In late 2009, the Obama administration released a report that shined a light on a growing threat in our country: radicalized extremist conservative violence.
The report, released by Janet Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security, said economic circumstances (such as unemployment, foreclosures and credit crunches) as well as societal factors (like an African-American president leading the nation or growing acceptance of marriage equality) “could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.”
It added, “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”
At the time, conservatives blasted the report as unnecessarily targeting them. And even though Napolitano clearly stated the DHS wasn't going after any particular group, they still lambasted her as performing a “hit job on conservatives.”
Six years later, it seems the fears of the report are somewhat true.
Extremist conservatism was — and is — a real threat.
On June 17, a single white male, apparently feeling disaffected because he believed African-Americans were “taking over the country,” shot and killed nine parishioners during a meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.
It was a tragic event that has resulted in symbols of hatred being removed all across the country. But, it wasn’t the sole case — not by a long shot.
Terrorism — and this was undoubtedly a terrorist attack meant to instill fear within others in the black community — has been more prominent in America than people like to think.
The source of most terrorism in our country isn’t from jihadists, but rather, from white supremacists and conservative extremists.
A recent report on terrorism in the United States details just how horrible it has gotten:
"Almost twice as many people have died in attacks by right-wing groups in America than have died in attacks by Muslim extremists. Of the 26 attacks since 9/11 that the New America Foundation defined as terror, 19 were carried out by non-Muslims."
Whether it’s the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin or the shooting spree carried out by a married couple in Las Vegas, most acts of terror are sadly being committed by homegrown citizens whose politics are decidedly extreme right-wing.
Conservatives aren't terrorists, violent extremists are.
There shouldn’t be any confusion here: Conservatives aren’t terrorists.
Those who have strong beliefs in free-market principles and aversions to societal change aren’t people we need to fear.
We shouldn't put a blanket statement on anyone. Just as most Muslims aren't terrorists (a fact that some people on the right can't seem to understand, ironic as it is given this report’s findings), most conservatives are peaceful, non-violent people.
Rather, it’s those who have an extreme belief in superiority and dangerous attitudes about sovereignty with whom we need to concern ourselves.
It’s when ranchers in the West make armed attempts to defy federal law, or when a man flies a plane into the IRS building to make a point, that we have to question whether extremism of this nature should be tolerated any longer.
What can (and should) be done:
What we should focus on more than anything else is limiting the possibilities of extremists on the right (or left for that matter) getting their hands on deadly weaponry.
Dylann Roof was facing criminal charges, yet he was still able to obtain a gun. That's unacceptable to many.
We should also focus on changing societal standards of decency, not necessarily through compulsion, but through recognition of problematic symbols of hatred in our country.
The removal of the Confederate flag is a good first step; taking it down from state buildings eliminates the endorsement of government offices of a symbol many associate with fear and white supremacy.
But, removing a flag won't end racism. We need to go deeper than that. We need to remind ourselves it does exist, and we need to work to eradicate it where we can.
Recognizing the violent trends of far-right extremists is another important step to take.
We needn't remove the rights of people to hold extreme views, but we shouldn't damn a report on the likelihood such individuals may act on them, either (as so many did in 2009 with Napolitano).
One thing is for certain: If we do nothing, if we react to the events of Charleston, SC with indifference and a belief that “nothing could have been done” to stop this, then we are formally accepting terrorism as a way of life in this country.
We can, and should, do better than that.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.