Of Syntax and Bigotry


6 February 2017

So. Funny Story: A little over a week ago, the president signs an executive order fulfilling his December 2015 campaign promise "calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." And I spend the next couple of days working on this essay about how he, by focusing exclusively on "radical Islamic terrorism," ignores the more pernicious threat posed by domestic terrorists: ultra nationalist, Christian, white supremacist, neo Nazi, Ku Klux Klan, alt right, whatever.

I get the whole thing written up. I'm editing it. And I get to thinking. Am I being fair?

Then, this past Thursday (2 February), Reuters reports that the "administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism."

The government has a program in which it has partnered with local communities to discourage domestic radicalization and terrorism. It's called, for now, Countering Violent Extremism, but five sources have verified to Reuters that the administration plans to change that to "Countering Islamic Extremism" or "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism." And, Reuters' sources say it will "no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States."

Now, to be fair: There are lots of other federal agencies and programs that still, for now, I hope, "target groups such as white supremacists."

But, yeah. I'm being fair. So, here's the essay:

Words fulfill purposes and reveal intent.

Multiple times throughout the presidential campaign blessed by Vladimir Putin, the candidate referred to "radical Islamic terrorists." And he used that phrasing again in announcing his executive order banning Muslim refugees, immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim majority countries.

"I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America," Trump said during the signing at the Pentagon after the swearing-in of Defense Secretary James Mattis. "We don't want them here." ("Trump signs executive order to keep out 'radical Islamic terrorists'," Dan Merica, CNN, 27 January 2017)

Within hours, the president of the United States signed an executive order to

  • block the entry of all refugees from Syria indefinitely;
  • block the admission of all other refugees for four months;
  • block entry to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries for nine months (but, interestingly, not Saudi Arabia, the home nation of 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers; or the United Arab Emirates, home to two others; or Egypt or Lebanon, the home countries of the remaining two); and
  • prioritize the acceptance of Christians and other religious minorities over Muslims as the bans are lifted.

So clearly (if weirdly): a focus on "radical Islamic terrorists" implemented via a ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States. (Presidential protestations to the contrary, the president clearly wants his supporters to see and applaud the executive order as a Muslim ban, even as he demands the courts engage in a (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) charade that he might circumvent the U.S Constitution, federal law and the Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a signatory.)

But why that peculiar formation?

If all terrorism were "radical" and "Islamic," there would be no need to mention either. Just as, when all cars were black, no-one would have cried out, "Don't step out in front of that black car! You'll get run over!" As soon as someone said the "car" part, everyone automatically also knew the "black" part. And, in any case, the car part was all that mattered. The "black" part went, as they say, without saying.

Just saying.

But all terrorism is not "radical" and "Islamic." Of course.

The definition of "terrorism" is broadly understood. Google Dictionary says it is "the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims." You don't have to be a Muslim to be a terrorist.

Additional verbiage is needed only if there are some types of terrorism you have chosen not to censure or target.

In my neighborhood:

  • The neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller, Jr., set out to kill Jews at a community center and retirement community, but killed three Christians instead (13 April 2014).
  • When white supremacist Dylann Roof gave the Confederate Battle flag a bad name by killing nine parishioners of a black Christian church in Charleston, South Carolina (17 June 2015), those same flags bloomed cross the midwestern countryside. One home on Route 2 west of Harrisonville sprouted at least six.

But sorry, Frazier (Junior). Sorry, Dylann (with two "n"s). You guys don't make the cut. You might be radical. You're definitely terrorists. You're not Muslims. If you weren't facing execution, I guess you could convert and try again.

Further from home, but still in the home land, homegrown, non-Muslim terrorists launched 18 attacks from 2002 through 2015, murdering 48 Americans, according to a report in Newsweek magazine, headlined "Right-Wing Extremists Are A Bigger Threat To America Than ISIS."

But by adding the adjectives "radical" and "Islamic" to the criteria for the president's short list of terrorists meriting our attention, those terrorists are excluded from membership.

So are these would-be terrorists described in the Newsweek report:

Multiple confidential sources notified the FBI last year that militia members have been conducting surveillance on Muslim schools, community centers and mosques in nine states for what one informant described as "operational purposes." Informants also notified federal law enforcement that Mississippi militia extremists discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim, then posting a video of the decapitation on the Internet.

Think on that: right-wing extremists are looking at "Muslim schools, community centers and mosques in nine states" that we know of ... with an eye towards attacking them ... but your government is focusing on the Muslims as the likely source of attacks. If you are a Muslim, does that make you feel protected by your government ... or threatened by it?

Now consider, Glendon Crawford and Eric Feight ("master minds" of the "Death Ray" plot of upstate New York, convicted 21 August and 16 December 2015, respectively) and Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, and Patrick Stein (arrested 14 October 2016 in connection with a plot to bomb a Somali mosque in Garden City, Kansas.

Feeling safe yet?

And let's not forget the Bundys. You remember the Bundys.

Cliven, the family patriach, objected in 1993 to changes the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) made in its grazing rules and refused to renew his grazing permit; but he continued to graze his cattle on public land, over the objections of the BLM and despite two court orders, until 2014, at which point the BLM called in law enforcement personnel to impound the cattle then trespassing on public lands.

By then, Cliven owed American tax payers roughly $1 million in uncollected grazing fees and fines.

Protesters on his behalf were joined by armed militants from around the country, who surrounded the federal agents and local law officers. At least one of the armed protesters posed for pictures, aiming a scoped rifle at federal agents. The agents and law officers withdrew, and Cliven continued to fatten his cattle at taxpayer expense on public lands until at least the end of 2015.

But the people pointing guns at law enforcement in that stand off were not "Islamic," and thus not a problem.

Ted Cruz said it was Obama's fault. And numerous other conservative politicians and media personalities -- including Nevada's Republican Governor Brian Sandoval and Fox political commentator (and current Trump advisor) Sean Hannity -- publicly supported Cliven over the course of the protests and stand off ... though that support was muted somewhat when Cliven remarked on how "the Negro(es)" might be "better off as slaves, picking cotton...."

Nothing "Islamic" about that.

Not quite two months after the BLM stood down, two Bundy supporters who had participated in the confrontation, "Jerad and Amanda Miller, strolled into a Las Vegas pizza parlor, walked past a pair of police officers eating lunch, turned and executed the two men. Leaving a Gadsden 'Don't Tread on Me' flag, a note saying the revolution had begun and a swastika on the officers' bodies, the couple went on to murder another man before dying in a shootout with police." ("War in the West: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right," 9 July 2014, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC))

The "law & order" president has not had much to say on the dangers posed to law enforcement agents by right-wing extrmemists.

A year and a half later, Cliven's son Ammon led other family members and their militia allies in the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. After five weeks of holding the refuge, one of the "militia" was shot to death in an armed confrontation with law officers.

But at least they didn't get all "Islamic" and dangerous.

In the same roughly six weeks that the Bundys and their militia allies held the federal facility at gunpoint, the SPLC noted:

Fliers seeking recruits for the KKK appeared on lawns and doors in Alabama, California, Georgia, New Jersey and Oklahoma. In Johannesburg, California, police discovered bombs and booby traps in the home of a man who threatened to blow up the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other federal buildings. In Colorado Springs, a white supremacist suspected of being connected to the 2013 murder of Colorado's prison chief was shot and wounded in a firefight with police. In Lafayette, Louisiana, officials released the diary of the man who killed two people at a movie theater this past summer -- it was filled with rage against the federal government and praise for a racist killer. In Oakdale, California, two honey farmers were charged with fraud involving a scheme by extremists who declare they are not bound by the laws of any government. And the day after the first arrests of the Malheur occupiers, a New Hampshire man who told an FBI informant he was part of a group that wanted to bring back "the original Constitution," and had as much as $200,000 on hand for explosives and rockets, was taken into custody after he illegally purchased hand grenades.

That's just six weeks of activity on the American ultra-nationalist, white supremacist, altish right.

But apparently, none of the people involved were Muslim and none of them were from Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Iran. So, we're good, right?

Eight months later, the Bundy Bros and five of their accomplices were "acquitted of federal conspiracy and weapons charges stemming from the takeover," but did not deny taking part in it.

You might say that the jury found them to be inssuficiently Muslim.

Likewise the dozens (hundreds?) of people who have found time since the selection of the new president to accost Muslim women who dare to wear hijabs in public or the dozens (hundreds?) who've used spray paint to mark their local schools and libraries with swaztikas, racial slurs and the new president's name.

No Muslims. Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.

When the administration targets "radical Muslim" terrorism exclusively, the ultra nationalists, white supremacists, neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klannites and fashionable alt right fascists who enthusiastically supported the president's candidacy correctly interpret that as his validation of their own bigoted world view.

When the administration redirects the activities of a government counter terrorism away from domestic ultra nationalists, white supremacists, neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klannites and fashionable alt right fascists, many of them, and other unaffiliated bigots, will, rightly or otherwise, interpret that as a green light.


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