Home-grown terrorists remain a threat, author says
International turmoil, economic instability and post- 9/11 threats to domestic security have energized American groups that espouse anti-Semitic, xenophobic and racist violence, said an expert on domestic terrorism.
After terrorists destroyed two World Trade Center buildings and killed more than 3,000 people in New York City, Daniel Levitas told an audience in the Michigan League March 25, a Pittsburgh-based ultra-rightist told his Internet radio audience, "The rag heads are ahead of us, and although I wouldn't want them to marry our daughters, anyone flying a plane into a building to kill Jews is all right with me. I wish our men had half their testicular fortitude."
Levitas is a 1982 graduate of the School of Natural Resources and Environment and author of "The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right" (Dunne Books, 2002). He said "bloodthirsty endorsements" and crackpot theories that depict Jews as the offspring of Eve and the devil and dark-skinned people as having been molded by God out of mud, "won't attract many new recruits to such groups" and aren't intended to do so.
The organizations that disseminate hateful statements and sponsor scattered acts of murder and sabotage aim to stimulate isolated crimes by disturbed individuals known as "lone wolves" and to "harden the resolve of the movement's faithful," Levitas said.
The Ku Klux Klan, violent militias, and various neo-Nazi and white-supremacist bands have endured in the United States because they can survive on "some broader and deeper social base that feeds them," said Levitas, who directs the Georgia Rural/Urban Summit in Atlanta and is a researcher and activist in the movement to oppose hate groups of all stripes.
Levitas cited as evidence of the nation's social base for hate groups the voting patterns in two elections in the South. In Alabama, a majority of whites supported preserving "a 1904 ban on so-called race-mixing" in that state's constitution, he said. In Louisiana a similar majority supported former Klan leader and "Holocaust-denier" David Duke's bid for governor in 1991.
The news media reported that voters had defeated both ultra-right measures in landslides, Levitas said. But in fact, the voters who defeated the Alabama ban and elected Duke's opponent comprised a coalition of 98 percent of Blacks and other non-white voters, but only a 40 percent minority of whites. A majority of whites voted for Duke and for the discriminatory law, he noted.
"Maniacal, clerical, fascist Islamic movements are not the only threat to American democracy," Levitas said. "Blond, blue-eyed Aryansor so they fancy themselves—are equally committed to mass murder and to hatred of the government of the United States."
Levitas said hate groups are discussing openly how to manufacture the deadly biochemical toxin ricin as a weapon to "save" the country from a coercive central government and an influx of immigrants who will turn the citizenry into "brown glop." Yet, he continued, the FBI shows little interest in closely monitoring the mix of militant Christian fundamentalists, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who daily encourage such attacks to millions of listeners and readers.
The FBI is "counting all mosques and Muslims" in the country, Levitas said, "which leaves them inadequate time and energy" to monitor groups that "hate the government as much as foreign terrorists do" and declare an equal willingness to use violence against the government and citizens.
The sense that the country is suffering a moral, economic, social and political decline "is not limited to the ultra-right," Levitas said. Americans with other political views also contend that democracy and social stability are declining, and they share with the right the idea that an abuse of federal power is partly responsible for widespread malaise.
Some rightists, Levitas said, say they oppose the war in Iraq and want to join peace demonstrations because, in their view, Jews are causing the conflict. "The peace movement must repudiate racists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites," Levitas said. "They must reject coalitions with such reactionary groups."
If groups that believe in democracy accept anti-democratic allies out of expediency, he said, ultra-rightists may gain further legitimacy in the eyes of people who are vulnerable to or wish to exploit conspiracy theories that call for violent solutions to complex socioeconomic problems.
Sponsors for Levitas's lecture included the Residential College, the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, the Department of History and the Program in American Culture.