During the so-called Battle of Berkeley in March , for instance, a far-right agitator named Kyle Chapman became a hero to the alt-right after he reportedly pummeled an anti-fascist counterprotester with a billy club.
Chapman was a year-old who had two previous felony convictions. He proceeded to travel around the country, engaging in violence at other protests, now under the online moniker Based Stickman — a cheerful reference to the Berkeley attacks. Over the past two years, each group engaged in violent confrontations with their ideological enemies — a lengthy list including African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, nonwhite immigrants, members of the L.
This changed to a degree over the past few weeks when, after a yearlong campaign by journalists at ProPublica and other media outlets, federal prosecutors filed charges against eight members of RAM, including two of its leaders. Similarly, after a pressure campaign on social media, the New York Police Department arrested and charged six members of the Proud Boys in connection with an assault after a speech by McInnes at a Republican club in Manhattan on Oct.
The police commissioner denies this. In at least one instance, the police have in fact coordinated with far-right groups. In , a law-enforcement official stationed at a rally in downtown Portland, Ore.
During a congressional hearing in the wake of Charlottesville, Christopher Wray, director of the F. The F.
There are serious civil liberties concerns with any broad surveillance of social media, German says. But there are millions of racists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, homophobes and xenophobes who engage in eliminationist rhetoric about the communities of people they fear and hate every day on social media and radio talk shows. Even if the F. Levin believes that the Justice Department could be more flexible in pursuing these groups without violating First Amendment concerns.
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Just as they do with ISIS supporters, law-enforcement agencies would be within their legal rights to monitor, analyze and share any of the publicly available intelligence on white supremacists or hate groups that suggests violent confrontations. When we first spoke this August, Levin noted the continued ascendance of the far right, even after many of its members went underground after Charlottesville.
A series of violent outbursts in a single week in October made his prediction seem prescient. Two days after the first package appeared, a middle-aged white man, having tried unsuccessfully to break into a black church near Louisville, Ky. With violent political messaging emanating from the White House and echoed throughout the conservative media and social-media landscapes, Levin only expects more attacks.
While most of its counterterrorism focus has been on preventing Islamist terrorist attacks, the department is also supposed to examine domestic threats, like those coming from violent white supremacists, antigovernment militants and single-issue hate groups, like radical anti-abortion activists. The author of the report was a senior intelligence analyst named Daryl Johnson, who ran a small Homeland Security domestic-terrorism unit. Two years earlier, in January , Johnson was sitting in his bland second-floor office when he received a call from a contact at the Capitol Police.
A first-term Illinois senator named Barack Obama was planning to announce that he was running for president. Though white-extremist groups had been fairly quiet in the years since Sept. These people never truly went away, he thought; they just needed the right motivation to energize them. At 38, Johnson spoke with the earnestness of an Eagle Scout, which he was. He was also a registered Republican who grew up in a small Mormon community in rural Virginia where millennialism, or end-times theology, was a core concept.
The deaths of people, including 19 children, at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building brought the threat of domestic terrorism by white Americans into stark relief.
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In the aftermath, the F. But by the end of , the dominant business of the F. Years after the Sept. At the time, he later recalled, he was the only analyst exclusively working on non-Islamic domestic threats. By , he had put together a small team of analysts who began to scour extremist websites and message boards.
What they found alarmed them. The militant far right was enjoying a renaissance, thanks to the internet. Between October and March , Johnson and his unit documented the formation of 45 new antigovernment militia groups, which he saw as highly significant given that before fall , these sorts of groups had been on the decline. As the campaign moved into its final months, law-enforcement agencies intercepted at least two assassination plots against Obama.
Johnson and his team compiled their findings into a report, which they were still working on when Obama tapped Janet Napolitano, formerly the governor of Arizona, as the new secretary of Homeland Security. In March , Johnson says he and a few colleagues from the F. Military veterans, including those returning after multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, might be particularly susceptible candidates, they noted, a prediction based on a F.
It was a tiny number given the overall United States veteran population, which at the time was close to 24 million. It was also a small percentage of the thousands of white supremacists the F. Johnson remembers Napolitano, sitting at the conference table, soberly flipping through the PowerPoint slides and thanking the analysts for the presentation. On April 11, , four days after his report was released, Johnson was at home in West Virginia when a PDF of the document was posted on the website of the syndicated conservative radio host Roger Hedgecock. A link to the PDF was also posted on a blog maintained by the Oath Keepers, the antigovernment group composed of numerous law-enforcement officials.
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Johnson was appalled. Legislators, the media and the public at large — including progressives — had no objection to that terminology. Afterward, the administration tried to depoliticize the issue. They adopted a new, less ideological lexicon. At the same time, most of the work exclusively focused on domestic extremism stopped at the Department of Homeland Security. In February , the Southern Poverty Law Center said that in the previous year, the number of domestic hate groups in the United States had reached more than 1, for the first time.
The antigovernment Patriot movement gained new groups over the same time period, a jump of over 60 percent. Every sphere of the far right was being energized at the same time. There was also an uptick in so-called lone wolves, who held extremist views but associated with no specific organization. The United States attorney from Western Arkansas, Conner Eldridge, was one of a number of Justice Department prosecutors who felt the department had given short shrift to domestic terrorism. Quietly, Eldridge began to network with United States attorneys from states with a history of white-supremacist activity.
They pressed the Justice Department for more resources. The day-to-day focus was on the next potential ISIS attack. Back in Washington, weeks would go by with the daily national threat briefings rarely if ever discussing possible domestic threats from the far right. At the F. After a series of violent attacks by white supremacists, including on a Jewish community center and a nearby retirement home in Overland Park, Kan. As early as , he says, his office was receiving calls from police officers asking for help in many Southern and Midwestern states.
What drove him, authorities said, was hate. He was a murderer.
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For years, Thompson pressed both the administration and fellow members of Congress to be more outspoken on domestic terrorism. There was also concern about reports of white supremacy in the military. Johnson, who told me that fear of another ISIS-style attack kept him up at night, held regular round tables with imams and other members of the Islamic community.
He resisted the pressure from some members of his staff, and some in Congress, like Thompson, to make similar overtures to communities concerned about antigovernment or white-supremacist groups. He thought it would be absurd to hold round tables with sovereign citizens and white supremacists. When I spoke to Johnson, he felt it was not his place to call Roof a terrorist.
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James Comey, then director of the F. It began with the appointment of a new national-security team. A surreal scene, replicated in nearly every department and agency, soon began to play out inside the Department of Homeland Security. George Selim, a longtime national-security expert in both the Bush and Obama administrations who headed the Office of Community Partnerships, which worked with local government and civic groups on C.
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Katharine Gorka, as her own LinkedIn biography notes, had never held a public-sector job before joining the department, nor did she seem to have any practical experience in national security, or law enforcement, or intelligence. Another new senior Homeland Security official, the retired Navy officer Frank Wuco, had made a career of lecturing to the military about the jihadi mind-set, often while role-playing as a member of the Taliban in a Pashtun hat and kaffiyeh.
By February , after the Trump administration issued its first executive order trying to ban citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, several American Muslim groups decided to reject federal C. While that review was underway, the Department of Homeland Security and the F. Though the total budget for C. Some researchers withdrew from plans to brief lawmakers on far-right extremism. In July , Selim tendered his resignation.
Not long afterward, a senior official on the interagency task force running C. More departures followed. William Fears was born in and spent his childhood in Jasper, Tex. East Texas is Klan country, and Jasper holds a notable spot in the racist history of the region as the town where, in , when Fears was 10, three white men lynched a black man named James Byrd Jr.
Early in his life, Fears, searching for identity, cycled through a long list of ideologies.
He was 14 on Sept.