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Columnist Sara Weinberger: Protect us from white supremacist terrorism

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Almost 16 years after 9/11, political leaders continue to call Islamic terrorism the greatest threat to our country.

While Donald Trump wants to ban refugees and build walls, he is silent about the dangers of white terrorism. The “alt-right,” led by Steve Bannon, has legitimized the white supremacy movement. Trump’s campaign against civility has reinforced overt expressions of racial and ethnic hatred, as well as misogyny and homophobia. Hate crimes continue to rise, and an army of trolls harasses those deemed the enemy.

Last month, Jeremy Joseph Christian fatally stabbed two men and seriously injured another when they attempted to stop him from harassing two young women, one of whom wore a hijab. Christian, a convicted felon, white supremacist and self-described “nihilist,” defended his actions as “patriotism.” It took three days for Trump to publicly refer to the murders as “unacceptable.”

In March 2014, the Southern Poverty Law Center published a report demonstrating the connections between registered users of a white supremacist website, Stormfront, and the murders of approximately 100 people during a five-year period. Users of websites like Stormfront tend to be loners: unemployed men, dependent on others for their financial support. These websites rationalize their failures by accusing Jews, blacks, immigrants, and other groups of conspiring to steal their jobs and seize power.

The validation and camaraderie on such websites feeds their hatred. For some, it’s a rationale for violence. Within four months of when Alabama Klan leader Stephen Donald Black launched Stormfront, one of its users, Buford O’Neal Furrow, shot and wounded three children, a teenage girl, and an elderly woman at a Jewish day care center in Los Angeles, before killing a Filipino-American postal worker.

Eight months later, Richard Scott Baumhammers, another Stormfront user, shot and killed his Jewish next-door neighbor. Afterward, he shot out the windows and painted two red swastikas on the victim’s synagogue, followed by a “shooting rampage” targeting minorities, and murdering five people.

Both men were unemployed and living with their parents at the time they committed the murders.

In 2002, 14-year-old Andrew Bishop, referred to as a “Stormfront youth,” murdered his brother because Andrew thought he was gay.

Stormfront, with more than 300,000 registered users in 2015, has been replaced in popularity by the Daily Stormer, created by neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin. In Anglin’s words, “You make a very simple message, make the same points over and over again … creating a media spectacle, which desensitizes people to these ideas.” One of the Daily Stormer’s users was Dylan Roof, who murdered nine African-Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015.

Anglin mobilizes users for trolling campaigns against those he identifies as enemies. Tanya Gersh is an “enemy” targeted by Anglin, who accused her of attempted extortion against the mother of Richard Spencer, a well-known white nationalist, to condemn her son’s beliefs. The “troll storm” unleashed by Anglin’s followers included intimidating emails (“We are going to keep track of you for the rest of your life”); threatening phone calls, one of which was the sounds of gunshots; emails to her colleagues; fake online stories about her; and threats to her family. She had to leave her real estate job, because of fears for her clients’ safety.

While such stories are horrifying, they are also seen as heinous acts committed by mentally ill “lone wolves.” Why are such acts not labeled as terrorism? Why don’t our leaders call attention to Stormfront or the Daily Stormer as breeding grounds for terrorists? According to the Southern Poverty Law Center , by late 2016, Anglin had organized 31 active chapters of a “troll army,” telling them that, “The race war is coming…” He also urged them to buy guns in the event that Hillary Clinton became president.

I read Anglin’s “A Normie’s Guide to the Alt-Right” on the Daily Stormer website which calls for “…mass deportations of all non-white immigrants … repatriation to Africa of the descendants of slaves … sending women back to the home to produce and raise children. ” He states, “The defining value of the movement …is that the Jews are fundamentally opposed to the White race and Western civilization and so must be confronted and ultimately removed from White societies completely.”

The First Amendment has been used to protect freedom of speech, even hate speech. What does it mean when such words fuel actions by extremists that terrify and traumatize their victims? Unfortunately, the targets of Anglin’s followers are the same groups that our president has demeaned and ridiculed.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is providing legal representation for Tanya Gersh in a lawsuit she filed against Anglin, claiming that that he invaded her privacy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress. If he loses the suit, Anglin might have to shut down his hotbed of hate, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed “the most popular radical right website in the world.”

Support the Southern Poverty Law Center. Demand that our leaders protect us from white supremacist terrorism.

Sara Weinberger, of Easthampton, is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column.