Over the Holiday, a Far Right Radical Terrorized America
In the United States, domestic extremists on the extreme right remain the most active threat
As many Americans were wrapping up their Black Friday shopping over Thanksgiving weekend, a terror attack was underway in Colorado Springs. Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. brought a rifle and a propane tank to a Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people.
The three dead were police officer Garrett Swasey, Iraq War veteran Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart and military spouse Jennifer Markovsky. Five officers and four civilians were wounded.
Dear apparently told police “no more baby parts” after he surrendered. Though most pro-life organizations and political candidates condemned Dear’s killing spree, many people on Twitter openly hailed him as a hero even as the siege was still ongoing.
Lone wolfs are often dismissed as cranks and loons rather than as actual terrorists, but this is mistaken. Organized or not, terrorists deliberately attack civilian targets — which are often highly symbolic — for political ends, and their actions can serve as inspiration for other attackers that share their ideology.
Dear’s killings, by his own definition, are acts of terrorism.
Though Islamic State attacks in Paris, Lebanon and Baghdad demonstrate that radical Islamism remains a serious threat, last week was packed with reminders that extremism comes in many shapes and sizes.
Here’s something else worth remembering. Since the Paris attacks, many politicians and commentators have charged that refugees and immigrants are extremists in disguise — though no one admitted into the United States as a refugee has ever committed a terrorist attack on American soil.
Congress is pushing through a bill to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees on grounds that some could be terrorists. But foreigners weren’t the ones terrorizing Americans this Thanksgiving. It was a homegrown radical.
Since 9/11, there have been more terrorist acts carried out in the United States by far right anti-government and racist activists than by Islamists. They come in different forms. Many, like Dear, have been ideologically radical loners who planned their attacks independently.
In other cases, far right militants have attempted to intimidate political activists or places of worship. These men commonly wear fatigues, carry weapons and gather around events and places frequented by those they regard as their enemies. In some cases, they’ve engaged in violence.
During a series of Black Lives Matter protests in Minneapolis last week, masked men dressed in fatigues and allegedly armed began popping up at the rallies. At first, organizers were able to ask them to leave without serious incident.
But on Nov. 23, four men — wearing Kevlar vests according to some protesters — returned and allegedly taunted protesters and used racial slurs. When an altercation broke out, 23-year-old Allen Scarsella opened fire on protesters, wounding five but causing no deaths.
Police later arrested Scarsella and charged him with five counts of second-degree assault. All four men were charged with one count each of second-degree riot.
A trail of e-mails, video and social media posts connected to the group provide insights into their motives. Members of the group flaunted their ties to neo-Confederates and far right politics, forums and message boards.
One of the men, 21-year-old Nathan Gustavsson, texted Scarsella. “I know how to make big news or get them to disperse,” Gustavsson wrote, according to the criminal complaint. Scarsella had racist images on his phone, and police described his politics as “sovereign citizen and pro-Constitution.”
An unsettling video of two masked men in fatigues on their way to a Black Lives Matter rally depicts them ranting about “dindus” (an increasingly common slur popularized on the 4Chan message board) and brandishing a .45-caliber 1911 handgun. Scarsella was one of the men in the video.
The other man, identifying himself as “SaigaMarine,” was released without charge after police determined he wasn’t present at the shooting.
Another incident played out a few days earlier in Irving, Texas. A group of armed men set up a vigil outside of a mosque to protest “The Islamification of America.” The group told reporters they wanted to block Syrian refugees from entering the United States, and to send a message to American Muslims.
“[The guns are] mostly for self-defense or protection,” rally organizer David Wright told The Dallas Morning News. “But I’m not going to lie. We do want to show force … It would be ridiculous to protest Islam without defending ourselves.”
They should look at themselves in the mirror. Had armed Islamists appeared outside a mosque, church or synagogue in the United States … what would have been the reaction?