Home-grown terrorism is a serious problem in America, but major media outlets often fail to give the issue the time and attention it deserves; typically, they do not even label these incidents as acts of terrorism. I am not referring here to the attacks President Donald Trump (falsely) accuses the media of ignoring– I’m talking, instead, about real acts of violence committed by far-right and white supremacist groups.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center reported this week, the number of hate groups in the United States has spiked in the last fifteen years, the vast majority of which are far-right and/or anti-minority. In the past two weeks alone, at least four possible terrorist attacks were thwarted by law enforcement.
On February 8, a Georgia man was arrested after he showed up at a hospital with ricin poisoning. Details of the case are still emerging, the 4th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team of the Army National Guard was called in to ensure there was no continuing threat to the general public.
A few days later, a Florida man, A. Lee Bentley, III, was arrested after he delivered ten improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to an unnamed informant, who turned the devices over to authorities. Bentley had paid his would-be accomplice to place the IEDs in Target stores along the East Coast, from New York to Florida. Bentley planned to purchase Target shares after the terrorist attack, presumably to take advantage of a dip in their value created by the attack.
This past Tuesday, a woman was arrested and charged with a hate crime for vandalizing a Davis, California Islamic Center on January 22. The suspect, Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, smashed the windows of the building and wrapped the door handles with pork. The Sacramento Bee reported that Kirk-Coehlo “had searched for information about bomb vests and said in a text exchange with an unidentified party that while she had not killed anyone yet, ‘I have dreams and aspirations’ and ‘I would like to kill … many people.’” Davis police Detective Daniel La Fond said Kirk-Coehlo “is an immediate danger to the public.”
Finally, on Wednesday, February 15, a South Carolina man was arrested after allegedly telling an undercover federal agent he wanted to carry out a large-scale attack on non-whites, and scrawl on a building “In the Spirit of Dylan Roof, afterwards.” The man had communicated his intentions to an undercover agent, from whom he hoped to buy a Glock handgun and hollow-point ammunition.
These stories are not only attracting less attention and outrage from mainstream media outlets. Their perpetrators are also receiving very different legal treatment, when compared with Muslims accused of similar crimes. This distinction was made clear in the case of Robert Doggart, who was arrested in April 2016 after trying to recruit accomplices in a plot to burn down a mosque in a predominantly Muslim community in upstate New York. Doggart, who has been under house arrest, is not being charged with terrorism. If he was Muslim, there is no doubt he would have been labeled a terrorist.
Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric must be fought at every turn, but it is also symptomatic of a larger problem. Non-Muslim allies must realize that the fight against Islamophobia in this country will not be won until the legal and normative distinctions between Muslim and non-Muslim criminals are dismantled. This is a long-haul fight, and one that will need to be waged long after Trump is out of office.