Close to home: how US far-right terror flourished in post-9/11 focus on Islam

Of note. Tragic irony:

The US government acted quickly after 9/11 to prevent further attacks by Islamic extremists in the US. Billions of dollars were spent on new law enforcement departments and vast powers were granted to agencies to surveil people in the US and abroad as George W Bush announced the war on terror.

But while the FBI, CIA, police and the newly created Department of Homeland Security scoured the country and the world for radicalized Muslims, an existing threat was overlooked – white supremacist extremists already in the US, whose numbers and influence have continued to grow in the last two decades.

In 2020 far-right extremists were responsible for 16 of 17 extremist killings, in the US, according to the Anti-Defamation League, while in 2019, 41 of the 42 extremist killings were linked to the far right.

Between 2009 and 2018 the far right was responsible for 73% of extremist-related fatalities in the US, while rightwing extremists killed more people in 2018 than in any year since 1995, when a bomb planted by an anti-government extremist killed 168 people in a federal building in Oklahoma City.

Despite the statistical dominance of far-right and white supremacist killings in the US, America’s intelligence agencies have devoted far more resources to the perceived threat from Islamic terror.

“The shock of 9/11 created this incredible machinery really, in the US and globally – the creation of entire new agencies and taskforce hearings, and all those sorts of things, that created blind spots,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, author of Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right and a professor at American University, where she runs the school’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.

“Of course, they were also interrupting plots and warning of threats. So some of that was happening, but at the same time, this other threat was increasing and rising, and they weren’t seeing it,” she added.

In the last few years alone, a gunman killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas, after allegedly posting a manifesto with white nationalist and anti-immigrant themes online. In it he wrote that he planned to carry out an attack in “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

In February 2019, a US Coast Guard lieutenant who was a self-described “white nationalist” was arrested after he stockpiled weapons and compiled a hitlist of media and government figures. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2020.

Nine black church members were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2017, by a 22-year-old who confessed to the FBI that he hoped to bring back segregation or start a race war.

But successive governments have spent most of the last two decades putting the majority of their resources towards investigating Muslims, both in the US and abroad. In 2019 the FBI said 80% of its counter-terrorism agents were focused on international terrorism, with 20% devoted to domestic terrorism.

As the government pursued Islamic terrorism, the civil rights of Muslims in America were impinged, and many innocent Muslims suffered. More than a thousand people were detained in the months following 9/11, and thousands more questioned as mosques and Muslim neighborhoods were placed under surveillance. The number of hate crimes against Muslims in the US spiked in the immediate aftermath of the attack, and have remained way above pre-2001 rates in every year since.

“There was a lack of attention from authorities – resources – but some of the actual interventions that authorities made were Islamophobic. And so they fostered some of this Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment,” Miller-Idriss said.

Michael German, a former FBI special agent who specialized in domestic terrorism and covert operations, said a disparity in the attention giving to alleged Muslim actors and white supremacists was growing even before 9/11.

After that attack, however, new laws, including the Patriot Act, gave the government extra powers to surveil and target Americans, while the justice department was given more power to investigate people with no criminal record.

German, who is a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security Program said these powers were mostly focused on Muslim Americans, while paying white supremacists little heed.

“[There was] a disparity between how the FBI targeted Muslim Americans who simply said things the government didn’t like, or were associated with people the government didn’t like, or the government suspected just because they were Muslim, and had never committed any violent crime, had never been engaged with any terrorist group versus failing to even document murders committed by white supremacists,” German said.

After the World Trade Center attacks, “a tremendous amount of resources were coming into the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the counter-terrorism work”, German said. “But that was all being focused on potential terrorism committed by Muslims.”

A justice department audit in 2010 revealed that between 2005 and 2009 an average of fewer than 330 FBI agents were assigned to domestic terrorism investigation, out of a total of nearly 2,000 counter-terrorism agents.

The decision to not focus as intensely on white supremacist or domestic terrorism wasn’t just a strategic one, German said. He said the influence of money and big business had a role, as industries lobbied lawmakers and even the FBI itself to instead pursue anti-capitalist and environmental protest groups.

“The FBI needs resources. And to get resources, it needs to convince members of Congress. And Congress works most effectively when there are wealthy patrons who contribute to their campaigns,” German said.

“So the FBI has to cultivate a base of support in the wealthy community, and how can they do that? Well, by going to corporate boards, and telling them, you know, the FBI needs more resources.

“And then of course, that gets the corporate boards a lot of influence over what the FBI does. And what those corporate boards were saying wasn’t that there are minority communities in the United States that are being targeted by white supremacists, what are you doing about it?

“They were saying: ‘Hey these [anti-corporate or environmental] protesters are a real pain and you know, there’s a potential they could become violent.’”

When the government and intelligence agencies sought to expand its collection of intelligence post-9/11, that gave corporations another bargaining chip, German said – further knocking white supremacy and the far right down the priority list.

“Giant corporations hold a lot of private information about Americans, and getting access to that information became important to the FBI, so pleasing those corporations became part of the mission.”

Alongside that issue is the fact that there are “lingering racism problems within the FBI”, German said, with the agency still a predominantly white and male organization.

“So that’s one end of the spectrum, the people who are either explicitly racist or implicitly racist. Because white supremacists don’t threaten their community so they don’t see it as a threat.

“The white male agent who goes home to a white suburban community doesn’t really see a lot of white supremacist skinheads causing problems in his community. So it becomes a lesser threat.”

In 2020 there were signs that more attention was being focused on the far right. The Department of Homeland Security said white supremacists were “the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland” as it announced a report on threats in the US.

But that came just days after Donald Trump had told the extremist group Proud Boys to “stand by” during a presidential debate.

Trump was notoriously reluctant to condemn white supremacist violence, and his “both sides” comments after the Charlottesville riots were seen as legitimizing the far right. In April 2020, as the pandemic raged in the midwest, he told his supporters to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” after Gretchen Whitmer, the state’s Democratic governor, imposed stay-at-home orders. Hundreds of armed rioters duly stormed the Michigan state capitol. In October 2020 the FBI charged six people with allegedly plotting to kidnap Whitmer, who had been a target of Trump’s attacks for months.

The riot in Michigan could be seen as a grim preview of the events of 6 January, when a far-right movement that had been brewing for years spilled out in Washington DC and attacked the Capitol.

Joe Biden has been less reluctant than his predecessors to identify the danger to US citizens. In June Biden said white supremacists are the “most lethal threat” to Americans, and later that month his administration unveiled a sweeping plan to address the problem.

PW Singer, a strategist who has served as a consultant to the US military, intelligence community and FBI and is a fellow of New American, a public policy thinktank, said the growing threat of white supremacism in the US was too complex to blame just on a lack of attention from government intelligence agencies – “but it certainly didn’t help stop it”.

“Think of it as akin to a disease striking the body politic. The person was not only in active denial, deliberately avoiding the needed measures to fight it, but the normal defenses [used] against other like threats were not deployed.”

Trump may be gone, but the pandering of some Republicans to rightwing extremists seems unlikely to stop. As recently as August Mo Brooks, a Republican congressman from Alabama, defended a Trump supporter who carried out a Capitol Hill bomb threat.

“Although this terrorist’s motivation is not yet publicly known, and generally speaking, I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom and the very fabric of American society,” Brooks tweeted, hours after the man had parked close to the Capitol and supreme court and told police he had a bomb.

“The way to stop socialism’s march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 election,” he said. “Bluntly stated, America’s future is at risk.”

It’s a dangerous game, but with the rise of Trumpism and far-right extremism in conservative politics – which can be traced back to the Tea Party movement which demonized Barack Obama – it is one Republicans seem likely to continue.

“What was once the unacceptable extreme has become an accepted part of our politics and media,” Singer said.

“It is a hard truth that too many are unwilling to accept. It didn’t start on 6 January, but years before, where these extremist views were first tolerated and then celebrated as good for clicks, and then votes.”

Source: Close to home: how US far-right terror flourished in post-9/11 focus on Islam

Hate crimes in US reach highest level in more than a decade

Of note (still less than the previous high in 2008) so not all attributable to Trump. Canadian police-reported hate crimes 2019 numbers not yet out:

Hate crimes in the U.S. rose to the highest level in more than a decade as federal officials also recorded the highest number of hate-motivated killings since the FBI began collecting that data in the early 1990s, according to an FBI report released Monday.

There were 51 hate crime murders in 2019, which includes 22 people who were killed in a shooting that targeted Mexicans at a Walmart in the border city of El Paso, Texas, the report said. The suspect in that August 2019 shooting, which left two dozen other people injured, was charged with both state and federal crimes in what authorities said was an attempt to scare Hispanics into leaving the United States.

There were 7,314 hate crimes last year, up from 7,120 the year before — and approaching the 7,783 of 2008. The FBI’s annual report defines hate crimes as those motivated by bias based on a person’s race, religion or sexual orientation, among other categories.

Some of the 2019 increases may be the result of better reporting by police departments, but law enforcement officials and advocacy groups don’t doubt that hate crimes are on the rise. The Justice Department has for years been specifically prioritizing hate crime prosecutions.

The data also shows there was a nearly 7% increase in religion-based hate crimes, with 953 reports of crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions last year, up from 835 the year before. The FBI said the number of hate crimes against African Americans dropped slightly to 1,930, from 1,943.

Anti-Hispanic hate crimes, however, rose to 527 in 2019, from 485 in 2018. And the total number of hate crimes based on a person’s sexual orientation stayed relatively stable, with one fewer crime reported last year, compared with the year before, though there were 20 more hate crimes against gay men reported.

As the data was made public on Monday, advocacy groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, called on Congress and law enforcement agencies across the U.S. to improve data collection and reporting of hate crimes. Critics have long warned that the data may be incomplete, in part because it is based on voluntary reporting by police agencies across the country.

Last year, only 2,172 law enforcement agencies out of about 15,000 participating agencies across the country reported hate crime data to the FBI, the bureau said. And while the number of agencies reporting hate crimes increased, the number of agencies participating in the program actually dropped from the year before. A large number of police agencies appeared not to submit any hate crime data, which has been a consistent struggle for Justice Department officials.

“The total severity of the impact and damage caused by hate crimes cannot be fully measured without complete participation in the FBI’s data collection process,” the Anti-Defamation League’s president, Jonathan Greenblatt, said in a statement.

An Associated Press investigation in 2016 found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff’s departments across the country had not submitted a single hate crime report for the FBI’s annual crime tally during the previous six years.

Greenblatt also said America must “remove the barriers that too often prevent people in marginalized communities – the individuals most likely to suffer hate crimes – from reporting hate-based incidents,” a sentiment shared by other advocates.

“The FBI’s report is another reminder that we have much work to do to address hate in America,” said Margaret Huang, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Source: Hate crimes in US reach highest level in more than a decade

Statistics of anti-Semitism in US are misleading

Good serious comparison of the various datasets available. The observations regarding the limitations of ADL statistics also apply to B’nai Brith as to those on FBI data also apply to StatsCan complication of police reported hate crimes.

With respect to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the closest Canadian equivalent is the currently underway General Social Survey – Canadians’ Safety (GSS) which includes self-reported victimization, to be released winter 2020-21:

On Sunday, a Jewish man standing outside a synagogue was shot in the leg in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime. It was only the latest in a string of anti-Semitic attacks this year.

These attacks have brought in their wake headlines declaring “a spike in hate crimes” and “increased anti-Semitic attacks all across this country,” based on episodes like Sunday’s as well as data. Earlier this year, the FBI reported the largest increase in hate crimes since 2001, and the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-semitic incidents rose by 57% in 2017.

As a result, a consensus has developed around the idea that hate crime and anti-Semitism are rising, and that Jews are no longer safe in the U.S. Leaders across the political divide agree.

But I’ve found myself skeptical of these claims of rising hate. Partly, this is because of a rather personal reason: Since moving to the US over a decade ago, I have never personally experienced hate or a hate crime.

But I was skeptical for a professional reason too. As a mathematician by training, I spent my PhD years working with messy crime data. And the truth is, it cannot be trusted at face value.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the data on hate crimes, especially those pertaining to the Jewish community, might have similar problems.

And it does. Big time.

To dig deeper, I looked at all the available data on hate crimes, which included incidents of hate by year, surveys, and reports. I sought out datasets, what are in their ideal form collected methodically year after year by faceless government statisticians. I also downloaded spreadsheets and mined the numbers myself.

What I found will probably surprise you: We have a real anti-Semitism problem in this country. But it’s not getting worse.

It’s important to keep in mind that hate crimes are not a leading cause of injury or death; in the same year 37,000 people were killed on the roads, and 2.3 million injured or disabled.

But you can’t compare hate crimes to road accidents; with a hate crime, like with terrorism, the victim is targeted because of their group identity, and the entire group feels threatened. Hate crimes select symbolic targets, such as community buildings, whose significance far exceeds their property value.

And research indicates that being in a targeted group is not just discomforting but can have a tangible effect how people behave. We know from Europe that attacks on Jews can trigger a wave of immigration to Israel, and it should not be assumed that the same cannot happen to American Jews.

Even more disturbingly, research on fertility data from 170 countries found that during waves of terrorism there is a decline in births.

All of this made me even more anxious to find out if there was actually a wave of anti-Semitism sweeping through America. So I sought out the two most frequently-cited sources of hate crime data: reports from the ADL and the FBI.

Let’s start with baselines. According to the FBI’s most recent data, 2017 saw 7,175 hate crimes nationwide, including 15 hate murders. Anti-Jewish hate crime incidents represented 13% of all incidents – 923 – coming in second only to Anti-Black hate crimes, which numbered 2,013 incidents.

There were also more anti-Semitic incidents than “anti-gay” crimes, for example. Most importantly for our purposes, because Jews make up just 1-2%of the US population, these numbers mean that the Jewish community is targeted by hate crimes disproportionately to its numbers by a factor of ten.

The ADL has been tabulating data on anti-Semitic hate crime for an impressive 40 years, and it receives data both from the police and the public. The ADL has built out a modern data center and has interactive online visualizations.

In its most recent audit, the ADL reported that 2018 had the third-highest number of incidents of the past four decades, with 1,879 incidents. The 2018 total is 48% higher than the number of incidents in 2016, and 99% higher than in 2015. Both 2017 and 2018 had far more incidents than typical for the previous eight years. This is, indeed, alarming.

However, these numbers should be taken with a mild dose of the proverbial salt. The problem with hate data is that only 20% of hate crimes are reported to the police, and, one suspects, even fewer to the ADL. So the statistics give just the tip of an iceberg; the majority of hate times are not included in this count.

This makes them somewhat unreliable. To rely on 20% of the data to determine if there is a wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes would be like looking at the top shelf of your fridge, and finding it overflowing, deciding that you need to buy a larger fridge (I would suggest looking at the other four shelves first).

And you can’t just compare the 20% of reported crimes each year to the 20% from last for the simple fact that the reporting rate is not a constant 20% of all crimes. Reporting goes up and down along with public concern. An increase in concern about hate crimes can increase the number of reports by the public, and even the number of police investigations, making more of the “iceberg” (or fridge) visible and inflating the numbers.

To put it plainly, if many people started to believe, fairly or not, that we are in the midst of a wave of hate, they would also start to report more hate crimes, making the data inconsistent with the past.

This is not to say that the jump in anti-Semitic hate crimes reported by sources like the ADL is a statistical mirage. But the reality is probably different from what the numbers suggest.

Independently of the ADL, the FBI has been reporting hate crime data since the 1990s through its Hate Crime database. It has developed impressive guidelinesto judge if a crime incident is indeed a hate crime, and its reports are available online. Surely, here we can expect to finally find deep databases processed by standard and reliable statistical methods!

But alas, the FBI’s numbers also need to be taken with a little grain of kosher salt. The problem is that crimes are generally reported to the local police department and not to the FBI directly, so the FBI’s data is only as good as the reports it receives.

In some states, less than 10% of the police agencies bother to report to the FBI at all, and likely only report the more severe crimes. As a credit to the system, the FBI provides consistent data that goes back to the 1990s, and thus is well-suited to recording if there are any national trends.

But charting the FBI data from 1996 to 2017 suggests that we are far from having achieved new heights of anti-Semitism. Rather, anti-Semitic incidents peaked in 1999 at 1,109 per year, then declined from 2008 to 2014, and have been trending up since then, reaching 976 in 2017.

As with the ADL numbers, the data quality is not great, thanks to under-reporting. But even taking that into account, we appear to still be well below the numbers of the 1990s.

Fortunately, there is another government crime tracking program that has been all but forgotten by the press: the National Crime Victimization Survey. Unlike the ADL and the FBI, who collect reports, the NCVS goes out to the communities and interviews some 160,000 people every year, asking them if they were victims of various crimes.

Because the NCVS uses a representative sample, it can reliably estimate the number of crimes in the entire country, including hate crimes. If there is a wave of hate in America, the NCVS would detect it in its survey.

In its most recent report, NCVS estimated that 204,000 hate crimes occur in the US annually, of which just 15,000 are confirmed by the police.

The NCVS also shows that hate crime rates have been steady every year since 2015, and were probably higher ten years ago.

There is no data specifically on anti-Semitism in NCVS, but if we assume per the FBI’s estimate that about 13% of hate crimes are anti-Semitic, then there are a staggering 26,000 anti-Semitic crimes every year in the US — 30 times more than reported by the FBI and 14 times more than the ADL.

What we can learn from these statistics is both good and bad. For all the problems of the last few years, there is no reason to fear a wave of hate, because the wave, if it exists, is a small one.

Today’s Jewish America has probably the safest existence of any Jewish community in history. In this generation, a Jew is much more likely to suffer a car accident than a hate crime.

But to believe naively in the American utopia is to ignore the truth: Hate is alive and well in America, and Jews are often the target of it.

Source: Statistics of anti-Semitism in US are misleading

F.B.I. Tool to Identify Extremists Is Criticized – The New York Times

Although understandable that the FBI would have a targeted approach with respect to Islamic-inspired extremism, the criticism is valid given that it ignores the elephant in the room: gun violence and white extremism:

The F.B.I. is about to introduce an interactive program it developed for teachers and students, aimed at training them to prevent young people from being drawn into violent extremism. But Muslim, Arab and other religious and civil rights leaders who were invited to preview the program have raised strong objections, saying it focuses almost entirely on Islamic extremism, which they say has not been a factor in the epidemic of school shootings and attacks in the United States.

The program, according to those who saw it at F.B.I. headquarters, called “Don’t Be a Puppet,” leads the viewer through a series of games and tips intended to teach how to identify someone who may be falling prey to radical extremists. With each successful answer, scissors cut a puppet’s string, until the puppet is free.

In the campaign against terrorists such as the Islamic State, law enforcement agencies have been stepping up efforts to identify those susceptible to recruitment. The agencies have enlisted the cooperation and advice of religious and community leaders. But the controversy over the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s new online tool is one more indication that there is no consensus on who should be involved in detecting and reporting suspects, and where to draw the line between prevention and racial or religious profiling.

“The F.B.I. is developing a website designed to provide awareness about the dangers of violent extremist predators on the Internet,” a spokeswoman for the agency said late Sunday, “with input from students, educators and community leaders.”

The F.B.I. had told the community organizations that the program would be available online as soon as Monday. The organizations’ leaders spoke to a reporter only after learning that the F.B.I. was likely to proceed despite their concern that the program would stigmatize Arab and Muslim students, who are already susceptible to bullying.

“Teachers in classrooms should not become an extension of law enforcement,” said Arjun S. Sethi, an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center. Mr. Sethi, who specializes in counterterrorism and law enforcement, was invited by the F.B.I. to give feedback on the program.

“The program is based on flawed theories of radicalization, namely that individuals radicalize in the exact same way and it’s entirely discernible,” he said. “But it’s not, and the F.B.I. is basically asking teachers and students to suss these things out.”

He said the F.B.I.’s program amounted to “misplaced priorities.”

“The greatest threat facing American schoolchildren today is gun violence,” he said. “It’s not Muslim extremism.”

Teachers do not always have the training or judgment to identify extremists, said several religious leaders who mentioned the Muslim student in Texas who was detained and handcuffed after taking a clock he built to school.

Source: F.B.I. Tool to Identify Extremists Is Criticized – The New York Times