For all our national bluster about waging a “war on terror,” the main sources of terror in our country go largely unacknowledged by our political leaders. While we are led to believe that the most dangerous individuals in this country are those who read the Koran, lack a Social Security number or have dark skin, white male domestic terrorists go unnamed and unchallenged.
Though you would be hard-pressed to hear it articulated in mainstream-media outlets, far-right violent extremists have made up 74 percent of officially designated terrorist attacks in the U.S. since 9/11. And this does not even include the increasing number of ostensibly nonideological mass shooters who fit a now well-known profile: angry white men, often with histories of domestic abuse, who enjoy unfettered access to firearms. Though our president, the National Rifle Association and Congress, which does its bidding, would certainly prefer to see these individuals as mentally ill lone wolves, it seems abundantly clear that they represent a now growing cultural movement within our country: a loose brotherhood of suicidal copycats, inspired to express their anger through mass murder with easily accessible tools.
Many will balk at the notion that white male violence goes “unchallenged.” After all, it was a white man who exchanged gunfire with the Sutherland Springs, Texas, killer, and there have been countless white people who have heroically intervened to capture white killers and attend to their victims. What we are referring to here, however, is not the bravery and good intentions of individual people but the systemic means by which our policymakers either target or ignore different forms of violence.
A whole federal government office has been opened to hear the voices of those affected by the crimes of undocumented immigrants, even though immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the general public; a blanket ban has been proposed on Muslims from half a dozen countries, even though such a ban would have saved no lives over the last 20 years; a multibillion-dollar border wall has been proposed, even though “secure border” advocates widely acknowledge that a wall will make minimal difference. And when it comes to urban gun violence, rather than prescribe proven strategies to reduce shootings, the bipartisan solution over the last 40 years has been to lock up black and brown men in droves.
This obsession with blaming the “other” has so consumed white leaders that even when white men kill innocent white children in schools and churches, or when a white male supremacist runs over and kills a white woman protesting white supremacy, many seem incapable of absorbing or naming what is happening right before their eyes.
The bottom line is that a federal government largely made up of white men seems to have real difficulty acknowledging white male violence. The GOP battered President Barack Obama over his refusal to use the term “Islamic terror,” and yet both Democratic and Republican leaders seem to have a strange nervous tick when it is time to name “white domestic terror.” Truth be told, even politicians of color—nourished on a lifelong diet of white movie heroes, Eurocentric school curricula and images of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus—seem conditioned to accept the notion that only “Muslim” terror is real terror.
The result is that the NRA-backed GOP leaders’ main prescription for keeping us safe is to purchase more guns, somehow trying to convince us that a safe and sane society is one where schoolteachers, church deacons and single mothers must carry pistols and be prepared to engage in impromptu firefights with AR-15-toting lunatics.
Simultaneously, the vast majority of Democratic leaders enthusiastically fund anti-terrorist efforts abroad while remaining silent about the true nature of much of the violence at home, with images of Islamic extremists and black “superpredators” apparently still dominating their imaginations.
Only when our government has launched a “war on white supremacy” and a “war on gun violence” will we have a true “war on terror” and become convinced that our safety is truly its main concern.
The Rev. Michael McBride is director of the Urban Strategies and Live Free campaign, and Dr. Antonio Cediel is campaign manager of urban strategies, at PICO National Network, the largest grassroots, faith-based organizing network in the United States. The nonpartisan organization works with 1,000 religious congregations in more than 200 cities and towns through its 45 local and state federations.