anti-semitism, Christchurch, Great Replacement, Im-Politic, Islamic terrorism, Islamophobia, jihadism, mosques, Muslims, New Zealand attack, social media, terrorism, Trump, white nationalists, white supremacist terrorism, white supremacists
The great 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes is widely thought to have said in response to a challenge to his consistency, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?…” I’ve always thought that’s great advice in life generally, and in particular for anyone who spends much time commenting on public policy. As a result, I have no problem reporting that my views on the seriousness of the white nationalist/supremacist violence threat nationwide and globally are different now than when I last wrote on the issue a little over three years ago. Moreover, it’s clear that President Trump needs to get off the dime on this front as well.
Specifically, it’s now clear to me that these movements have developed into dangers to public safety that are comparable, or nearly so, to Islam-inspired terrorist movements, and that other national governments need to intensify their focus accordingly.
The proximate cause of course is Friday’s terrible massacre of Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. But the past year has also witnessed a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synagogue, the letter bombs sent by a Florida man to Democratic Party politicians and officials as well as liberal mainstream media figures, and the arrest of a Coast Guard officer who was apparently stockpiling weapons with the intent of killing lots of liberal political figures and journalists.
My previous views on the differences between white nationalist (I know it’s a logically tortuous term, but it’s in widespread use, so….) violence and Islamic terrorism were based mainly on two observations: First, that, unlike the latter, the former had no general program (however loony in real-world terms) that it tried to push; and second, that unlike Islamic terrorists, the white nationalists didn’t seem to have an international network from which they could draw strength, inspiration, and even resources.
It’s now clear, however, that the Islamophobic, anti-immigrant hatred behind much white nationalist violence is motivated by a determination to stop what these extremists view as an effort by globalist-dominated national governments to replace their countries’ historically white populations of European descent with Muslims and other foreign non-whites. Some of this “Great Replacement” thinking (I hesitate to dignify it as anything as systematic as an “ideology”) of course also justifies anti-semitic violence by evoking the long-held belief that Jews are crucial members, and indeed masterminds, of a transnational (usually called “cosmopolitan” conspiracy to control all of humanity by dissolving all existing bonds among individuals, ethnic groups, and national populations and imposing a form of tyrannical world government).
Moreover, like jihadists, white nationalists undoubtedly the world over increasingly are using social media to talk to one another, share their poisonous bigotry, and whip themselves into a frenzy. As a result, it’s just as pointless to try distinguishing the two by contending that jihadists appear much more organized globally than white nationalists. It’s true, for example, that white nationalists haven’t demonstrated the ability to turn large chunks of physical territory into bases capable of promoting large-scale terrorist operations like September 11. But it’s also true – as noted by many alarmed by jihadism – that such capabilities aren’t needed for Islamic radicalism to deserve blame for inspiring “lone wolves” to go on terrorist rampages.
It’s also true, as far as we know, that, unlike the jihadists, white nationalists haven’t yet been able to foster the creation of and maintenance of cells that can carry out large-scale terror attacks like those Europe has suffered in Paris and Brussels. But why sit back and wait for this capacity to develop?
So President Trump obviously needs to stop denying that white nationalism is a burgeoning security threat. White nationalists may indeed be “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” but there’s now no doubt that however sparse their numbers, white nationalists can do tremendous harm. He also needs to stop committing the entirely unforced error of reacting to anti-Muslim terrorism in the blandest possible ways (when he reacts at all) while greeting violence by Islamic radicals with instant outrage.
But let’s also be clear about what burgeoning white nationalist violence doesn’t mean. Principally, it doesn’t mean that Mr. Trump and his rhetoric are responsible (unless you want to hold Never Trump-ers and their extreme rhetoric responsible for antifa-type violence). And it doesn’t mean that Islam-inspired terrorism can or should be downplayed – including with all that implies for policies toward immigrants and refugees from countries where reliable vetting information simply doesn’t exist.
Instead, it means that we live in a depressingly and dangerously complicated world in which perils can come simultaneously in many different forms; in which governments need to target them all; and in which people of genuinely good will urgently need to realize that what they have in common, and what separates them from the violent fringes, is far more important than what divides them. Mr. Trump could help greatly by recognizing that his entirely correct claim that “to solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least say the name” applies to white supremacist terrorism as well as the Islam-inspired kind.