November 5, 2018

WHERE'S JANET RENO WHEN WE NEED HER?:

U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don't Know How to Stop It.: For two decades, domestic counterterrorism strategy has ignored the rising danger of far-right extremism. In the atmosphere of willful indifference, a virulent movement has grown and metastasized. (JANET REITMANNOV. 3, 2018, NY Times Magazine)

The first indication to Lt. Dan Stout that law enforcement's handling of white supremacy was broken came in September 2017, as he was sitting in an emergency-operations center in Gainesville, Fla., preparing for the onslaught of Hurricane Irma and watching what felt like his thousandth YouTube video of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va. Jesus Christ, he thought, studying the footage in which crowds of angry men, who had gathered to attend or protest the Unite the Right rally, set upon one another with sticks and flagpole spears and flame throwers and God knows what else. A black man held an aerosol can, igniting the spray, and in retaliation, a white man picked up his gun, pointed it toward the black man and fired it at the ground. The Virginia state troopers, inexplicably, stood by and watched. Stout fixated on this image, wondering what kind of organizational failure had led to the debacle. He had one month to ensure that the same thing didn't happen in Gainesville.

Before that August, Stout, a 24-year veteran of the Gainesville police force, had never heard of Richard Spencer and knew next to nothing about his self-declared alt-right movement, or of their "anti-fascist" archnemesis known as Antifa. Then, on the Monday after deadly violence in Charlottesville, in which a protester was killed when a driver plowed his car into the crowd, Stout learned to his horror that Spencer was planning a speech at the University of Florida. He spent weeks frantically trying to get up to speed, scouring far-right and anti-fascist websites and videos, each click driving him further into despair. Aside from the few white nationalists who had been identified by the media or on Twitter, Stout had no clue who most of these people were, and neither, it seemed, did anyone else in law enforcement.

There were no current intelligence reports he could find on the alt-right, the sometimes-violent fringe movement that embraces white nationalism and a range of racist positions. The state police couldn't offer much insight. Things were equally bleak at the federal level. Whatever the F.B.I. knew (which wasn't a lot, Stout suspected), they weren't sharing. The Department of Homeland Security, which produced regular intelligence and threat assessments for local law enforcement, had only scant material on white supremacists, all of it vague and ultimately not much help. Local politicians, including the governor, were also in the dark. This is like a Bermuda Triangle of intelligence, Stout thought, incredulous. He reached out to their state partners. "So you're telling us that there's nothing? No names we can plug into the automatic license-plate readers? No players with a propensity for violence? No one you have in the system? Nothing?''

One of those coming to Gainesville was William Fears, a 31-year-old from Houston. Fears, who online went by variations of the handle Antagonizer, was one of the most dedicated foot soldiers of the alt-right. Countless YouTube videos had captured his progress over the past year as he made his way from protest to protest across several states, flinging Nazi salutes, setting off smoke bombs and, from time to time, attacking people. Fears was also a felon. He had spent six years in prison for aggravated kidnapping in a case involving his ex-girlfriend, and now he had an active warrant for his arrest, after his new girlfriend accused him of assault less than two weeks earlier. On Oct. 18, the night before the event, Fears and a few others from Houston's white-nationalist scene got in Fears's silver Jeep Patriot for the 14-hour drive. Fears's friend Tyler TenBrink, who pleaded guilty to assault in 2014, posted video from their trip on his Facebook page. There were four men, two of them felons, and two nine-millimeter handguns. "Texans always carry," Fears said later.

Gainesville would be Spencer's first major public appearance since the violence of the Unite the Right rally two months before, and the city, a progressive enclave in the heart of deep-red north Florida, was on edge. Anticipating chaos, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency -- prompting Spencer to tweet out an image of his head making its way across the Atlantic toward Florida: "Hurricane Spencer." A few days before the event, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent out a small, bound "threat book" of about 20 or so figures, most of them openly affiliated with Spencer or with anti-fascist groups, which Stout knew from his own research meant they weren't the people to worry about. Anonymous online chatter on sites like 4chan, meanwhile, described armed right-wing militants coming to Gainesville to test Florida's Stand Your Ground law. Stout envisioned 20 white supremacists with long guns. We're screwed, he thought.

By the morning of Oct. 19, a fortress of security, costing the University of Florida and police forces roughly half a million dollars, had been built around the western edge of the 2,000-acre campus and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where Spencer and his entourage arrived that afternoon. More than 1,100 state troopers and local cops stood on alert, with another 500 on standby. There were officers posted on rooftops. Police helicopters buzzed the skies. The Florida National Guard had been activated off-site, and a line of armored vehicles sat in reserve. Hundreds of journalists from around the United States and abroad were in attendance, anticipating another Charlottesville.

Some 2,500 protesters had descended on the small area cordoned off for the event, where they confronted a handful of white supremacists, most of them Spencer groupies like Fears and his friends. "Basically, I'm just fed up with the fact that I'm cisgendered, I'm a white male and I lean right, toward the Republican side, and I get demonized," Colton Fears, Will's 28-year-old brother, who was wearing an SS pin, told HuffPost. TenBrink, also 28, told The Washington Post that he had come to support Spencer because after Charlottesville, where he was seen and photographed, he had been threatened by the "radical left." He seemed agitated by the thousands of protesters. "This is a mess," he told The Gainesville Sun. "It appears that the only answer left is violence, and nobody wants that."

But Will Fears told reporters he came to Gainesville to intimidate the protesters. "It's always been socially acceptable to punch a Nazi, to attack people if they have right-wing political leanings," he said. "We're starting to push back." [...]

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist. The Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism has reported that 71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements. Islamic extremists were responsible for just 26 percent. Data compiled by the University of Maryland's Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled. In 2017, there were 65 incidents totaling 95 deaths. In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.

These statistics belie the strident rhetoric around "foreign-born" terrorists that the Trump administration has used to drive its anti-immigration agenda. They also raise questions about the United States' counterterrorism strategy, which for nearly two decades has been focused almost exclusively on American and foreign-born jihadists, overshadowing right-wing extremism as a legitimate national-security threat. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, between 2002 and 2017, the United States spent $2.8 trillion -- 16 percent of the overall federal budget -- on counterterrorism. Terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists killed 100 people in the United States during that time. Between 2008 and 2017, domestic extremists killed 387 in the United States, according to the 2018 Anti-Defamation League report.

"We're actually seeing all the same phenomena of what was happening with groups like ISIS, same tactics, but no one talks about it because it's far-right extremism," says the national-security strategist P. W. Singer, a senior fellow at the New America think tank. During the first year of the Trump administration, Singer and several other analysts met with a group of senior administration officials about building a counterterrorism strategy that encompassed a wider range of threats. "They only wanted to talk about Muslim extremism," he says.

One of Bill Clinton's under-rated successes was crushing the militia movement.  It's time for another round.

Posted by at November 5, 2018 4:30 AM

  

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