For a long time, terrorism has been looming large in the shadows of America. Its threat peaked in the early 2000s when the United States suffered from the intensity of the 9/11 attacks carried out by Al Qaeda. These deadly terrorist attacks killed a total of 2,977 civilians and injured more than 6,000 after several airplanes were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and crashed in the Pentagon. As a consequence, these attacks served as an impetus that prompted governments around the world to take the threats of terrorism with extreme seriousness and caution. They particularly triggered major U.S. initiatives to fight back against terrorism.
Starting from the administration of George W. Bush, fighting back against terrorism became a major agenda of American law-making. However, despite countless military and legislative efforts, the United States seems to have failed in fully recognizing their worst enemies in this battle against terror. For years, American counterterrorism efforts have been focusing on a kind of terrorism that originated in the Middle East, all the while neglecting the terrorism that has been stirring within its borders. In short, the American War on Terror appears to possess a sense of bias.
Terrorisms Plaguing the United States
Two main kinds of terrorism have been plaguing the land of Uncle Sam – one is waged in the name of religion, while the other was born out of the perceived necessity to preserve a racial identity. These are called Islamist terrorism and white nationalist terrorism respectively.
Islamist terrorism consists of violent acts perpetrated by Islamists who adhere to the ultraconservative ideology of Wahhabism. Wahhabism is the strict form of Islam that emphasizes the principle of monotheism. It espouses the belief that all those who practice other religions or other forms of Islam (i.e., Shia) are enemies or infidels. For Wahhabi Muslims, it is a moral obligation to wage war (called jihad) against the infidels to purify the Islamic world from corruption. Many of them believe that this corruption is brought by the West. Particularly, they believe that the United States is the ultimate enemy. Because of this, many Wahhabi Muslims will do whatever is necessary to destroy the nation.
Islamist terrorist attacks in the U.S. include the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and the Lower Manhattan attack in 2017.
White nationalist terrorism is nearly the same as Islamist terrorism. However, unlike the latter, the former is not motivated by religion but by race. The main concern of white nationalist terrorism is the survival of the white race and its cultures. It believes that there is a deliberate attempt by the non-white people (i.e., the Blacks and the Jews) to organize white genocide by promoting miscegenation, multiculturalism, immigration, and abortion. For this reason, white nationalists believe that they must protect their land from racial infiltration. Many perpetrators of white nationalist terrorism also adhere to the racist ideology of white supremacy, which holds that white people are superior to the people of other races.
White nationalist terrorist attacks in the U.S. include the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting in 2009, the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting in 2012, the Charleston shooting in 2015, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018, and the El Paso shooting in 2019.
The Failure of American Counter terrorism
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has been keen on fighting back against terrorism. It has been spending much of its resources on anti-terrorist intelligence, military, and law enforcement. It is committed to suppressing global terrorism by conducting military operations against terrorist groups not just within its territory, but also abroad. In terms of legislation, the American Congress has also already provided powerful tools to prosecute and punish terrorists. Most of these tools are contained in Chapter 113B of U.S. Code Title 18, which defines and delineates acts of terrorism.
However, despite all its counter terrorism efforts for the past years, terrorist attacks continue to threaten the Americans today. Since 2010, for example, more than 50 terrorist attacks occurred in the U.S. territory alone. The problem, of course, does not lie in the lack of resources to combat terrorism; but rather, in the inability of the American government to be unbiased.
Since Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001, the United States has been largely focusing its attention on catching Islamist terrorists around the world. However, what the U.S. failed to recognize immediately is that much of the terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11 was not conducted by Islamist terrorists, but by white nationalists and other far-right extremists rather.
In the past decade, the far-right has been responsible for about 73% of terrorism-related fatalities in the country. Yet, the United States does not seem to be as concerned about white nationalist terrorism as it is about Islamist terrorism. In combating the latter, the American government built a globe-spanning surveillance and intelligence network capable of preventing possible attacks by Islamist terrorist groups. The Congress also gave federal agents vast authorities to shadow Islamists suspected of perpetrating terrorism. In combating white nationalist terrorism, however, no comparable system exists yet.
If the United States wants to be successful in fighting back against terrorism, it has to be fully aware of its worst enemies. It needs to anchor its efforts not just on a single terrorist category, but on all kinds of terrorism that disrupt its peace and order. Ultimately, Uncle Sam should stop handpicking the most politically convenient enemy to fight; otherwise, he will soon find himself devoured from within.