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Calling white supremacists ‘terrorists’ will actually hurt marginalized communities

By Seth Tamarkin

After the Capitol Riots, there’s been renewed calls for the United States to treat white supremacists as ‘domestic terrorists.’ President Biden has just said it aloud too

However, calling white supremacists terrorists does little but give the Government free reign to terrorize marginalized communities.

This discourse happened in 2015 as well. Back then, activists demanded that prosecutors labeled white supremacist mass shooter Dylan Storm Roof as a terrorist.  

As noble as that cause sounds, “terrorism is inherently a political crime,” writes counterterrorism expert Faiza Patel. So, whichever political party is in charge could decide which political groups are committing terrorism.  

Someone like J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, could manipulate a domestic war on terror to include “terrorists” like “civil rights groups and anti-war protestors,” Patel adds.  

During Hoover’s time as head of the FBI, something similar happened. Instead of the word ‘terrorism,’ the flavor of the month was ‘communism.’ Hoover had the FBI surveil anyone he didn’t like. All he had to do was label them ‘communists.’ This led to surveillance on “communist” civil rights activists like Martin Luther King

Surely, this time the notoriously good FBI would only surveil white supremacists. 

Describing white supremacism as terrorism also muddies the water for solving the threat itself. If you want to understand a threat, thus knowing how to dismantle it, the term ‘terrorist’ won’t help. 

For one, no one can agree what exactly constitutes terrorism. Practically, terrorism is nothing more than “what the bad guys do,” as Brian Jenkins, a leading scholar of terrorism, observed in 1981.  

But who decides who the “bad guys” are? 

Once America began the “War on Terror”, the bad guys became terrorists. Meanwhile, the word ‘terrorist’ became “stretched and adapted to mean anything Washington wanted,” writes CBC’s Neil Macdonald

The Bush administration understood how useless the term ‘terrorism’ is in accurately describing a threat. More so, they knew how useful it is in scaring people. 

By calling the 9/11 threat “Islamic terrorism,” Bush distorted bin Laden’s reasoning for committing 9/11 and swelled nationalist pride. Bush said bin Laden was angry at America’s freedoms. However, bin Laden’s anger actually came from the American Empire’s meddling in the Middle East

After frightening everyone with a vague boogeyman, Bush convinced them to give the CIA and FBI brand-new powers to stop this brand-new threat. 

These new powers included policing, surveilling, and entrapping people within the United States. Outside the U.S., tactics included “detention without trial, torture, denial of due process, disappearances, and assassination

What started out as surveillance on “bad guys” became surveilling every American. Following in Hoover’s paranoid footsteps, anyone could be a potential “terrorist.”  

Now, many liberals aware of the war on terror’s failures are actively asking for a domestic version. 

Their argument comes from a good place in theory. They recognize the war on terror’s horrific outcomes towards innocent Arabs and Muslims. They want to direct the war on terror away from innocent Arabs and Muslims and towards white supremacists.  

However, that framing compares the two groups as if they were equal. “When politicians and the media call on us to take white violence as seriously as violence perpetrated by Muslims, they actually reinforce the trope of Muslims as terrorists, injecting Muslims into a discussion that should have nothing to do with them,” ASFC writes. 

Instead of demanding the government stop spying on innocent Americans, they act like the issue is the Government spying on the wrong people.  

Bree Newsome Bass, a renowned Black Lives Matter activist, almost understood the issue, but missed the punt at the last second.  

“White supremacy is THE terrorism threat in the US,”  she tweeted after the Capitol Riots. “Trying to pretend that we have a general problem with some kind of vague “political extremism” is just a false pretense used to justify the continued surveillance of leftists & black activists,” 

The security state is already ignoring right-wing violence to surveil leftists and black activists. Fighting a domestic war on terror against white supremacists won’t change that.  

Instead, the calls for a domestic war on terror will “legitimize surveillance of Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and activists,” ASFC writes. 

In addition, they add “fuel to the calls for expanded policing” that will target “communities of color, not white supremacists.”  

Still, the domestic war drums are beating, and journalists are doing much of the heavy lifting. “The solutions to resolve these issues cannot be reactive, but rather proactive in countering extremism,” writes Jeremy Backstrom for the Philadelphia Inquirer.   

In a proactive justice system, the government will treat everyone like a potential target. Hence, the Patriot Act’s surveillance.  

Targeting someone for a supposed intent instead of their actual actions opens a Pandora’s box to accuse anyone of having the wrong intent. Shouldn’t giving the FBI and CIA that power be an obvious non-starter? Considering Democrats support both institutions more than ever, maybe that’s not a good question to ask.  

Foreign Policy’s Joel Rubin goes farther, saying the government should “take with them the mindset that U.S. officials have been using for years to disrupt state sponsors of terrorism and their clients. Such an approach has worked on foreign threats. Now it’s time to apply these lessons learned to domestic ones.”  

Look at the results of our 20-year crusade to “disrupt state sponsors of terrorism” that apparently worked. America’s global image crumbled to historic lows, thousands of American died, and, crucially, Afghanistan is still controlled by Islamic terrorists.  

Like how Bush used the term “terrorist” to deceive people into giving up their freedoms, similar actions are underway today. 

After the Capitol Riots, an FBI bulletin said all 50 states were in danger of a “huge uprising” from armed, right-wing rioters on Biden’s inauguration. Increasing the fear, the bulletin also “unequivocally” asserted that Capitol rioters murdered a police officer. 

In response, activists across social media and otherwise, urged black people to stay home that day because white supremacists were coming to get them. Suddenly, the group of pathetic uncles desperate to overturn an election became domestic terrorists bent on murdering black people. 

If true, maybe the security state does need to protect us from such a violent, unhinged force.  

One minor problem though, the FBI completely lied about the rioters murdering a police officer. 

Why would the FBI lie about the rioters’ murderous tendencies? When you realize there weren’t any armed uprisings during inauguration day either, it sure seems like the FBI is fearmongering.  

The damage may have already been done though. 

President Biden is considering teaming up with private firms to watch Americans’ conversations online. His administration’s also discussing a new domestic terrorism bill.

Meanwhile, journalists are currently doing the security state’s job for them.  And our local police departments are becoming increasingly militarized.

Leftists need to think rationally about calling white supremacists ‘terrorists’, unless they want a domestic War on Terror.

Seth Tamarkin

Assistant Editor

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