Once upon a time, 10 years ago this month, when the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooter was nine years old, Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security authored a dire report about growing extremist violence in America. One sentence on page 7 said it all: “DHS has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy – separate from any formalized group.”
Alas, Republicans refused to face reality. House Minority Leader John Boehner said that the report unfairly maligned “American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking the nation.” Right-wing commentators amplified the message; Michelle Malkin called the report “one of the most embarrassingly shoddy pieces of propaganda I’d ever read out of DHS.”
Fast forward 10 years – to April 9, 2019. On that recent day, the House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing into the well-documented reality of white supremacist lone-wolf violence in America. The experts, in their testimony, reminded us that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter had blamed Jews for illegal immigration; the shooter had embraced the delusion, stoked in the darkest corners of social media, that Jews are importing migrants for the purpose of destroying the white race. As committee chairman Jerry Nadler said, “White nationalism and its proliferation online have real consequences. Americans have died because of it.”
Lori Kaye, shot dead while worshiping on Saturday, is the latest.
You may have overlooked this particular House hearing – understandably so, because it was buried in the news cycle that day because William Barr, Trump’s defense lawyer and attorney general in name only, was testifying elsewhere on Capitol Hill. That’s a shame, because the Anti-Defamation League shared the sobering statistic that 78 percent of documented extremist murders in America in 2018 were committed by white supremacists. Over the past 10 years, it’s 75 percent.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers Committee for Equal Rights Under the Law, said of the white supremacists, “Instead of hiding under hoods, they now organize at computer screens.” Senior ADL official Eileen Hershenov testified: “These (social media) platforms are like round-the-clock digital white supremacist rallies. (They) act as echo chambers for the most virulent anti-Semitism and racism, and act as recruiting grounds for potential terrorists” – an observation that now looks prescient, given what we already know about the Poway synagogue shooter.
But alas, Republicans on the House panel refused to accept reality. That seems to be a pattern.
Throughout the hearing, they sought to change the subject – complaining, for instance, about colleges that won’t hire conservative speakers – and they hosted Candace Owens as a purported rebuttal expert. If you’re not familiar with Owens, a black conservative activist, here’s a quick refresher: She recently said that “if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany.” (Um. The problem with Hitler was that his white supremacist ideology was not “OK, fine” on the domestic front, as the few surviving Jews would surely have attested.)
During the House hearing, here’s how Owens tried to muddy the water: “White supremacy, racism, white nationalism – words that once held real meaning – have now become nothing more than election strategies.”
Actually, those words do have real meaning. When a YouTube user, who was watching the live-streamed hearing, posted his delusion that “Jews want to destroy all white nations,” those words have real meaning. They are incitements to violence. Those words, easily spread on social media, are emboldening lone-wolf white supremacists as never before. If only conservatives and Republicans would reach across the aisle to stand in solidarity against hate-inspired murder, but no. For at least 10 years they have refused to face the truth. And now they hide beneath the hem of a purported president who talks about “very fine people,” whose recent National Strategy for Counterterrorism never mentions white right-wing extremism, and who has slashed the annual budget of the federal Counter Violent Extremism program from $21 million to $3 million. (Trump actually said this weekend that the Poway synagogue attack was “hard to believe.” Not.)
And sure enough, the teenage shooter – whose name will not appear here – reportedly posted a manifesto that praised the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter and the New Zealand mosque shooter, and embraced the delusion that Jews want to “doom” the white race. He referred to himself as a “normal dude,” from a nice white American family, all of which should prompt us to recognize – as if we needed further evidence – that it’s nuts to build a border wall when, in truth, the clear and present danger festers among us.