Last weekend’s shootings in El Paso and in Dayton left us reeling again.
While the motive of the shooter in Dayton remains unclear, the suspect in the El Paso case seems to have been driven to kill by white supremacist ideology. Shortly before he entered the Walmart on the southern border, he posted a manifesto against the “Hispanic invasion of Texas” to the fringe social network 8chan.
We’ve seen this horror movie played out too many times before, including last Oct. 27, when an anti-Semitic murderer posted a hate creed online before heading into the Tree of Life synagogue.
We were heartened, though, when federal authorities announced on Sunday that they are treating the El Paso mass shooting as a case of domestic terrorism. By doing so, the government has taken an important step in tamping down on the white supremacist hate groups that essentially have formed an online cabal at least as dangerous to our society as foreign terrorist groups.
A 2017 report by the Government Accountability Office found that 73 percent of extremist murders since 9/11 came from far-right groups, with the remaining 27 percent from radical Islamic extremism.
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as acts committed by people who are linked to or inspired by “U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
The El Paso shooter, the Poway shooter and the Tree of Life shooter — who together have killed a total of 34 innocent people in the last ten months — were not lone wolves. They were each part of virtual communities that work to radicalize, incite, and celebrate the murderers of minorities.
Although no law has been enacted that specifically addresses domestic terrorism — a bill has been introduced in Congress, but not yet passed — by calling out and treating an act as domestic terrorism, the federal government may prosecute it as a hate crime if the state in which the violence occurred has no hate crime law.
In addition to the benefits to prosecution, we see much merit in being unambiguous in our words in naming these acts of domestic terrorism for what they are.
“Calling it domestic terrorism, while it doesn’t change the reality of the lives lost or the individuals injured, symbolically it is an important one,” Michael Masters, the director of the Secure Communities Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Being able to identify individuals as domestic terrorists and investigate them through that lens is important in recognizing a problem and seeking to address it.”
President Barack Obama took much criticism from political opponents for failing to use the term “Islamic terrorism” in relation to ISIL and al Qaeda while he was president. Following the 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando which left 49 people dead at the hands of a murderer who pledged allegiance to ISIL, Donald Trump, in an interview, said that failing to say “radical Islamic terror” was hindering efforts to fight terror.
“The first thing you need is a president that will mention the problem. And he won’t even mention what the problem is,” Trump said of Obama. “Unless you’re going to say that, you’re never going to solve it.”
We agree. pjc