Saturday, October 12, 2019
October 12-13, 2019: 21st Century Domestic Terrorism
[October 8th marks the 50th anniversary of the Weather Underground’s Days of Rage protests in Chicago. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied the Weathermen and other domestic terrorists—a fraught but important term, I know—leading up to this weekend post on 21st century events.]
Honestly, I’m not sure I can what I would most want to say about contemporary domestic terrorists any more clearly than I did in a few paragraphs from the Intro to my most recent book. So here they are:
“Virtually every day over the last few years has offered clear illustrations of how much our own moment likewise features such battles between exclusionary and inclusive definitions of America. I return to contemporary America at length in Chapter 8 and the Conclusion, so here will briefly highlight just one telling and tragic example: the May 26th, 2017 fatal stabbing on a Portland, Oregon commuter train of two men (and brutal assault on a third) by a white supremacist terrorist, Jeremy Christian, who had been harassing two teenage girls (one Muslim and one African American) with racial and religious hate speech. That harassment was driven by an exclusionary perspective on American identity, as when (per the girls and other witnesses) Christian ordered the two girls to “get out of his country.” In his first court appearance, four days after the stabbings, Christian likewise evoked an exclusionary definition of America to defend his actions, shouting, “Get out if you don’t like free speech. You call it terrorism, I call it patriotism. You hear me? Die.” Further media investigations have revealed that Christian has a long history of participating in white supremacist rallies and organizations, and that both his harassment of the girls and his attack on the three men thus exemplify an extreme and violent but unfortunately not at all unique expression of the resurgent white supremacist, exclusionary narrative of America that has accompanied and followed the 2016 presidential election.
The victims of Christian’s exclusionary terrorism embody alternative, inclusive visions of American community on a number of important levels. There’s Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, one of the two men killed by Christian for coming to the defense of the teenagers, whose final words were, “I want everyone on the train to know that I love them.” There’s Micah Fletcher, the surviving stabbing victim, who explained his own defense of the girls by noting, “If you live here, move here, or if you want to call this city home, it is your home. And we must protect each other like that is the truth, no matter what the consequences. The Muslim community, especially in Portland, needs to understand that there are a lot of us that are not going to stand by and let anybody … scare you into thinking you can't be a part of this town, this city, this community, or this country.” And of course there are the two girls themselves, 16 year old Destinee Mangum (an African American) and her 17 year old Muslim friend (who as of this writing has remained anonymous but whose hijab was the specific target of Christian’s initial attacks), whose identities and presences themselves counter Christian’s exclusionary definition of America and remind us of the longstanding and still evolving racial and religious diversity at the heart of the inclusive definition.
On the day I finished this manuscript, America suffered another tragic, violent, and overtly exclusionary attack: the October 27th, 2018 murder of 11 congregants (and wounding of many more, including four police officers) at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue by Robert Bowers, a white supremacist and anti-Semitic domestic terrorist. In social media posts Bowers linked his planned actions to a profoundly exclusionary conspiracy theory advanced by President Trump: that Jewish Americans such as George Soros are paying immigrants such as the refugees making their way to the United States in the so-called “migrant caravan.” Bowers also referred to immigrants as “invaders” and focused much of his social media hate on one of America’s oldest inclusive civic organizations, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS, founded in New York City in 1881). Like HIAS, Bowers’s victims embodied the ideals of an inclusive American community, including a 97-year old Holocaust survivor.”
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other histories or contemporary aspects of domestic terrorism you’d highlight?