White extremism could be the plotline for a Hollywood blockbuster
The United States has a serious problem with white nationalist extremism, one so acute that lawmakers can’t even talk about it, let alone seek law-and-order solutions.
Consider the April 9 US congressional committee hearing on the rise of white nationalism. It was called as an expression of genuine concern about the rise of white supremacist terrorism in the United States and elsewhere.
In March, 50 people were killed by a suspected white nationalist at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In February, a 49-year-old US Coast Guard lieutenant, who self-identified as a white nationalist aiming to establish a “white homeland,” was arrested with a huge weapons cache and plans to attack prominent Democratic politicians.
In October, 11 congregants at a Pittsburgh synagogue were gunned down by a man who subscribed to “white genocide” conspiracy theories. In 2015, three young Americans variously of Jordanian-Palestinian and Syrian descent were killed in their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their killer was a neighbour who expressed hatred for the hijab, the father of one of the dead women said.
The US Democrat-controlled House Judiciary Committee took notice and called a hearing. Not before time. However, there was no serious conversation to be had, just attempts by US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party to score points about alleged bias against “conservative” opinion.
In fact, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee gave part of their allocated time on the hearing to right-wing commentator Candace Owens and another chunk of time to Morton Klein of the far-right Zionist Organisation of America.
Owens bears the dubious distinction of being described by the alleged perpetrator of the New Zealand mosques shooting as “the person who has influenced me above all.” Klein has previously spoken of the “filthy Arab” as well as discerned Quranic inspiration for the “constant murder of Jews in Israel.”
At the congressional hearing, the Trump-supporting Owens declared the discussion wasn’t “about white nationalism, it’s a preview of a Democrat 2020 election strategy, same as the 2016 election strategy.”
Klein, also a Trump advocate, took it upon himself to lecture a committee witness, Dr Mohammad Abu-Salha, grieving father and father-in-law of the three slain people in North Carolina. “I am confused,” Klein said, “when the good doctor says that Islam does not promote hatred of Jews.” It was an attempt to saddle Abu-Salha with the excesses perpetrated by jihadists.
Meanwhile, Republican representative Andy Biggs from Arizona said white supremacist hate crimes just weren’t worth the attention.
The regrettable quality of opinion and debate provided by the Republican minority of that US congressional committee was probably the best indication of the seriousness of the situation.
Trump’s party doesn’t see white nationalist violence as a raging virus, a problem as dangerous as jihadist extremism. There isn’t overweening public outrage in the United States over white supremacist sympathies nor any administrative determination to act. In fact, Kirstjen Nielsen, forced out by Trump as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for being insufficiently tough on immigration, recently disbanded the intelligence unit for homegrown terrorism.
And yet, white nationalist terrorism cannot simply be wished away, not in the United States or anywhere.
There was the attack in New Zealand. There have been attacks or attempts to attack mosques in the United Kingdom. In 2016 and 2017 the number of terrorist attacks in the United States by right-wing extremists, often targeting Muslims, Jews and foreigners, more than quadrupled. The Anti-Defamation League identified white nationalism as the motivating factor behind more than half the extremism-related killings in the United States in 2017.
The problem with bringing partisan politics into a loaded situation is obvious. Violence against targets regarded as expendable by the administration could spike. Vigilante-ism could surge. Vulnerable communities might feel it necessary to form armed self-defence groups. That could be the outline of a plot for a Hollywood blockbuster depicting a society at war with itself. America cannot afford to let it become true to life.