There used to be a lot of scrutiny of American right-wing terror in the 1990s, a lot of which was driven in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing — and then 9/11 happened. After that, the entire national security apparatus was focused on preventing another 9/11, and the far-right went relatively dormant. Then came the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, which energized the far right, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis. Obama’s victory, coupled with the financial crisis of 2008, and the fallout from the War or Terror, was driving right-wing extremists, and Homeland Security’s Darryl Johnson — a straight-arrow Mormon who’s a registered Republican — wrote a report on it.
The worst conservatives (and wow, is there stiff competition), and particularly the Tea Party and their media cronies, picked up this report and spun it, weaponized it into propaganda, claiming that it was the government trying to punish small-government conservatives, veterans, and Republicans. In response, Homeland Security dismantled the team studying domestic right-wing extremism, and targeted behavior rather than ideology. This left American law enforcement completely unprepared for what’s happening now in the large (Charlottesville, Pittsburgh) and in the small (barbecue Becky and her ilk).
Eight years ago, I warned of a singular threat — the resurgence of right-wing extremist activity and associated violence in the United States as a result of the 2008 presidential election, the financial crisis and the stock market crash. My intelligence report, meant only for law enforcement, was leaked by conservative media.
A political backlash ensued because of an objection to the label “right-wing extremism.” The report also rightly pointed out that returning military veterans may be targeted for recruitment by extremists. Republican lawmakers demanded then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rescind my report. The American Legion formally requested an apology to veterans. Some in Congress called for me to be fired. Amid the turmoil, my warning went unheeded by Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security caved to the political pressure: Work related to violent right-wing extremism was halted. Law enforcement training also stopped. My unit was disbanded. And, one-by-one, my team of analysts left for other employment. By 2010, there were no intelligence analysts at DHS working domestic terrorism threats.
Since 2008, though, the body count from numerous acts of violent right-wing terrorism continued to rise steadily with very little media interest, political discussion or concern from our national leaders. As this threat grew, government resources were scaled back, law enforcement counterterrorism training was defunded and policies to counter violent extremism narrowed to focus solely on Muslim extremism. Heated political campaigning by Donald Trump in 2016 pandered to these extremists. Now, right-wing terrorism has become the national security threat which many government leaders have yet to acknowledge.
U.S. Law Enforcement failed to see the threat of white nationalism. Now they don’t know how to stop it.
Fears told me he had spent most of the past year celebrating the alt-right’s covert domination of the news cycle. He seemed thrilled that Donald Trump tweeted about a so-called migrant caravan, which, like the supposed “white genocide” in South Africa, was mostly fiction. Yet it was effectively promoted by alt-right websites like The Daily Stormer and Breitbart, and now right-wing celebrities like Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson were talking about it. “This idea that the alt-right is falling apart and is going to go away, it’s not true,” he says. “The alt-right formulates all these ideas,” he went on. “What Tucker Carlson talks about, we talked about a year ago.”
It was a few days after the massacre of 17 people in Parkland, Fla., and Fears had been considering the spate of school shootings in America. He repeated the rumor, widespread on 4chan and Gab, that the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was Jewish, and so were many of his victims. It’s unclear if this is true. But if it were, it would make no sense to Fears, who, if he believes in anything, believes in the essentially tribal nature of all human beings. Jews, he said, “have a biological need to look out for their own.” He had spoken a bit about what he called the J.Q., or Jewish Question, as successive generations of anti-Semites have referred to the debate over how Western nations should handle the presence of Jews in their societies. “I don’t hate them for it, but I realize that their interests aren’t the same as mine.”
Fears’s views aren’t unique — roughly 22 million Americans call it “acceptable” to hold neo-Nazi or white-supremacist views, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken in the wake of Charlottesville in August 2017. Roughly the same number of people, about 10 percent of Americans, said they supported the “alt-right”; about half of those polled said they were against it. Driving around Fears’s neighborhood one day, I saw Confederate flags, and American flags, and sometimes a Blue Lives Matter flag, and the black-and-white “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waving from shiny new trucks. I also saw row after row of McMansions, many of them with swimming pools. There were new S.U.V.s parked in the driveways, and boats: signs of money made and money spent. One former high school classmate of Fears’s described the culture as “wannabe redneck.”
I’ll give you the bullet points, but you should really read the article and watch the video in it to get the full story:
- A house in Northdale — the next neighborhood north of mine — caught on fire last night. Firefighters responded, but were challenged by explosions caused by the flamethrowers and live ammo that were stored in the burning house. (And yes, in America, it is a Perfectly Sensible Thing to have a stockpile of flamethrowers and ammo, because freedom.)
- The burning house is owned by Pat O’Brien, lead guitarist of a death metal band whose work I’m actually familiar with: Cannibal Corpse!
- O’Brien was not in his well-stocked-with-flamethrowers-and-ammo house because he was too busy forcing his way into someone else’s house nearby. There were two people in the house at the time, and O’Brien shoved one of them to the ground and ran into their back yard.
- Sheriff’s deputies arrived, and when they told O’Brien to stand down, he did the most “metal” thing possible and charged at the deputy with a knife in hand. One of the deputies took O’Brien down with an “electronic control device” (I assume it’s a taser, but maybe they make remote controls for death metal guitarists).
This week’s clearance item is Sweet Sue Chicken and Dumplings, which takes a beloved and tasty southern U.S. dish and tries to capture it in a can. I didn’t buy it, but Larry Wolfe of The Wolfe Pit did, and posted a review on YouTube: