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—

  1. to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
  2. to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
  3. 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.