Peter Bergen: Incident shows that political violence in the US takes many forms
That includes right-wing terrorism -- which should be condemned as such
Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is a CNN National Security Analyst, a vice president at New America and the author of “United States of Jihad: Who Are America’s Homegrown Terrorists and How Do We Stop Them?” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
On Saturday, a 20-year-old man from Ohio allegedly rammed his car into a group of people gathered to protest a white nationalist rally, killing a 32-year old woman and injuring 19 others. If James Alex Fields Jr., of Maumee, Ohio, indeed intended to harm the counter-protesters, then his act deserves to be branded domestic terrorism.
Political violence in the United States takes all shapes and forms and on Saturday in Charlottesville, Virginia, we saw one of its manifestations, militant right-wing terrorism.
New America, a non-partisan think tank that tracks political violence, finds that jihadist terrorists have killed 95 people in the United States since al Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11, while the attack in Charlottesville brings the number to 68 people that have been killed by far-right terrorists in the States during the same time period.
Other forms of political violence have also emerged in the past couple of years. Black nationalist terrorists have killed 8 people in the United States since 2016, while in June a terrorist motivated by extremist anti-Trump views shot at a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, critically wounding Rep. Steve Scalise who is recovering.
In December a man shot a weapon inside a pizzeria in Washington because he believed a conspiracy theory that the pizza joint was in fact a secret front for a child sex ring run by senior Democratic Party officials. Luckily, nobody was hurt in that attack.
And jihadist terrorists continue to kill Americans. In January a security guard was killed in Denver by a terrorist who appears to have been motivated by jihadist beliefs.
These terrorist attacks by right-wing, left-wing and black nationalist terrorists remind us that terrorism is not only the preserve of those who are motivated by the ideology of Osama bin Laden and ISIS.
The attack in Charlottesville deploying a car as a weapon is a new twist for right-wing terrorists in the United States. Jihadist terrorists have used vehicles as weapons frequently, for instance, in recent months in London killing 13 in two separate incidents and in 2016 in Nice, France, killing 84, and in Berlin killing 12.
On Saturday President Donald Trump condemned the attack in Charlottesville in general terms, but didn’t specifically call out the white nationalists who had convened the rally and who are responsible for the death and injuries that occurred there.
Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”
In 2016 Trump opined on CNN “I think Islam hates us” and he has repeatedly condemned “radical Islamic terrorism,” but he has been noticeably silent about the actions and beliefs of the white nationalists and alt-right militants of the kind that rallied in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Indeed, since Trump took office – and before the Charlottesville incident – far-right militants have killed three people in two separate incidents in New York City and Portland, Oregon; a black nationalist terrorist also killed three and a jihadist militant killed one person, according to New America research.
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The lack of acknowledgement and condemnation of militant right-wing terrorism echoes another area of silence by Trump. He has not condemned those behind the bomb that detonated at a Minneapolis suburban mosque a week ago. The perpetrators have not been identified in that case. Luckily the bomb injured no one, but so far the reaction to the attack by the usually voluble Trump has been to say nothing.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton described the mosque bombing as “an act of terrorism.”