BY FREDDIE ALLEN
NNPA NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – The disclosure that Wade Michael Page, the Army veteran responsible for killing six people at the Oak Creek Sikh Temple outside of Milwaukee, was a White supremacist has awakened the nation to the truth that White supremacists are a threat to more than just people of color.
After earning a less than honorable discharge from the Army in 1998, Page joined Hammerskin Nation, “one of the oldest, most violent and most dominant skinhead groups in the United States,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit organization that tracks hate groups.
Even though hate groups such as Hammerskin Nation often escape being labeled as a terrorist organization, experts say that when they’re White-power rhetoric fuels violent action, that’s exactly what they are.
Total terrorist attacks
The New America Foundation, a non-partisan public policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C., collected data on terrorist attacks after 9/11. The NAF study revealed that right-wing extremists have carried out eight fatal terrorist attacks in the U.S.
Militants connected to al Qaeda or jihad-inspired radicals have committed four terrorist attacks in the United States – half as many of White supremacists – that have killed 17 Americans. If the FBI investigation concludes that the Sikh temple shooting was indeed an act of domestic terrorism, the death toll from right-wing terrorism will jump to 15.
Last week, New America Foundation director and CNN national security contributor Peter Bergen wrote: “The numbers in the New America Foundation database may well understate the toll of violence from right-wing extremists. Another FBI study reported that between January 1, 2007, and October 31, 2009, white supremacists were involved in 53 acts of violence, 40 of which were assaults directed primarily at African-Americans, seven of which were murders and the rest of which were threats, arson and intimidation.”
Jennifer Rowland, program associate in National Security Studies Program at NAF, said that many of these crimes carried out by White supremacists were prosecuted as murders or hate crimes, which generally carry lower sentences than domestic terrorism convictions.
“These guys are terrorists too,” said Rowland. “When [right-wing extremists] are killing people and they’re politically motivated that falls inside our definition of terrorism.”
Because White supremacists often don’t fit into the post-9/11 narrative of terrorism and prevailing fears of shadowy, turbaned foes, the threat they pose is often overlooked because their targets were mostly Blacks.
“The [Ku Klux Klan] is the first domestic terrorist group,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Veterans created Klan
Six Confederate Army veterans created the Klan during the Reconstruction Era immediately following the American Civil War. The hate group’s core principles of White supremacy, White nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-immigration spread across the South.
The Klan evolved with the nation, rising in prominence in the 1920s and terrorizing and intimidating Blacks, Jews and other minorities through lynching, arson, cross burning, and murder for social and political gain.
Today, the Klan survives as many small independent chapters without a centralized governing body. This splintering makes the Klan and other hate groups much harder for the FBI to infiltrate.
Beirich said that Klan’s prominence in “the hate group universe” has diminished significantly as more violent “much scarier” neo-Nazi and skinhead groups deluged the White supremacist scene.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that 1,018 hate groups operate in the United States, today up 69 percent in the last 12 years.
So-called “patriot” groups such as the one that inspired Timothy McVeigh to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 Americans, skyrocketed 755 percent since President Obama’s election, growing from 149 in 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.
“If you’re a White supremacist seeing Obama win an election was frightening,” said Beirich.
Losing the battle
White supremacist see Obama’s win as a symptom of much greater threats to White power: multiculturalism and immigration.
“White supremacist groups feel that they’ve lost the battle since the civil rights era,” said Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
“They are quickly becoming less powerful and they want to go back to the days before the civil rights era when they felt like White people had power and control in this country.”
The Census Bureau projects that Whites will lose their majority by 2042, a notion that has galvanized White supremacist groups to be more active, said Mayo.
In less than 40 years, the White population will fall below 50 percent, Blacks will make up 15 percent of the population and Latinos will take 30 percent and other people of color will make up the remainder.
“[White supremacists] still don’t like African-Americans, they don’t like Jews, but they believe that multiculturalism has destroyed the United States,” Mayo said. “We see a ratcheting up in rhetoric against the African-American community and other minorities, because we have an African-American president in power today.”
An American problem
Currently, the Justice Department is restricted in how they pursue and prosecute White supremacist groups because of First Amendment rights afforded to all Americans, even those that spew hateful rhetoric.
But Rowland and other experts agree that as these groups cast a wider net over American society targeting a growing population of minorities, they will increasingly be seen for what they are: domestic terrorists.
The New America Foundation found “no evidence” that militants connected to al Qaeda have acquired chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons since 9/11, but 11 extremists groups (right-wing and left-wing) have obtained CBRN material over the same time period.
“The more we leave these groups alone, the more ambitious they’re going to become,” said Rowland.