charge in 2002.
On July 19, Planned Parenthood officials in Illinois reported an attempted arson attack at a clinic in Aurora, Illinois.
On September 4, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington was set on fire just before dawn. Security footage shows a “flammable object” being thrown through the clinic window.
On September 30, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Thousand Oaks, California was attacked by an arsonist or arsonists who smashed a window, splashed gasoline inside, and ignited it.
Conservatives have long incited violence against abortion providers with incendiary rhetoric and “wanted” posters, and most recently with accusations and outright lies about selling “baby parts.” They didn’t pull the trigger themselves, but they triggered the shooters with “stochastic terrorism.”
Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.
Republican lawmakers, conservative media and right-wing pundits have nearly perfected stochastic terrorism, with their rhetoric against abortion providers. Now it’s cost three more lives. The only question is: when will it stop. The likely answer is: not until they stop.