By Gary Earl Ross
For more than two decades the citizens of this country have been conditioned to define terrorism as acts of violence by “the other,” mainly Muslims, foreigners and non-whites. But with the recent murders aboard a Portland commuter train, the murder of an African-American college student in Maryland and the discovery of a noose in the Smithsonian African-American history museum, it is past time that these and other manifestations of right-wing hate are given the name they deserve: terrorism.
The point of terrorism is to generate fear. Terrorists want their potential targets to feel afraid they might be next. That’s why they claim credit for a bombing or shooting they may or may not have done.
That’s also why they burn a cross on a lawn, paint a swastika on a synagogue or tag the gate of Lebron James’ home with the N-word.
The media and politicians are more than complicit in stoking such fear when it comes to suicide bombers, mass shooters, jihadists and other killers of color. But when the killer is white and wearing a Confederate flag, white hood or swastika, he (almost always he) is a lone wolf, mentally ill or part of a hate group. With the exception of lone wolf when applied to someone radicalized online, such terms are rarely if ever used to describe foreign-born or first-generation killers of non-Western heritage.
It is as if mental illness or membership in a hate group is used to distinguish one set of white men from the majority who do not engage in such murderous behavior. Such designations are a privilege, a qualifying luxury, reserved for one group and denied others. News flash: ISIS is a hate group, and the majority of people who join and engage in acts of violence are likely mentally ill.
More Americans are killed by right- wing white men with a grudge and a gun than by foreign-born people espousing a twisted religious ideology.
A recently published study by the New America Foundation concluded that since 9/11, homegrown right-wing terrorists have killed twice as many Americans as jihadists. However few Muslims undertake terrorist activities, the entire faith is held responsible, as evidenced by candidate Donald Trump’s call for a Muslim ban and President Trump’s attempts to implement one.
During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized then-President Barack Obama for avoiding use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump’s often days-late responses to various acts of right-wing violence at home suggest he himself is uneasy about labeling such things as terrorism. The black church shooting in South Carolina was “incomprehensible.” Increased anti-Semitism and the shooting of two Indian engineers in Kansas meant we all must condemn “hate and evil.” Three days later, “the violent attacks in Portland are unacceptable.”
The truth is, the rise in right-wing violence isn’t patriotism or free speech, as the Portland killer proclaimed in court. It is terrorism and must be labeled as such.
Gary Earl Ross’ Buffalo-based mystery novel “Nickel City Blues” was published recently by Black Opal Books.