Category Archives: Political Violence

Unite the Right with Hate


A transformational event for the far-right occurred on August 11 and August 12 2017 in the US.  This was during the presidency of Donald J. Trump and  It happened in a  college town called Charlottesville Virginia. As Professor Jacob Ware described this event to his listeners at Arizona State University, this was “where a group of outspoken, explicit, proud, white supremacists, and Neo-Nazis, and anti-government extremists gathered in what they called a ‘Unite the Right Rally.’

Before the event, one of the main organizers, Jason Kessler, had been publicizing the event for months by his protests against the proposed removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This helped to fire up white supremacists and other right-wing extremists around the country. Even right-wing Canadians wanted to attend this event.

The trigger for the event was a threat to dismantle a Confederate statute in that community. A young woman, Heather Heyer, was killed during a domestic terrorist attack led by white supremacists. The attack was led by James Alex Fields Jr. who deliberately drove his car into a crowd of people who were peacefully protesting the right-wing rally that was being held in Charlottesville. Only one person, Heather Heyer, was killed but 35 others were injured. As Wikipedia reported,

“Fields 20, had previously espoused neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs, and drove from Ohio to attend the rally. Fields’ attack was called an act of domestic terrorism by the mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia’s public safety secretary, the U.S. attorney general, and the director of the FBI.”


Some witnesses reported that Fields’ vehicle sent protesters “flying through the air.” After the initial impact, Fields changed the car into reverse to target more people. He backed up at high speeds for several blocks with protesters chasing him.

Fields was subsequently convicted in a state court of the first-degree murder of Heyer, as well as 8 counts of malicious wounding and hit and run. He also pled guilty to 29  hate crime charges  presumably in order to avoid the death penalty. In typical America hyperbolic legal “justice,” Fields was sentenced to life in prison as well as 419 years for the state charges, with an additional life sentence for the federal charges.

As egregious an event as it was, it soon became an international sensation when President Trump entered the aftermath with his infamous tweets and statements. At first president Trump wavered about whether or not he should condemn the terrorists. Trump just could not bring himself to condemn outright the terrorism since the right-wing attackers did not look like terrorists to him. They looked like supporters, which many of them, of course were. How could be publicly criticize his base? That is not like him.

The marchers had been chanting repeatedly, “You will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.” as they carried their patio torches. This of course is a direct allusion to the common white supremacist trope that members of the American left are trying to replace whites with more compliant people from other races.  It was also clearly antisemitic. The closest he could come to criticism of his adoring fans was to say “I think there’s blame on both sides. You also had people, on both sides, who were very fine people.”  What was so fine about whites who mowed down protesters while chanting those racist memes? Recall, he did exactly the same thing on January 6, 2021when his staff insisted he tell the rioters to leave he did ask them to leave but first told them he loved them.

Trump has demonstrated a pattern of praising violent people who support his causes. He is always willing to do his best to unite the right with hate.

The reason this was such a pivotal event in the history of the rise of right-wing violent extremism is that those extremists realized they had a powerful friend and ally in very high places. In fact, they had an ally in the highest place in the land and this filled them with exuberance and confidence.


The Return of the Right and racism rekindled


After the Oklahoma bombing the FBI started to realize the significance of the militia movement and clamped down on the more extreme of them. For a while it seemed to the terrorist analysts that the domestic problem was not so serious. In my view, this is partly because to so much of law enforcement the right-wing looks like home to them. And terrorists never look like your friends and neighbours, until they do. As Professor Hoffman said during his Arizona State University talk that Chris and I listened to,


“the last thing I ever imagined in my career was returning to this particular threat. Then in 2020 with the rise of the pandemic, I was amazed at how quickly, literally within days of the lockdown in March, anti-Sematic, anti-immigrant, anti-Asian and anti-Asian-American and also racist tropes began to surface attempting to target these groups to blame for Covid.”


The election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States unleashed an ugly and powerful streak of backlash. The FBI suppression of the far-right movement after the Oklahoma bombing led to the movement lying dormant in the US for 8 or 10 years. It was dormant, but it was not dead. It was revived by the election of Barack Obama. Racial fear by whites of being replaced by blacks is part of the bedrock of the modern right-wing and white supremacist movement.

As Professor Jacob Ware said at that same ASU talk, the election of a black president “also led to a huge surge in hate crimes.” White supremacy and anti-government extremism also exploded after that election.

During his first election the volume of threats against Obama led to the greatest secret service protection so early in an election in the history of the country. There was a tidal wave of hate against him and his family. As Ware said. “this was a harbinger of things to come.

During his terms in office Obama faced two major terrorist attacks. The first was in Norway in 2011in Oslo and Utoeva island by a massacre by Anders Breivik. 77 people were killed the large majority of whom were children. It was a summer camp of the youth wing of the Norwegian labor party. He published a long Manifesto in which he called his victims cultural Marxists, a term since adopted widely in the American right. He said that by attacking the next generation of the left he would be cutting off the head of the snake of multi-culturalism. He saw what he thought was a movement to replace ethnic Norwegians, resembling of course, similar fears of replacement of white nationalists in other parts of the world such as New Zealand, America, and many other places.

In 2015 the Obama administration faced another attack by the right, this time in Charleston North Carolina. There a young white supremacist, Dylan Roof, who killed 9 people during a Bible Study in a black church.

According to Ware these were both highly significant events because “they both provided tactical and ideological inspiration.”

The Historical picture of Domestic Terrorism in the United States


Hoffman and Ware argue in their book, Gods, Guns, and about how  and spoke to us at ASU about how violent extremism in the United States has been a story of a historical trajectory that they believe is well described by the title of the book. According to the two of them this variant of extremism which has existed in the US since at least the period of reconstruction by groups like the Ku Klux Klan, was suppressed in part by the creation of the Department of Justice at another time of insecurity in the country for the purpose of suppressing that violent extremism. The Klan was revived again in the 19 teens as well as 1920s and one more time in the 1960s.

The 1970s violence was mimicked in the current era. Particularly xenophobia, and  distrust and dislike of immigrants, the gradual unsuccessful ending of a quarter of a century war in South East Asia contributed to a malaise that upset many Americans, especially those who felt America was losing its greatness. At the same time in the 1980s members of various religious groups helped give some justification for the white sheet part of the Klan and the Brownshirts of the neo-Nazis from Biblical scripture. The religious right became an enthusiastic supporter of the political right. This mixture of right-wing politics and conservative religion became acutely toxic.

White Supremacist churches became active in support of the American right, particularly the church of Jesus Christ Christian attempted to unite a group that was actually very diverse. It included anti-government extremists, tax resisters, gun advocates, racists, anti-Semites, xenophobes, and militant anti-abortionists needed uniting, they thought. Many of the leaders of the political movement were also Pastors or Reverends who also led churches or organizations of churches.

The guns part of the movement became prominent in the 1990s. Terrorist groups according to Hoffman, always are looking for ways to broaden their appeal. They started to advance the cause for gun rights coupled with salient religious rights as well. During the Clinton administration gun enthusiasts became convinced that the federal government would try to expropriate their guns while the religious right accepted that, but was also deeply concerned about the perceived immorality on the left. This was exemplified by the what they thought was the absolute corruption and immorality of the Clintons.

It was this fear of losing guns and freedoms to an aggrieved federal government that inspired Timothy McVeigh to launch an attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. 169 persons, many of them children, died in that attack and it is still the most lethal internal terrorist attack in the history United States. I remember when that attack occurred and how most people, including at first me,  assumed it had been caused by Jihadist terrorists.  That was where the fear of terror was born. No one thought at the time that home grown terrorists were a serious problem. That bombing changed that point of view.

Hoffman said when he first started his career as an analyst of terrorism 43 year ago, he was concerned about right-wing terror but that dissipated after 9/11 when American learned to fear Islamic extremism first with Al Qaeda and later ISIS.

Domestic Terrorism in America


When we visit Arizona each winter, we always connect with Arizona State University (‘ASU’) because they have so many programs to which they invite the public—like us. Not just scholars, but ordinary people like us. We have found many of them fascinating. This year the first one we watched we watched online as it was not offered live. It was called God, Guns, and Sedition. The title caught my eye.

Shocking acts of terrorism across the country have erupted from violent American far-right extremists in recent years, including, among many incidents, the 2015 mass murder at a historic Black church in Charleston and the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Sadly, however these incidents, however, are neither new nor unprecedented, but are common. Frankly, they happen all the time.

One of these events, a mass shooting, happened about an hour by car from where we are staying here in Arizona. On January 8, 2011, Gabrielle Dee Giffords  who at the time was serving as a member of the United States House of Representatives. She was a member of the Democratic Party representing the 8th congressional district. She was shot in the head outside a Safeway Grocery store in suburban area outside of Tucson, by a man who ran up to a crowd of people participating in a political event and fired his 99mm pistol with a 33-round magazine.  His bullets hit 19 people killing 6 of them.

The speakers at the ASU event were Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware who are leading experts on domestic terrorism in the US.  In their book God, Guns, and Sedition In that book they provide a brief synoptic history highlighting developments including the use of cutting-edge communications technology; the embrace of leaderless resistance or lone actor strategies; the emergence of characteristic tactics and targets; infiltration and recruitment in the military and law enforcement; and the far right’s intricate relationship with mainstream politics. The history of domestic terrorism is what interested me the most.

This is what these two extremely knowledgeable intellectuals talked about in the ASU program.  Bruce Hoffman professor emeritus of terrorism  at St Andrews University and has written  a number of books on terrorism. Jacob Ware is a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. The moderator was Peter Bergen another expert in the field and a professor at ASU. In addition to being a professor at ASU he is also the Co-Director of the Future Security Initiative, at ASU. The first question they answered was, ‘Why is a book on far-right terrorism at this time?”

Professor Bruce Hoffman, made it clear there also  many other terrorist threats facing America today. He insists it was not a partisan choice that they focused on the far-right out of all those choices.  Although there are left-wing terrorists in the US as well, they are greatly outnumbered by those on the far-right. He also acknowledged that one of the most significant terrorist events from recent years occurred in June of 2017 by someone on the far left who claimed to be a supporter of Bernie Sanders a well-known left wing politician and Senator in the United States. This was the event where he attacked several members of Congress who were practicing for an annual Congressional baseball tournament. He seriously wounded 5 members of Congress.

According to Hoffman it is just “that the numbers on the far right completely eclipse the threats from the far left as well as other actors. Cynthia Miller-Idriss Professor, School of Public Affairs and School of Education Department of Justice, Law and Criminology and a recognized expert on violent extremism in the United States “put the number of armed far-right extremists at an estimated 75,000 persons. Needless to say, that is a lot of violent extremists.

A few years ago, the New York Times put the number of armed members of militia movements at 20,000.  Many of the violent extremists come from that pool. Added to that if you read the FBI reports it is easy to see where the overwhelming majority of threats come from—i.e. the far-right not the far left or any other group including Jihadis, Antifa, eco-terrorists, indigenous groups, or any others. The far-right is the main reservoir for terrorism in America. Unfortunately, many on the less extreme right-wing in America are blind to this uncomfortable fact.

Hoffman reported,

“In 2019 for example the FBI had 850 active domestic terror investigations. That number doubled in 2020. It tripled in 2022…that includes 3 big buckets: racially motivated violent extremists, home grown violent extremists of both the left and the right, and others such as INCEL, eco-terrorists, animal rights people, militant anti-abortion. But even within those figures the overwhelming majority of the current over 2,000 investigations, are the violent far-right extremists.”


There is no domestic terrorism statute in the US just like there is none in Canada. As a result, scholars like Hoffman and Ware have to rely on non-governmental organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (‘ADL’) and Southern Poverty Law Center for figures. Although the numbers are not yet available for 2023 , according to the ADF, all 25 of the extremist related murders in about a dozen incidents in 2023 were linked to violent far right extremists and according to  Hoffman of that number , “of that number 95% were committed by white supremacists or white nationalists.” Hoffman also said, “this is part of a decades long trend that the ADL has followed. Since 2012 75% of the people who have been killed were killed by far-right extremists and of that number 73% were killed by white supremacists.

I am frequently bothered by right-winger complaining about extremists on the left without mentioning that there are vastly more extremists on the right. It is difficult to call out people who look like us as extremists. After all, we are the good guys.


When Hatred and Violence Goes Mainstream

I have been living in the United States for 2 months now with more to come. I am learning, as if I did not know already, that this is a very dangerous place.

PBS News Hour interviewed an expert on domestic terrorism by the name of Cynthia Miller-Idriss, of American University. She is the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab.

She said she wished she lived in a world where the FBI had enough resources at its disposal to complete its investigation into the crimes committed at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Don’t we all wish that?

Miller-Idriss made one of the most surprising statements I have ever heard. She said this on PBS News Hour:

“We don’t have the capacity in any law enforcement agency to handle a surge of political violence or hate-fueled violence when that — when it’s driven by misinformation that is believed by millions and millions of people.”


She is an expert on domestic terrorism in the US and she says that America can’t deal with a surge of political violence! And frankly that makes perfect sense in a country like the US where it is apparent that millions of Americans believe the misinformation that is fueling the hatred there. The problem is that the hatred and violence in the US has gone mainstream! As a result, she says, everyone who works in her field is very worried. And that worries me. Particularly when I live here for 3 months.

 Of course, it is difficult for police forces to deal with domestic terrorism when it has not just implicit, but explicit support from the political leaders.  For example, this is what Republican Congressman  Matt Gaetz said immediately after the violence on Capitol Hill after President Trump fired up his supporters that they must “fight like hell” for their country or risk losing it:

“Some of the people who breached the Capitol today were not Trump supporters. They were masquerading as Trump supporters and, in fact, were members of the violent terrorist group Antifa.


Even more shocking were the statements by the new speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson who earlier had been one of the leaders of the project of the Trump team to file lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He said he wanted to make public a video of the events that occurred on January 6, 2021 but would blur the faces so the rioters could not be identified:

“We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.”


Think about that.  the leader of the House of Representatives said openly he wanted to help rioters who threatened to hang Mike Pence and wreck the Capitol to avoid criminal prosecution

In addition, Trump and many of the current GOP presidential primary candidates have promised to pardon Jan 6 rioters.  They are giving their blessing to what many judges and juries have already determined in many cases of the criminal trials of the leaders of the riot was sedition! That to me is astounding! And frightening.


When Law Makers and Law Enforcement  Support the Violence


One of the things that shocked me when I watched the violence and rioting unfold at the Capitol in Washington on January 6th 2021 was the presence, in a supportive role, of what appeared to be cops or military in the midst of the rioters. They believed in the cause of violent insurrection in the support of a lawless President.

As Ryan Reilly author of a book called “Sedition Hunters: How January 6th Broke the Justice System,” said about the rioters:

“We do have a lot of people within the FBI who are not so enthusiastic about bringing these cases against people who attacked the Capitol on January 6…There are, and I say that because some of these individuals who were at the FBI have come out and said that publicly. They have resigned from the FBI because of these cases.”



He said he would work against the FBI charging rioters. Reilly also pointed out that not only did current and former law enforcement officials push conspiracy theories, so did members of Congress who outright opposed the investigation into the crimes committed at the Capitol on January 6th. The current speaker of the House, Republican Mike Johnson, was one of those obvious supporters.  Added to that, he said many of them “contributed to misinformation about what happened that day.”

Think about that: Law makers and law enforcement supporting domestic terrorism. I  repeat what I have beeen saying: how can anyone deny that America is a country in serious decline?

Republican Response to January 6th riots


Very surprising is what many Republicans have said since January 6th 2021. Many Trump supporters have denied the obvious truth that the events that day were a riot and Trump supporters rioted. Ryan Reilly an NBC News reporter estimated that about 3,000 people unlawfully entered the Capitol, damaged property or assaulted police officers at the Capitol that day. So far only about 1,200 have been charged and more than 900 already convicted so far. Those events reminded me of what I have seen portrayed in films as the riots in Germany in the 1930s in support of Hitler and his rabid campaign of anti-semitism.

The reactions of many Republican elected leaders has been nothing short of astonishing.  For example, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), now the Speaker of the House said he would release images of the riot, but: “We have to blur some of the faces of persons who participated in the events of that day because we don’t want them to be retaliated against and to be charged by the DOJ.” He doesn’t want the rioters to be charged and in fact will actively work to ensure as few of them as possible are charged! And he said that with a broad smile.

In addition, Trump and many of the current GOP presidential primary candidates have promised to pardon Jan 6 rioters. That to me is astounding!

Many of Trump’s supporters don’t admit that the rioters did anything wrong. Having watched hours of  television of the riot that day, that astonishes me.

How about you?

The Oklahoma City Massacre: Where Right-wing Hatred Ran Deep


On April 19, 1995, just after 9  in the morning, another very important incident occurred in Oklahoma City.  It was the second anniversary of the Waco massacre. A rush of people was moving into the Alfred P. Murrah federal building at that time. Many of them were children. There was a day care in the building.

Timothy McVeigh wanted people to remember what had happened at Waco 2 years earlier. He wanted people to remember what happened there for a thousand years. Sort of like the proposed 1,000-year reign of the Nazis in Germany.  I suspect both episodes might  be remembered for a thousand years. Heinous crimes have a habit of staying in memory. Good deeds rarely get such sustained attention.

McVeigh had 5,000 pounds of explosive ammonium nitrate and nitro methane in the back of his rental truck. He lit a 2 minute fuse under the day care centre in the federal building. Think about that: he parked the truck, locked it, immediately under a day care center filled with kids. McVey walked away to a get-away vehicle.  The explosion killed 168 people including 19 children. It was called, “the worst act of terrorism in American history.” And it was home grown.

I remember when I heard about it that day. My immediate reaction was that it must have been initiated by some radical Islamic terrorists. A lot of Americans had the same presumption. We were wrong. It was set by radical domestic right-wing terrorists! This was home grown terrorism.

As Justin Ling said, “Oklahoma City followed years of apocalyptic declarations and incitement from the fringes of right-wing radio.”  This is what president Bill Clinton said at the time in response: “They leave the impression by their very words that violence is acceptable. You ought to see some of the things that are regularly said over the airwaves in American today.  Clinton ought to know. He and his wife Hillary were subjected to hate on the airwaves of America for years. they still are.  Perhaps no one in America has been more hated by the American right-wing than the two of them. They were frequently accused of hideous crimes such as accusations that they killed and ate—yes ate—hundreds of children. These were the wildest untrue and hateful accusations that could a have been hurled in America. This too went on for years.

Hatred runs deep in the American right-wing.

And of course, these wild accusations were made, as always, without any evidence to back them up.  The American right-wing does not need evidence to set them off. All they need is unsubstantiated claims and hate which are enough to light the fuse to the hate.

Yet Rush Limbaugh challenged Clinton the very next day on his radio show:

“Talk is not a crime and talk is not the culprit here. Talk didn’t buy the fertilizer, and the fuel oil. Talk didn’t drive the van and talk didn’t rent the van. A person did. A lunatic did.”

Yes, but talk ignited the flame that lit the fuse! Hateful talk can do that. Years of hateful talk can have an effect. The German Nazis proved that in Germany, as did the fascist Hutus in Rwanda, as did Donald Trump in America.

Talk is cheap, but hateful talk is costly.

No Limits No Soul


A Statesperson, to warrant the title, must recognize, that even in war, there are limits and those limits must not be breached. In the heat of battle this is sometimes difficult. But whoever said the job of the Statesperson was easy? If it was easy we would have many statespersons.

According to John Rawls the American philosopher analyzing the decision the American president Truman made in Japan in World War II, this is what Truman said


“Truman once described the Japanese as beasts and to be treated as such; yet how foolish it sounds now to call the Germans or the Japanese barbarians and beasts! Of the Nazis and Tojo militarists, yes, but they are not the German and the Japanese people. Churchill later granted that he carried the bombing too far, led by passion and the intensity of the conflict. A duty of statesmanship is not to allow such feelings, natural and inevitable as they may be, to alter the course a democratic people should best follow in striving for peace. The statesman understands that relations with the present enemy have special importance: for as I have said, war must be openly and publicly conducted in ways that make a lasting and amicable peace possible with a defeated enemy, and prepares its people for how they may be expected to be treated. Their present fears of being subjected to acts of revenge and retaliation must be put to rest; present enemies must be seen as associates in a shared and just future peace “

These words are equally applicable to Netanyahu. The statesperson recognizes limits. Truman failed to do that. So has Netanyahu. I have not seem him recognize any limits. Hea will destroy Hama no matter what the costs.

Limits in war are more than just moral imperatives. As David French wrote to the Israeli’s in the New York Times, “Don’t lose your soul.”  No limits no soul.


Does the End Justify the Means?


John Rawls in his analysis of the bombing of Japanese cities by America at the end of the Second World War, turned to another important philosophical principle: the ends must justify the means and if they don’t the means must be discarded in favour of those that do. This was the argument made by another great philosopher this time from Canada and in fact from my university—Arthur Schafer. I hope to go into greater detail on this point in a future post on this issue but will just mention how Rawls deals with it. This is what he said:


“Finally, we note the place of practical means-end reasoning in judging the appropriateness of an action or policy for achieving the aim of war or for not causing more harm than good. This mode of thought—whether carried on by (classical) utilitarian reasoning, or by cost-benefit analysis, or by weighing national interests, or in other ways—must always be framed within and strictly limited by the preceding principles. The norms of the conduct of war set up certain lines that bound just action. War plans and strategies, and the conduct of battles, must lie within their limits (The only exception, I repeat, is in times of extreme crisis.”


In other words, war without genuine limits is never acceptable. Rawls, like Camus, and unlike Lindsey Graham and unlike Hamas, acknowledges there are limits to what one can do in a just war or it ceases to be just. Limits are not just important. Limits are essential to the just war. A war without limits, which so many wars in recent years have become, is not a just war.

Rawls insists that the defensive war must not cause more harm than good. In his view it really is that simple. He might be right.

I heard Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General interviewed by Fareed Zakaria and he pointed out that every year for 7 years he has published a report about children killed in wars. He has complained about countries like Syria, Russia, Israel and the Taliban in the past. None of them were happy with his reports. Until now he said, the most children that were ever killed by one country in such conflicts was 600 in a year. He also said that he did not rely on the numbers of deaths in Gaza presented by Hamas as they were not reliable, but he said,  “it is clear that the number of children killed in a few weeks in Gaza is in the thousands.

Earlier he also said, Gaza had been turned into a graveyard for children.

Does the end justify that means? Thousands of children dead and of course, many more adult civilians, many of them women and old people?

I have a hard time seeing that as doing less harm than good.