Christian Terrorists?

Now there’s an oxymoron!  How is it that a Christian (or any religious person) can justify using violence as a means to create a better world?  The “Christian Identity” movement reached a crescendo in the 1990s, but splinter groups still exist across the West.  These groups adhere to beliefs that Jesus would abhor (one is that Jews are the offspring of the devil).  The novel A More Perfect Union speculates on what might happen if a group of Christian Identity fanatics used mass violence in order to establish a white nationalist political refuge in the Northwest of the United States.  This is a story of revolution, set in 1999 in rural Wyoming, before the 9/11 attacks focused American counter terrorism efforts on Islamist terrorism coming from the Middle East.

How can ordinary Americans get roped into joining groups harboring such hateful ideas?  Slowly, it seems, they are drawn into what has been described as a funnel moving through space.  The leading edge collects non-violent right-wing believers and sucks them down into the narrow end.  That is where strong beliefs are turned into violence.  Once a person is in the narrow end, his or her reality changes.  Truth is buried by a narrative of victimization, repeated over and over, by disaffected citizens who blame all their troubles on minorities and the “tyrannical government”.  Group behavior, shaped by evil leadership, brings out the worst in everyone.  Members stop thinking for themselves.  There is no easy way out of the funnel.

The fact is that American counter terrorism efforts against domestic groups have never been carried out with the relentless focus applied to Islamist terrorists.  Frontier culture, unlimited gun ownership, low population density, conspiracy theories, and a longstanding distrust of federal authority are just some of the conditions that have led to violence against ordinary citizens.  Since the 9/11 attacks, more Americans have been killed by American extremists than by Al Qaeda and ISIS combined .  Until the 2019 mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton – motivated by white nationalist rhetoric – domestic terrorism went largely unrecognized.  Congress too has failed to distinguish between apolitical mass murder and terrorist acts for political ends.  Indeed, the United States does not yet have laws defining domestic terrorism and prescribing punishment.

The threat of domestic terrorism has risen enormously in recent years with the pervasiveness of internet chat rooms like “8chan”.  This website has become a convenient forum for violent white supremacists.  Social media has allowed hate speech to go viral in more popular fora.  Even after media reports and investigative organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have exposed the proliferation of online hate speech, these dark corners of the internet continue to provide space for twisted ideologies to thrive.  The glorification of mass shootings – and even announcements of planned violence – are tolerated as “free speech”.  America’s enemies no longer need to attack us with conventional weapons; all they need are computers manned by foreign agents “trolling” Americans (who do the rest).  Russia and other governments will continue disrupting the American conversation until we have the laws, law enforcement capacity, and political will to deal with this threat.

The novel The Turner Diaries fantasized about a race war in the United States long before Middle East terrorism came to our shores (Timothy McVeigh took a copy to Oklahoma City).  Now the novel A More Perfect Union shows us how catastrophic terrorism in the name of white supremacy and anti-government extremism could bring about a wider war against all Americans, regardless of race.

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