On Feb. 11, 2016, federal agents escorted 38-year-old Safya Roe Yassin out of her Buffalo, Mo., home and charged her with multiple terror-related crimes that could ultimately result in five years’ imprisonment, three years’ supervised release and $250,000 in fines.
Yassin’s charging documents (pdf) reveal how she operated multiple social media accounts that sympathized with and trumpeted the ideas of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. She posted comments about how she wanted to harm people who attended “free speech” rallies. She talked about radical ideology and even shared pictures, names and addresses of U.S. soldiers. The affidavit against her includes the following:
(a) a link containing photographs, addresses, other contact information, and even credit card information of United States Army, Navy and State Department employees (1 29); (b) a Tweet that a media personality “would be better off without her head” (l) 33); and, (c) a link in a retweet that lists the town of residence and phone number for approximately 150 United States Air Force personnel with the following quote: ‘Rejoice, O supporters of the Caliphate State, with the dissemination of the information to be delivered to lone wolves,’ God said: ‘And slay them wherever you may come upon them.’”
Yassin has never killed anyone. She hasn’t committed an act of terror; nor has she ever given money to a terrorist organization. But make no mistake about it—in the eyes of the law, Yassin is a terrorist.
Andrew Anglin is the founder and owner of the Daily Stormer—the most popular white supremacist website in the country. Earlier this year he incited his readers into harassing American University Student Government President Taylor Dumpson until she required police protection.
According to a civil lawsuit against Anglin, he also initiated a “troll storm” of death threats, promises of physical violence and harassment against Tanya Gersh, a Jewish real estate attorney in Whitefish, Mont. The lawsuit states (pdf):
14. Mr. Anglin and his followers targeted Ms. Gersh’s husband, as well. Mr. Gersh received many threatening, hateful, and harassing phone calls, voicemails, false online reviews of his law firm and emails including this one: “Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced kike. Tell your scamming son [name omitted] to kill himself, too. Day of the rope soon for your entire family.”
88. Mr. Anglin also published the Twitter handle of Ms. Gersh’s twelve- year-old son and encouraged readers to take to Twitter and “tell them what you think of his whore mother’s vicious attack on the community of Whitefish.” Mr. Anglin called Ms. Gersh’s son a “creepy little faggot” and a “scamming little kike.” Mr. Anglin further accused Ms. Gersh’s son of “pushing advertising scams” on his Twitter followers.
89. Mr. Anglin also published Mr. Gersh’s work phone number and work email, and included a link for readers to submit a Google review of Mr. Gersh’s law firm. Mr. Anglin further encouraged readers to “give him a call or stop by his office and let him know what you think of his wife’s behavior, advise him to get a leash on that hoe.”
These two cases highlight the disparity in the urgency with which law enforcement agencies treat white supremacists and their organizations. Both people in the above examples essentially threatened and harassed American citizens. Both used the internet, social media and the public domain to intimidate and cause terror.
Yet Anglin is not wanted by law enforcement agencies for terrorism, harassment or any crime. More important, numerous neo-Nazi, white nationalist and white supremacist organizations operate in broad daylight. They perpetuate violence and extremism without impunity.
Why are they immune?
Before her arrest, Yassin had been watched by numerous federal agencies responsible for eliminating terrorism, including the FBI. Her allegiance to foreign terrorism was deemed a credible threat because the Islamic State is believed to have inspired the murders of at least 68 Americans.
To be clear, none of the nearly 70 deaths have been attributed directly to ISIS. Authorities have only linked the group to social media accounts and websites that have “radicalized” perpetrators or “inspired” the incidents of terror. That is enough to land their sympathizers on the list of people who law enforcement agencies train their sights on.
In May 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report entitled “White Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence” (pdf). The agency cited the statistic that white supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 … more than any other domestic extremist movement.”
When these homegrown terrorists staged a May rally in Berkeley, Calif., that grew violent, no one was charged with domestic terror. When police confiscated hundreds of weapons at a Portland, Ore., white supremacist rally in June, it still did not rise to the level of terror.
Although white supremacists laid siege to the entire town of Charlottesville, Va., and a woman was killed—despite the warnings of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security—none of the participants have yet to be called “domestic terrorists.”
Why is that? If these people are not terrorists, worthy of being placed on the government’s terror watch list, then who is?
The FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center maintains a list of suspected terrorists. Being added to the Terrorist Screening Database is not an arbitrary process. The Intercept uncovered the document (pdf), “Watchlisting Guidance: National Counterterrorism Center 2013 Publication,” that spells out how one lands on this list. It states that:
For watchlisting purposes under this Guidance, “TERRORIST and/or TERRORIST ACTIVITIES” combine elements from various federal definitions and are considered to:
1.14.1 involve violent acts or acts that are dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure which are violations of U.S. law, or may have been, if those acts occurred in the United States, and
1.14.2 appear to be intended—
- to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
- to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
- to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.
There is no doubt that these organizations espouse violence against human life. Just before he killed Heather Heyer, James Fields marched with the neo-Nazi group Vanguard America in Charlottesville. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dylann Roof was a regular visitor and commenter on the Daily Stormer before he committed the mass murder at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The people who beat Deandre Harris with poles and sticks in Charlottesville wore white nationalist gear.
They undoubtedly converged on Charlottesville to “intimidate a civilian population.” White nationalist Richard Spencer called it a “huge moral victory in terms of the show of force.” They also satisfied the watch list requirement that defines a terrorist activity as intending to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation ... or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction.” They said beforehand that they wanted to stop the city government’s already cemented decision to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
According to the TSC document, anyone is worthy of being added to the list according to the government’s definition of reasonable suspicion. The report defines “reasonable suspicion” as applying to anyone who has “repeated contact with individuals identified by the IC [independent counsel] as teaching or espousing an ideology that includes the justification of the unlawful use of violence or violent extremism.”
The Watchlisting Guidance reads like a thorough explanation of the white supremacist movement. Every federal agency is aware of the existential threat it poses to America. Law enforcement officers know exactly where members can be found, and know their racist, extremist ideology.
Yet somehow they are not considered terrorists.
This is why Heather Heyer is dead. This is why Deandre Harris’ scalp is held together with stitches. This is why the bodies of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Myra Thompson rest in Charleston cemeteries.
Because of federal law enforcement’s apathy toward the lives of American citizens. Because no one is willing to call the purveyors of hate a threat to our nation. Because of the unwillingness of people like Donald Trump to condemn the fires of extremism they helped kindle. Because the purveyors of hate know that they can terrorize, threaten and kill without worrying that they will be painted with the broad brush of “terrorist.”
But mostly because they are white.