White nationalism: How terrorism has changed since 9/11 — and why America won't unite

Mike Kelly, North Jersey Record

Just days after a team of Islamic militants hijacked four commercial jetliners and staged the 9/11 terror attacks, a poster turned up on walls of firehouses and other buildings near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. 

The poster featured a black-and-white photograph of Osama bin Laden, the bearded, craggy-faced jihadist from Saudi Arabia who orchestrated America’s bloodiest terror attacks from his lair in Afghanistan. Superimposed on bin Laden’s face was a bull's-eye target — the kind you might see at a shooting range.

Today, that poster seems like an ancient relic of a near-forgotten period of history.  

Eighteen years later, as America prepares to commemorate the nearly 3,000 people who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, we face another sort of terrorism — from ourselves.

Islamic terror is still a real threat

This is not to diminish the threat of terrorism carried out by jihadists who believe in a perverted version of Islamic theology — that they can gain a place in paradise by murdering so-called “infidels.” The world — and America — still has too many people who adhere to this warped mindset. 

Only two years ago, eight people were run down and killed on a bicycle path along the West Side Highway — near Ground Zero — by a man in a rental truck who reportedly supported the Islamic State or ISIS. A year before that, a man who allegedly supported bin Laden’s al-Qaida style of terrorism, set off bombs in Seaside Park and in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

Allendale remembers those lost on 9/11/2001.

Luckily no one was killed, but 35 people were injured, including three police officers who caught the suspect in a shootout. And then, in 2013, two brothers who espoused Islamist views set off two pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. They went on to kill a college police officer and wound another cop who later died

Those are just a few examples.

There are plenty more.

But the numbers of incidents of Islamic terrorism are far outnumbered now by another sort of terror in the form of mass shootings by right-wing nationalists.

White terror on a dangerous rise

The Anti-Defamation League’s most recent report on extremism opened with this ominous line:  “2018 was a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders.”

The report, which chronicled extremist killings for 2018, the most recent year for which statistics on such murders were available, went on to add that “every single extremist killing — from Pittsburgh to Parkland — had a link to right-wing extremism.”

Colleen Golden pays respects to her father Dick Morgan, a 9-11 victim at the memorial in Glen Rock, NJ.

In case you forgot, Pittsburgh was the scene of 11 murders at a synagogue, reportedly by a man boiling with anti-Semitic hatred. The death toll a high school in Parkland, Florida, was even higher — 17 students and educators gunned down by a troubled young man who allegedly posted social media messages that expressed disdain for Muslims and African Americans.

Across America in 2018, at least 50 people were killed in extremist-related murders, according to the ADL report.  The year before — 2017 — extremists killed 37 people.  But those numbers are small compared to 2016, when 72 people died at the hands of extremists, and 2015, when another 70 were murdered.

Not all of these extremists were right-wing nationalists. But by 2018, the ADL noticed an ominous turn. In that single year, “every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement.” 

This is the dark side of America now. Fox news wants to ignore it. And President Donald Trump won’t address it. 

As for conservatives in general, remember their reaction in 2009 when they discovered that federal investigators had discovered a worrisome rise in right-wing extremist threats and recruiting within the U.S. military? The outcry was so harsh that the Obama administration quashed efforts to explore what some in the FBI and other federal law enforcement and counter-terror agencies saw as a dangerous movement.

Now we are seeing the results.

So far in 2019, we have had more mass shootings — defined as a shooting with at least four people shot — than we have had days. 

So why aren’t we calling this terrorism?

Call terrorism by its name

Certainly, the deaths in mass shootings have not reached the horrific and numbing number of killings from the 9/11 attacks.  But 17 kids and teachers dead at a high school? And 11 worshippers at a synagogue? And nearly 50 people at a gay nightclub? And more than 50 at a country music concert?

Sept. 11, 2001: Firemen and the rubble of from the World Trade Center crashes. What remains of WTC structure is behind firemen.

Isn’t that terrorism?

After the 9/11 attacks, the nation united behind a belief that we faced a common enemy. Now that unity has shredded, torn apart by the squabbles of the left and right — to the point that America can't even conduct a reasoned discussion on how to deal with the rising tide of mass shootings.  

And so, we are reduced to the usual bromides from our elected leaders — the now-insulting “thoughts and prayers” message that, sadly, means nothing.

Keith James Burns of East Rutherford. In this photo, mourners stand in front of Burns' name at the 9/11 Memorial grounds in Lower Manhattan on Sept.11, 2015.

Eighteen years after America was mobilized to face a new and creepy terrorist threat from Islamist militants from overseas, we are paralyzed in the face of another form of terrorism within our own borders.

If you doubt this, consider what happened when America’s largest retailer, Walmart, announced recently that it would no longer sell the sort of ammunition used in military-style assault firearms. 

Walmart sells plenty of guns — and ammo. But with the increasing number of mass shootings carried out by killers armed with assault weapons and the large capacity magazines that allow them to rapidly fire off many rounds without reloading, Walmart’s executives figured they might take a positive step by cutting off the killers’ supply chain.

It was a reasonable move. Some gun control advocates even criticized it as not harsh enough. But to gun rights supporters — notably the National Rifle Association and its cast of extremists — you would think that Walmart was proposing a form of heresy. 

Calling Walmart “shameful,” the NRA claimed in a statement that “the strongest defense of freedom has always been our free market economy.” It went on to accuse Walmart of succumbing “to the pressure of the anti-gun elites.”

And then there was this kicker: “Lines at Walmart will soon be replaced by lines at other retailers who are more supportive of America’s fundamental freedoms.”

In other words, the NRA was telling Americans to boycott the nation’s largest retailer.  Maybe the NRA could not bear to notice all those lines at the funeral homes after all the mass shootings.

This is America now. 

It’s been 18 years since two hijacked jetliners turned the World Trade Center's twin towers in lower Manhattan into a massive rubble pile — 18 years since another hijacked jetliner smashed into the Pentagon and yet another crashed into a Pennsylvania farm field. 

We have changed much in those years. But in far too many ways we have gone backward. 

Back then, we saw terrorism for what it was. Now we can't even agree on what we're looking for. 

Mike Kelly is a columnist for the North Jersey Record, where this column originally appeared.

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This article originally appeared on North Jersey Record: Terrorism in America: White nationalism is the new, dangerous threat