From 2009 through 2018, right-wing extremists accounted for 73% of deaths in terrorist attacks, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In contrast, the ADL found that Islamist extremism only accounted for 23% of deaths.
Right-wing extremism is on the rise, and white assailants have been behind the majority of attacks. And yet, white assailants are continually not charged with terrorism. Here lies the terrorism double standard, where the government thinks the color of your skin reflects the danger you present to the country.
Since 9/11, the Justice Department has repeatedly chosen not to bring terrorism charges against right-wing extremists, even when their crimes meet the legal definition of domestic terrorism — acts that are harmful to human life, that are ideologically motivated to intimidate civilians, to influence policy, or to change government conduct — according to an Intercept analysis of federal prosecutions.
Take Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon. On Aug. 19, 1993, she shot one of the few doctors known to perform late-term abortions, Dr. George Tiller, five times as he drove out of his clinic, wounding both of his arms.
After being detained for the attempted murder of Tiller, Shannon was also indicted for attacks on nine other abortion clinics, with 30 other charges including arson, interference with commerce by force and interstate travel in aid of racketeering.
Judge James Redden went beyond sentencing terms for Shannon’s crimes, giving her 20 years. “Though I am loath to call anyone terrorist, you are a terrorist,” Redden said.
“The defendant has engaged in a long pattern of terrorist activity,” said Stephen Peifer, an Assistant U.S. Attorney. “Her purpose is not to destroy property but to instill fear in people.”
Shannon was called a terrorist and denounced as one, so why was she not charged with domestic terrorism?
Islamic Extremists are almost always formally charged with terrorism. Those who threaten violence in the name of Allah will almost always be charged with terroristic threat. But, white terrorists are continually charged with charges that do not carry the gravity of terrorism.
“This double standard has had powerful consequences for how the FBI and other law enforcement agencies allocate counterterrorism resources, leading invariably to international threats being prioritized over domestic ones,” explained Trevor Aaronson in his article “Terrorism’s Double Standard” for The Intercept.
Shannon was a part of a group called Army of God, a group that is currently identified by ADL to be an active terrorist group. She was even close to Donald Spitzer, leader of the group, and continued to advise the group from prison, which somehow aroused no suspicion.
For someone who was called by her prosecution “a threat even from behind bars,” Shannon was continually allowed to advise the Army of God from prison and meet with other anti-abortion extremists, which I think points to a lack of oversight by the FBI.
In fact, it’s clear that the FBI was not effectively monitoring anti-abortion terrorism because lightning struck Tiller twice.
On May 31, 2009, Tiller was ushering for a Sunday service at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas, when he was shot point-blank in the head with .22 caliber by Scott Roeder. Tiller had been wearing body army, and had been since 1998, when the FBI told him he was a target of anti-abortion terrorism.
Both the week and day before Tiller’s murder, a different owner had reported Roeder’s name and license plate to the police and the FBI warning them that he was likely an anti-abortion terrorist. The owner called both times after he discovered that Roeder had vandalized his clinic, Aid for Women, in Kansas City, Kentucky, by catching him on camera, according to the Huffington Post.
Roeder had glued all the locks shut, and the owner of Aid for Women, who wished to remain unknown so as to not be made a target of further terrorism, said that he had video of Roeder and knew his license plate numbers, but authorities did not pursue action.
There was more than enough reason for the FBI to be vigilant of Roeder, and yet, they weren’t. Even after Roeder was put on trial, he was charged for first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault, and not for domestic terrorism despite his testimony on the stand where he explained he shot Tiller because that was what “needed to be done to protect the children.”
Contrast the fact that Shannon and Roeder were not charged nor treated like terrorists to the U.S.’s heartbreaking treatment of Shaker Aamer, an innocent Muslim man that was held in Guantanamo Bay for almost 14 years without trial and without charge.
Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia, was a U.K. Citizen with a wife and four children, who all suffered from Aamer’s arrest. His children went 14 years without a father, and Aamer even told his father-in-law that his wife could divorce him if she wished after learning that he would likely not be released for several years.
The British Government continually asked the U.S. to release him. Campaigners for Aamer’s freedom began to believe he was being held out of fear that Guantanamo’s brutality would be exposed.
After Aaamer’s release, Aamer said that he had been beaten, waterboarded, forced to go without food, as well as endure other horrors. The worst, he said, was when officials threatened to rape his daughter.
“‘If you don’t start talking, we will rape your daughter and you will hear her crying, ‘daddy, daddy,’” Aamer said the officials told him while incarcerated in an interview with BBC. “That was the hardest thing, the hardest thing that I ever hear. That was completely inhumane. It was worse than the beating, as well, worse than everything, just thinking of my daughter and I just sat there silent."
In truth, Aamer was detained and even tortured just on the suspicion that he was possibly an accountant for Al-Qaeda, whereas Roeder not only met with Shannon at least 25 times but vandalized Aid for Women twice before killing Tiller.
I repeat, there is a double standard for domestic and international terrorism. While it is still legal to donate to the Army of God, it is illegal to donate to the Army of Islam, despite both being terrorist groups.
In fact, it is also legal to donate to the equally disgusting militant Atomwaffen Division, a neo-nazi terrorist group that has produced its own high count of murderers.
In 2018 alone, over 50 lives were claimed by right-wing domestic terrorism. Those 50 or so deaths were preventable. Tiller’s death was preventable.
The U.S. does not need any new laws to to prosecute and surveil right-wing extremists, it merely needs to acknowledge the threat of domestic terrorism, condemn domestic terrorists and formally charge them with such. The U.S. must employ the same intensity of measures to combat domestic terrorism as it does to combat international terrorism.
Elli Korn is a 19-year-old mass communication sophmore from Dallas, Texas.