Editor’s Note: Reza Aslan is the author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” and the host of CNN’s new original series “Believer With Reza Aslan,” which premieres at 10 p.m. ET March 5. The views expressed are his own.
Aslan: in Trump's world, it seems, the only extremism that matters is Islamic extremism
The President is playing to an influential part of his constituency, Reza Aslan says
It’s been nearly a week since a self-described fan of Donald Trump walked into a mosque in Quebec City and opened fire, killing six worshipers. The President has, at the time of writing, yet to publicly acknowledge the massacre, let alone offer any public words of condolence.
Thus far, the only mention of the tragedy by the White House has been by Trump’s Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, who, in a mind-boggling display of disinformation, called it “a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the President is taking steps to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.”
Spicer’s statement left the press corps baffled. He seemed to be suggesting that a far-right, ultra-nationalist, white supremacist, radicalized by social media into murdering Muslims, somehow proved Trump’s position on the need to focus on the threat of Islamic terrorism.
As Philip Bump of the Washington Post put it: “The clear implication was that the incident in Quebec proved that his actions on terrorism and immigration were necessary, though it’s not clear how that is the case.”
Well, we now have some sense as to why the White House has not only been silent about the Quebec City massacre, but has used it to advance what the New York Times calls a “deeply suspicious view of Islam” indicative of a troubling “strain of anti-Islamic theorizing.”
An exclusive report by Reuters suggests the White House is planning to “revamp and rename a US government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism.” According to Reuters, the program, “Countering Violent Extremism” will be renamed “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” and will reportedly “no longer target groups such as white supremacists” who have been responsible for the vast majority of terrorist attacks on American soil in the last 15 years. In Trump’s world, it seems, the only extremism that matters is Islamic extremism.
But let’s pretend, for a moment, that facts actually matter, especially when it comes to the safety of American citizens. Here are the facts about terrorism in the United States:
- Americans are almost seven times as likely to be killed by a white extremist than by an Islamic one, according to one study.
- Citing a 2013 study, the New York Times notes: “Right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”
- According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 42 militia groups in 2008; today, there are 276. Meanwhile, anti-government groups grew to 998 in 2015, while the number of right-wing hate groups grew from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015.
- According to the Anti-Defamation League, “domestic extremist killers” killed more people in 2015 than any other year since Oklahoma City in 1995 (In fact, here is a list of radical right wing terrorist plots, conspiracies and attacks since 1995).
These facts explain why, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, “law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.”
Indeed, in a survey the New York Times conducted in 2015, “74% of law enforcement agencies reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction.”
So, considering the facts, why might the White House choose to stop targeting what is almost unanimously considered to be the gravest domestic terrorist threat to Americans and to focus instead solely on Islamic terrorism? The answer is simple: Trump is playing to an influential part of his constituency. After all, these people form the radical core of his political support. They are the people who helped put him in the White House.
Just ask Andrew Anglin, a 32-year-old skinhead and publisher of the Neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, who urged his readers to “do whatever they can to make Donald Trump President.”
Or listen to the white nationalist Kevin MacDonald, who praised Trump for “saying what White Americans have been actually thinking for a very long time.”
Or read the white nationalist website American Renaissance, which hailed Trump as “the last hope for a president who would be good for white people.”
Trump didn’t just become the white nationalist candidate because his positions reflected their ideology. He became their candidate because, as Mother Jones notes, “he amplified their message.” As one member of the Ku Klux Klan told the magazine, “the success of the Trump campaign just proves that our views resonate with millions.”
No wonder there have been such celebrations among these groups. One user on the white nationalist site Storm Front wrote this in response to Trump’s order: “If we keep having days like this, we might see the end of forced integration during the Trump Presidency.”
Simply put, by promising to no longer focus on white supremacist, anti-government, and right-wing extremist groups, President Trump is doing what most politicians do after being elected: he is taking care of his own.
Additional reporting by Safa Sameizade-Yazd.