The Enemy Within

Once again the United States has suffered a terrorist attack. On November 2, a man in Des Moines, Iowa gunned down two police officers as they sat in their squad cars. The alleged perpetrator is in custody. So who is he?--a Muslim with sworn allegiance to ISIS?; a Syrian refugee?; an illegal Mexican immigrant? No, he is a White American, born and raised in the United States.

Considerable evidence suggests that Scott Michael Greene had embraced White supremacist ideology. Just a few weeks ago he had a run-in with police when he showed up at a high school football game displaying a Confederate flag to taunt African American spectators. According to neighbors, he placed a Trump sign on his lawn.

With all the hype over international terrorism and the anti-immigrant rhetoric that some candidates have spewed this election season, it is important to remember the persistent threat posed by right-wing extremists. Experts disagree as to whether Islamists or domestic hate groups have killed and injured more Americans since 9/11. Much depends on how one defines terrorism, but the totals are at the very least nearly equal.

Based on their numbers alone, however, domestic extremists pose the greater threat. There is only one ISIS but 892 active hate groups according to the Southern Poverty Law Institute. Many of these groups are very heavily armed. In addition to their own members, they have numerous fellow travelers. Lone wolves like Greene and Dylan Roof, the young man who murdered 9 African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina Church in June 2015 embraced their extremist ideology.

People may wonder why an avowed racist would murder white officers. White supremacists not only hate people of color, they oppose what they see as government overreach. Some are "sovereign citizens," individuals who claim they do not answer to government authority. Greene allegedly posted a video claiming that police had violated his civil rights by not allowing him to display the Confederate Flag at the football game. Whether this incident sparked his murderous rampage has yet to be determined.

Those wishing to downplay this threat from the far right insist that attacks like the ones in Iowa and South Carolina are isolated incidents perpetrated by disturbed individuals. The same critics will not, however, apply that argument to Omar Mateen, the equally disturbed perpetrator of the Orlando night club massacre. "Greene and Roof were just sick, but Mateen was a cold blooded ISIS killer," they maintain. When the perpetrator belongs to your own group, you explain his actions away. When he belongs to a group you don't like, you see him as typical of that group. We need to pay as much attention to the enemy within as we do to the threat from without.