In 2015, the FBI issued a chilling intelligence bulletin. Far-right militia groups in the U.S. had new targets: Muslims. They were watching and plotting attacks against mosques. One group in Mississippi had discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim, then posting a video of the murder online. The increasing Islamophobia of these domestic extremists, the bulletin warned, could lead to “additional harassment of or violence against Muslims” in the years to come.
The FBI was right.
Earlier this month, 29-year-old Thomas McWhorter explained to the FBI why he and two fellow militia members bombed a Minnesota mosque last August. The attack, he said, according to an affidavit, was meant to send a message to Muslims: “Hey, you’re not welcome here, get the fuck out.”
Jury selection started this week in the trial of three other men, all members of a militia group called the Crusaders, charged in a foiled 2016 plot to detonate car bombs at a Kansas apartment complex occupied by Somali Muslim immigrants.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” one of the Crusaders allegedly said in a recorded conversation. “If you’re a Muslim, I’m going to enjoy shooting you in the head.”
YouTube removed a horrifying video earlier this month that showed members of the militia group called North Dakota Security Force III% firing guns at a miniature model of a mosque until it explodes.
And last month a Muslim mayoral candidate in Minnesota contacted police after finding a disturbing message posted to her Google+ profile. An account called “Militia Movement” had threatened to “EXECUTE all muslims in America.”
Not only was the 2015 FBI intelligence assessment correct, it also appeared to be eerily prescient. Members of the growing anti-government “Patriot” movement, as it’s often called, repeatedly harass, threaten and plot attacks against Muslims.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 689 active anti-government extremist groups in the U.S. in 2017. Of those groups, 273 are militias, heavily armed organizations that train their members in paramilitary techniques.
These groups’ shift toward anti-Muslim violence is especially concerning given wider trends of Islamophobia in America, where the vilest ideas about Islam are lent legitimacy by a White House staffed with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists and headed by a president who has said “Islam hates us.” Hate crimes targeting Muslims rose sharply in 2015 and 2016, according to the latest FBI statistics.
Which is all to say: Anti-Muslim violence by militias has the potential to get worse.
J.J. MacNab, a fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism and one of the country’s foremost experts on anti-government extremism, said she’s “surprised” there haven’t been more attacks against Muslims already. It’s been frustrating, she said, to see what relatively sparse media attention the anti-government extremist movement has received in recent years.
“I don’t think [the media] give anti-government extremism the same amount of attention as neo-Nazis,” MacNab said. “But it’s more dangerous — guns, plots, shootings, murders ― you name it. White supremacists are more about getting camera time.”
Radicalized Against Muslims
The anti-government extremist movement has existed for decades and has been connected to a slew of high-profile crimes, including bombings, occupations of federal land, armed standoffs with police and murders of law enforcement officers. Militia members generally believe that they must prepare for an armed revolt against a totalitarian and globalist federal government.
These militias saw a surge in membership after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 — a growth propelled by fears that the nation’s first black president was weak on immigration, anti-Second Amendment and a threat to land rights in the West.
The 2015 FBI bulletin stated that many militia members also felt that Obama “not only sympathizes with Islamic extremists but directs US Government policy to align with their goals.”
Many also subscribed to the racist conspiracy theory that Obama himself was a secret Muslim. John Martin Roos, a fanatical Donald Trump supporter, was arrested in 2016 for repeatedly threatening to kill Obama and federal agents. Roos was a member of a Three Percenter militia group in Oregon. Three Percenters are a loosely organized movement of anti-government extremists with chapters across the U.S. It takes its name from the false notion that only 3 percent of Colonists challenged the British in the Revolutionary War.
“Obama is nothing less than than a vile muslim trash,” Roos wrote in a Facebook post. A search of his home uncovered four pipe bombs, an AK-47-like firearm, a rifle and shotgun, a .45-caliber Glock, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. In another Facebook post, he wrote of wanting “to incite Patriots to wholesale cleanse our country of the muslim disease.”
“Good muslim = dead muslim,” he wrote in another.
The “general consensus” among militia groups these days, said MacNab, “is that the government isn’t doing anything about Islamic terror so they have to do it for them.”
The 2015 FBI intelligence bulletin concluded that militia groups’ fear and hatred of Muslims was fueled in part by “unfounded claims” and “conspiracy theories” that there were Muslim terrorist training camps in the U.S. (There were not.) The FBI pointed the finger at “self-appointed watchdogs of Islamic extremism,” including blogger Pamela Geller and some right-wing news media, including Fox News, for spreading these fake stories.
This kind of anti-Muslim propaganda led directly to at least one terrorism plot. In 2015, police arrested 63-year-old Robert Doggart, a Tennessee minister, for plotting a massacre in Islamberg — a New York hamlet that was often the focus of the terrorist training camp conspiracy theories. Doggart was convicted in 2017 of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation, solicitation to commit arson of a building and making a threat in interstate commerce.
Doggart had collaborated with a South Carolina militia group for the attack, which he planned to carry out with a “battle-tested” military-style assault rifle and multiple other weapons, including a machete. The people of Islamberg, Doggart said in a recorded phone call, “have to be killed .... If we can get in there and do that not losing a man, even the better.”
“We will be cruel to them,” he added. “And we will burn down their buildings ... And if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.”
Later that same year, a militia extremist named John Ritzheimer announced in a video that he was driving from Arizona to Islamberg to confront editors of a Muslim newspaper there. “Fuck you Muslims!” he said. “Fuck all of you! We’re going to stop at virtually every mosque on the way, take a picture flipping them off, telling them to get fucked!”
“We’re fucking ready for them!” he added, brandishing a gun on camera. “Bring it on you Muslim fucks!” The FBI eventually scared off Ritzheimer from visiting Islamberg.
Ritzheimer had been known to authorities previously for organizing an armed anti-Muslim protest outside a mosque in Phoenix, one of many such militia-led protests that have struck fear in Muslim communities.
In 2017, when the anti-Muslim hate group Act for America held nationwide “March Against Sharia” rallies, armed militia members turned up in multiple cities.
In 2016, armed militia members stood outside a Georgia courthouse to protest plans for a new mosque. A Kansas mosque canceled a fundraising event and sent kids home early from Islamic school after learning that an armed militia group was planning a protest outside.
And in 2015, a group called the Bureau of American Islamic Relations (BAIR) — a play on the name of the prominent Muslim civil rights group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) — organized an armed protest outside a mosque in Texas.
A disturbing AJ+ video at the time showed BAIR conducting paramilitary training in the Texas countryside. “A lot of us here are either using pig’s blood or bacon grease on our bullets … so when you shoot a Muslim, they go straight to hell,” BAIR’s founder, David Wright, said on camera. “That’s what they believe in their religion.” (That’s not what Muslims believe.)
A Double Standard?
Alia Salem, former executive director of CAIR’s Dallas chapter, thinks there’s a double standard in how right-wing extremist militia groups get covered by the media.
She pointed to government studies showing that right-wing terrorists kill more people than Muslim terrorists in the U.S. And yet right-wing attacks or plots barely register a “blip on the radar” when they occur, Salem said. “They bomb a mosque and the coverage is over in a day.” But when a terrorist is Muslim, there’s wall-to-wall coverage, she said.
A Georgia State University study published last year found that from 2011 to 2015, a terrorist attack received 449 percent more media coverage if the perpetrator were Muslim. However, Muslims were responsible for just 12.5 percent of terrorist attacks during that time.
“Given the disproportionate quantity of news coverage for these attacks, it is no wonder that people are afraid of the Muslim terrorist,” the study said. “More representative media coverage could help to bring public perception of terrorism in line with reality.”
Salem knows what it means to be terrorized by right-wing militias. In early 2016, militia members protested outside the CAIR-Dallas office carrying AR-15s, she said.
Around the same time, CAIR-Dallas’ outreach coordinator, Omair Siddiqi, was nearly driven off the road by a man in a pickup with a Three Percenter militia bumper sticker. “Take your rag ass back to your country!” the driver screamed at Siddiqi, who is American. “I’m gonna fucking kill you.”
And on the Friday after Trump was elected president, armed Three Percenter militia members wearing masks circled CAIR’s office “five or six times,” on motorcycles and pickup trucks, revving their engines, Salem said.
“It was really scary,” Salem said, to have “people with military-grade weaponry circling our building.”
CAIR decided to move offices afterward, Alem added, and one staff member suffered a nervous breakdown.
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