The Enemy from Within: Why We Cannot Focus Solely on Islamic Terrorism

Imagine a group of individuals armed to the teeth and trained in militant camps who believe that the American government is a symbol of greed. They are willing to lay down their lives to kill members of this government and anyone else who gets in their way. In the minds of many Americans, groups like this exist halfway across the world in war-torn countries like Afghanistan or Iraq. They practice Islamic extremism and lead disparate lives than the Americans they want to kill. The reality of the situation is that, along with networks like al-Qaeda, there are groups just like the one described above here in America.

Time magazine has a piece this week that delves into the world of these extreme groups titled, "The Secret World of Extreme Militias." The reality of the situation, however, is that these militias are not much of a secret; they're just in the midst of a resurgence following publicized events like the Waco siege, the Ruby Ridge incident, and the Oklahoma City Bombing.

The militias of today preach something akin to a governmental end of days, when they will actively engage in armed combat with troops in America -- whether from the U.N., the United States, or some other third party. They are ready and feel that this apocalypse is on the verge of commencement. Take this quote from the Time article:

Kevin Terrell, a self-described colonel who founded a group of "freedom fighters" in Kentucky and predicts war with "the jackbooted thugs" of Washington within a year, says he has to fend off hotheads who call him a "keyboard commando."

You know that the situation is serious when the man predicting overt war with the United States government within a year is portrayed as the voice of reason.

But while some may think that Kevin Terrell and his compatriots are all talk, there have been numerous examples of this type of far right extremism that have either led to violence or were narrowly prevented from leading to violence.

There is James Cummings, a neo-Nazi residing in the small town of Belfast, Maine. Cummings was shot by his wife Amber on December 9, 2008, and what investigators found in the Cummings' home was disturbing, to say the least. Cummings, who adored Adolf Hitler and was applying to become a member of the National Socialist Movement, was stockpiling materials to create a dirty bomb. According to his wife, Cummings planned on using the dirty bomb to kill President Obama and had even practiced crossing through checkpoints with dangerous material in his motor home. For comparison, Cummings was, according to Time, "far ahead of Jose Padilla," the American citizen initially charged with planning to detonate a dirty bomb and declared an enemy combatant by the Bush administration before finally being convicted of supporting terrorism.

Six months later a man named James Von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Museum and killed security guard Stephen Johns. Brunn, a white supremacist who had taken members of the Federal Reserve Board hostage in the 1980s, calling it a citizen's arrest for treason, was actually targeting David Axelrod, President Obama's top advisor. Von Brunn died before being brought to trial.

Nine months after Johns' murder, a group of self-described "Christian warriors" called the Hutaree were arrested across the midwest on numerous charges, not the least of which included planning to kill a police officer and attacking the funeral procession with land mines and roadside IEDs. Hutaree members partook in the kinds of paramilitary training sessions described in the Time magazine article and believed that they were preparing for the arrival of the Antichrist. They are scheduled to go to trial in February, 2011.

So why does this matter? Because it seems that what the media and government want to focus on is Islamic terrorism when we face threats from both foreign and domestic groups. We need to remember that Islamic extremist groups do not have a monopoly on terrorism, and not for some political correctness dictat, either. Terrorism is terrorism -- whether committed by whites, blacks, Latinos, Christians, Jews, Muslims -- and needs to be addressed.

What really struck me in the Time article was the unwillingness of federal law enforcement to speak about right wing extremist terrorism, despite the very real examples of it the past couple of years. In fact, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano has forbade public discussion of the subject following a DHS report entitled "Rightwing Extremism." According to Time, the report contained passages that could have been misconstrued to suggest a threat from normal anti-government opinions or military veterans in general.

In this post-9/11 world, when our focus tends to be on airlines (the threat level for the entire country is yellow, or elevated, yet for flights it is orange, or high) and Islamic extremism, we need to remember that no group has monopolized the threat of terrorism against this country. We need to be prepared not only for a foreign-based act, but also one that could just as easily be conceived by Americans on her own soil.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post stated that the Hutaree were arrested for killing a police officer. This has been changed to reflect that they were arrested for planning to kill a police officer.