Oak Creek Shooting’s Right-Wing Racist Themes Needs To Have More Public Focus
Living in southern Wisconsin has allowed news consumers countless newspaper articles, and news accounts on the broadcasting stations concerning the dreadful shooting last Sunday just outside of Milwaukee. It is gut-wrenching to consider a house of worship becoming a crime scene.
Many angles and side stories have developed from the horror, and after a while they all tend to take on the same themes.
One analysis article, however, about right-wing racist attitudes stands out as something fresher and more meaningful than most of the other stories. Part of it is posted below. I think it needs to be read, and pondered.
The Oak Creek murders reflect upon another neglected subject: the surprising pattern of terrorism in America since September 11th. In partnership with a team of researchers at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy, some of my colleagues at the New America Foundation collated and analyzed three hundred and two cases of domestic terrorism during the decade after the September 11th attacks. The numbers do not correspond with the public’s fear or understanding.
The entire decade-long domestic death toll from terrorism (that is, where a political or ideological motive was apparent) was thirty. By comparison, the rate of annual deaths from mass shootings by non-ideological deranged killers—such as the gunman who attacked moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, last month—runs more than thirty times higher (on average, about a hundred deaths each year). In all, there are about fifteen thousand murders in America each year.
Of the three hundred domestic-terrorism cases studied, about a quarter arose from anti-government extremists, white supremacists, or terrorists animated by bias against another religion. And all of the most frightening cases—involving chemical, biological, and radiological materials—arose from right-wing extremists or anarchists. None arose from Islamist militancy.
There was William Krar, for example, a militia activist who had stored “enough chemicals to produce a quantity of hydrogen cyanide gas that could kill thousands, along with more than one hundred weapons, nearly one hundred thousand rounds of ammunition and more than one hundred pounds of explosives.”
Why do these statistics seem so poorly publicized? Is the media a symptom of this problem or a cause? Why, to choose only the most recent indicator, would the Times fail to place on the front page any enterprise story about Oak Creek Wednesday morning, only the second day after the shooter’s racist background became known? (The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times did put massacre stories on A-1.) It is not hard to imagine the floodtide of sidebar stories and the legions of reporters summoned off the campaign or home from vacation by now if Page had been a converted Muslim and the sanctuary he attacked were in a Christian church.
A pattern of terrorism that is repetitive, rising in ambition, and neglected by the public can signal a coming strategic surprise—this was true of Al Qaeda during the late nineteen-nineties, and it looks to be true of domestic racist terrorism today.
Terrorism is political violence that acquires its greatest power when it unnerves a targeted population. At conferences in Washington these days, panelists routinely discuss the possibility of Al Qaeda’s “strategic defeat,” because of the recent decimation of its leadership and its diminished capacity to carry out sophisticated attacks against the United States.
Yet such a defeat would also require Americans and their elected representatives to understand and speak accurately in public about the true dimensions of terrorism—to describe the violence in its real proportions, and to recognize the Oak Creek shooting’s links to right-wing and racist terrorism that is every bit as potent at home these days as Al Qaeda and its followers are, if not more so. That clarity—that victory—seems a long way off.