Far-Right Terrorism Is a Feature - Not a Bug - of Donald Trump’s Presidency
President Donald Trump is a terrorism-generating machine. In one week, America has been hit by three separate terrorist attacks directly connected to his sowing of division and promotion of violence.
The most recent attack took place on October 27. Robert Bowers allegedly shot up the The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven. Leading up to the massacre, Bowers ranted against Jews for bringing in “hostile invaders to dwell among us,” which would lead to “certain extinction.”
Bowers echoed the right’s talk that George Soros was funding “caravans” of refugees full of ISIS terrorists. Trump reinforced this with ravings about the “onslaught” and “assault” of a few thousand refugees hiding DRUGS and “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” Bowers’ talk of extinction followed Trump mainstreaming the myth of “white genocide” recently, amplifying Tucker Carlson who had dredged the lie from the sewers of the far right.
Three days earlier, on October 24, Gregory Bush allegedly killed two African-Americans at a supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. One eyewitness, who grabbed his revolver after hearing gunshots, said he came face to face to Bush, who told him, “Don’t shoot me. I won't shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites.” Right before that, Bush reportedly tried to enter a Black church, possibly intending to carry out a Dylann Roof-style massacre. Bush’s connection to Trump may seem tenuous at best. But two days earlier, Trump had declared himself a “nationalist.” For Trump, that term is indistinguishable from white nationalism given his racism-powered ascent to the presidency beginning with birtherism.
If there is any doubt about Bush’s link to Trump, there is none with Cesar Sayoc. He’s the alleged #MAGABomber who mailed 14 packages to prominent Democrats targeted by Trump, FOX News, and the right. The general manager of a restaurant where Sayoc worked as a delivery driver said, “He was anti-gay, anti-Black, anti-Jewish, you name it. Everybody that really wasn’t white and wasn’t a white supremacist didn’t belong in the world. That’s what he used to say to me all the time.”
Sayoc was a Trump “superfan,” who attended his rallies and inauguration. His van looked like Breitbart on wheels, plastered with pro-Trump, alt-right, and anti-Democrat memes. His social media overflowed with threats and invective against those he sent bombs to and whom Trump also took aim at, such as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Maxine Waters, CNN, and George Soros.
Trump’s words unite these three alleged terrorists. He uses the bully pulpit to spread “stochastic terrorism.” This concept was defined in 2011 as using “mass communication to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
Right-wing stochastic terrorism took root during the Obama years. FOX News was the platform of choice for stochastic terrorists like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Lou Dobbs. They would demonize targets repeatedly — Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, the left, feminists. Eventually, a “lone wolf” — almost always a volatile white man — would act.
A neo-Nazi angry about Obama rapes and murders non-whites in Massachusetts. A Florida man kills two Chilean exchange students believing “foreign illegals” are going to “overthrow us.” A fan of Glenn Beck and white supremacist radio kills three cops in Pittsburgh, believing Obama is trying to confiscate guns or imprison Americans in FEMA camps. An anti-Muslim member of the neo-Nazi Hammerskin Nation kills six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, which appears to be another deadly instance of Sikhism being confused with Islam. An anti-government conservative kills six and wounds 14, including a U.S. Congresswoman, in Arizona.
In each case, right-wing commentators immediately dismiss the incident as a lone wolf, as evil, as a nutcase. They deny responsibility while immediately getting back to inciting the next attack.
It’s similar to how climate change works. No one wildfire can be attributed to rising temperatures. But evidence is accumulating that global warming is leading to more wildfires of greater severity.
When it comes to stochastic terrorism, Trump is in a feedback loop with FOX News. Each spreads and amplifies the other’s lies. But Trump goes further, inciting violence. It makes sense that terrorism would be in runaway mode as the midterms boil over with his white-hot rhetoric. Trump’s strategy has always been spread hatred, fear, and division. He began with birtherism in 2011. Then Trump launched his campaign in 2015 by accusing Mexican immigrants of being “drug dealers, criminals, rapists. That was followed by “calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The latest Trump-fueled outbreak of terrorism come after white supremacist murders more than doubled in his first year in office. The first terrorist plot connected to Trump occured on the eve of his election. Apart from that, this list is composed solely of instances where people have been killed in white-supremacist terrorist attacks since he won the presidency.
*October 14, 2016, the FBI foils a plot by three militiamen called “the Crusaders” to massacre a Somali-American community in Garden City, Kansas. The group, who denigrated the immigrants as “cockroaches,” planned their attack for the day after the election because they believed if Trump won, “Obama would declare martial law to prevent him from taking office.” They said the Somalis were “a threat to American society” and hoped a bloodbath, which would be a “nasty, messy motherfucker,” would “wake up” a lot more people to “decide they want this country back.”
*January 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette opens fire on worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Center in the Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy, killing six and wounding 19. He was directly influenced by Trump, who two days earlier had instituted his first “Muslim ban.” Bissonnette confessed on video to police,“the Canadian government was going to take more refugees, you know, who couldn’t go to the United States, and they were coming here. I saw that and I, like, lost my mind.” In the month before the shooting, Bissonnette was checking “Trump’s Twitter feed every day and reading news about Trump on a daily basis.” He also had a selfie on his computer wearing a red “Make America Great Again” and “obsessively visited” the Twitter accounts of Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Ben Shapiro, Alex Jones, Mike Cernovich, and David Duke.
*February 22, 2017, Adam Purinton confronts two Indian engineers at a restaurant in Olathe, Kansas, demanding “to know where they were from and how they entered the country.” After leaving while yelling “get out of my country,” Purinton retrieves a gun and shoots both, wounding one and murdering Srinivas Kuchibhotla. Hours later, Purinton said, “he had just killed some Iranians.”
*March 20, 2017, Army vet James Jackson kills Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old Black man, by plunging a sword into him in Midtown Manhattan. Jackson had traveled from Baltimore to New York with the intention of killing Black men to “deter white women from interracial relationships.” He was hoping to maximize his media exposure, and Caughman was intended to be a practice run for a larger massacre.
*May 16, 2017, Lloyd Barrus and son Marshall Barrus engage in a shootout and car chase more than 120 miles across Montana, killing Broadwater County sheriff’s deputy Mason Moore. Marshall was killed in the shootout. An Infowars fan, Lloyd Barrus reportedly published dozens of Facebook posts “in the days before the shooting [showing] he opposed immigration, was a gun fanatic, supported Trump, was opposed to gays.”
*May 19, 2017, in a bizarre episode, Devon Arthurs, a member of the violent Atomwaffen Division (German for “atomic weapon”) who had become an ultraconservative Salafist Muslim, killed two roommates and fellow Atomwaffen members in Tampa. ProPublica says Atomwaffen “embraces Third Reich ideology and preaches hatred of minorities, gays and Jews.” When police investigated his apartment they discovered the fourth roommate, Atomwaffen leader Brandon Russell, crying outside in his Florida National Guard fatigues. Inside they found Russell possessed bomb-making materials, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison for that. Arthurs claimed he killed his roommates because Russell and Atomwaffen members were plotting to “bomb power lines, synagogues, even Miami’s Turkey Point nuclear plant.”
*May 20, 2017, on a University of Maryland campus, white supremacist Sean Urbanski approaches Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, demanding, “step left if you know what's best for you.” After refusing, Collins, who is African-American is stabbed to death by Urbanski. He was a member of Alt-Reich: Nation Facebook group and liked “memes about Donald Trump, white supremacy, and the alt-right.” Prosecutors said evidence proves Collins was killed because he was African-American.
*May 26, 2017, Jeremy Christian stabs three men in Portland, Oregon. Ricky John Best, father of four, and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche are killed after coming to the defense of two Black women, one wearing a hijab, being threatened by Christian. Weeks earlier, Christian had attended a rally by the pro-Trump Patriot Prayer in Portland where he threw a Nazi salute and yelled “Die Muslims.”
*August 12, 2017, more than a dozen white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, for “Unite the Right” to defend Confederate monuments from being removed. Proud Boys member Jason Kessler organizes the rally (and is only expelled afterwards), which culminates in a neo-Nazi ramming a car into a crowd of counterdemonstrators, killing Heather Heyer and wounding more than a dozen. Days later Trump said that among the extremists were “very fine people.”
*November 1, 2017, Scott Ostrem walks into a Walmart north of Denver and “nonchalantly” kills three Hispanic people, Pam Marques, Victor Vasquez, and Carlos Moreno. Neighbors described him as “a bizarre, angry man who lived alone in an apartment with a stack of Bibles and virtually no furniture.” Sounding like many Trump supporters, Ostrem “often expressed dislike for Hispanics to their faces,” according to a local news station. A Hispanic employee at the building said, “If he saw a Hispanic person, he would tell them to get out of his way.” One neighbor said Ostrem would say, “’This is America. You shouldn’t be here.”
*December 7, 2017, posing as a student at Aztec High School in New Mexico, William Edward Atchison kills two and then himself. The 21-year-old was said to have “a prolific life as a white supremacist, pro-Trump meme peddler who was most known for his obsession with school shooters.” The autopsy noted Atchison had faint ink markings on his legs of a Swastika, “SS,” and “BUILD WALL.”
*December 22, 2017, Nicholas Giampa shoots and kills his girlfriend’s parents in their Reston, Virginia, home after they push her to break up with him because he’s a neo-Nazi. His social media posts in 2016 showed he was “an enthusiastic supporter” of Donald Trump, and “he often used racist slurs to attack Trump’s critics.” The Huffington Post described him as “fully in thrall to the racist, apocalyptic fantasia of white nationalism” and taken with Atomwaffen Division, which is connected to five murders.
*December 31, 2017, Iraq War vet Matthew Riehl fires more than 100 rounds before dying in a shootout with law enforcement officers in Denver. Riehl killed one sheriff’s deputy and injured six people. His Facebook page was found to be “littered with Pepe the Frog memes, Islamophobic posts, and other phrases used by the far-right, including references to cuckoldry and rape culture.” He reportedly posted articles from Breitbart and called President Obama a “lying piece of shit.”
*January 2, 2018, Samuel Woodward, an avowed neo-Nazi and Atomwaffen member, murders Blaze Bernstein, who was Jewish and gay. Prosecutors say, “We will prove that Woodward killed Blaze because Blaze was gay.” Chat logs containing more than 250,000 messages show Atomwaffen members celebrating the murder.
*February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz kills seventeen students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and wounds 17 others. 4chan trolls fooled some media outlets into believing Cruz was a member of the white supremacist group Republic of Florida. But it did turn out that Cruz was “obsessed with race, violence, and guns.” In a private Instagram chat group, filled with “hundreds of racist messages, racist memes and racist” videos, Cruz was said to be particularly venomous, talking “about killing Mexicans, keeping black people in chains and cutting their necks,” shooting gay people in the back of their heads, and saying he hated “jews, ni**ers, immigrants.”
*March 5, 2018, Benjamin Morrow blows himself up in his Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, apartment described as a “homemade explosives laboratory.” Investigators find boxes of suspected explosives, pipes and pipe caps, “guns and accessories including a rifle scope, masks, vests, a ballistic helmet, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.” They also uncover white supremacist literature and one gallon of acetone, an ingredient used in bombs employed by the Islamic State in European attacks that have killed more than 160 people.
*March 17, 2018, John D. Carothers poured lighter fluid on Robert Miller and set his head on fire. Miller succumbed to his wounds a week later. Months later Carothers confessed in a letter to Kingdom Identity Ministries, the largest supplier of Christian Identity propaganda, that the attack was racially motivated. Christian Identity “is a unique anti-Semitic and racist theology” prominent on the far right in the 1980s.
*July 14, 2018, Ronald Lee Kidwell is arrested for the second-degree murder of MeShon Cooper, an African-American woman, who had last been seen eight days earlier. Crystal Foster, Kidwell’s daughter, called him a “monster” and “the true definition of evil.” Foster said Kidwell would “drape himself in the Confederate flag … send her photos of the swastika tattoo on his left arm” and brag “about his membership in the Ku Klux Klan.” Foster also said Kidwell would pretend to be “colored people’s” friends, as he put it “and then he harms them.”
Sometimes the evidence for a hate-motivated killing is not clear cut, as with Nia Wilson or Chad Merrill. A handful of white-supremacist murders appear to be motivated by other criminal activity or personal disputes. Receiving little attention since Trump’s election are scores of plots that were busted, or attacks where police looked the other way, or people were injured, sometimes severely, but not killed. Finally, there’s the phenomenon of violent far-right gangs like the Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer that see themselves as the shock troops for Trump and engage in open street brawls where many are injured, but no one has been killed. Yet.
In the end there is a predictability to Trump’s unpredictability. He only knows how to do more of the same because that’s what’s worked for him before. A bomb being sent to Soros did not stop Trump from pounding the anti-semitic drumbeat of “globalists” and chanting “Lock him up” in reference to Soros. Likewise, FOX News didn’t miss a beat after the synagogue massacre that was apparently motivated by paranoia of Jews funding an immigrant invasion. Hours later it broadcast conspiracies “straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion” claiming the journey of Central American refugees were being funded and directed by the “Soros-occupied State Department.”
White-supremacist terrorism, it appears for Trump, is now the latest arrow in his quiver of hate.