In 2019, both authorities and a rising number of organizations shifted focus to the threat of white supremacist violence. The shift was necessary, considering both the El Paso attack at a Walmart that killed 22 and Poway synagogue shooting (which followed the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in 2018).
As reported by NPR, here are some steps being taken:
- Congressional committees held at least four hearings on hate crimes and white nationalism, calling on counterterrorism officials to treat Far-Right militants as seriously as they do jihadists
- Two U.S. senators, one Republican and one Democratic, introduced bills that would give federal authorities tools similar to those used to combat Islamist extremists to combat white supremacist violence. The issue remains controversial because of questions of free speech and other concerns.
- The Department of Homeland Security unveiled a strategic plan that pledged more resources for fighting Far-Right extremism – a surprise from an agency that previously focused almost exclusively on Islamist militancy. The introduction to the document stated, “As the threats evolve, we must do so as well”
- Academics across the United States who study the Far Right formed the Consortium on Hate and Political Extremism, saying they felt compelled to help teach the public about the evolving threat. It’s modeled after Europe’s Center for Research on Extremism, known as C-REX
Yet the recent string of attacks against New York City’s Jewish population isn’t from white supremacists; it’s from members of the city’s Black-American population.
Since attacks surged, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) announced the launch of a unit focused on racially and ethnically motivated extremism, called by the same name (acronym REME) to understand and counter this phenomenon.
What Did We Miss?
I think the problem lies in the fact that we’ve been so focused on white supremacy, that we’ve ignored the larger monster in the room. The larger monster is the thing that is allowing the pattern of racial/ethnic violence to duplicate.
Anti-Semitism is the oldest hate in history. Fortunately, this scourge has been relatively dormant since the establishment of our nation, which was founded to a large degree on the idea of rights for all individuals and faiths.
Now we must ask: What is it about this hate that it is suddenly re-emerging? For better insight into the problem, I talked with former extremists who, at one point in their lives, embraced hate before they decided to walk away from it.
A common theme is the increasing polarization of our society leading to an emergence of extremism on both sides of the political spectrum, creating an environment which makes Jews vulnerable from all angles.
Former Extremists Weigh In
Jeff Schoep, former leader of the National Socialist Movement, speaks about America’s increasingly polarized landscape:
Extremism and radicalization can come from many different sources, the Far Right, Far Left, white nationalists, Black nationalists, religious extremists, the list goes on. In 2019, polarization between Americans of all various political and societal differences has risen to such extremes that people who were once considered moderate are lumped into one extreme or another.
For example, Trump supporters increasingly were being called racists and Nazis, while Democrats were being called communists. Both sides are increasingly intolerant of each other which, in some cases, is leading to violence.
As Americans we need to unite and come together and not divide ourselves over petty differences. We need to learn to love each other and accept that just because someone has a different opinion than someone else, it does not give anyone the right to act upon or against those opinions with violence and hate.
Jesse Morton, a former recruiter for Al-Qaeda, calls on us to see the relationship between different forms of extremism that we see emerging on the U.S. scene:
In 2020, a reelection year sure to be one of contention, we have to appreciate the reciprocal relationships between extremisms – we are now living in an age of extremisms, all feeding off of and dependent on other, where hyperpolarization in politics and society is fueling widespread radicalism, which only increases the number of those radicals that go on to commit violence.If we focus on one type in isolation, such as white supremacism, we won’t recognize that what we do to combat it, if we view it as the only threat, will only fuel polarization, push radicals further to the fringes and to the point where they feel threatened and think the only recourse is violence. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
What Can Change….Today?
I personally feel the problem is significantly rooted in language. We’re using the proverbial “master’s tools” to dismantle the master’s house — meaning, we’re using language based on the mistaken idea that human beings can be reduced to generic color blocks to talk about the problem.
By using labels that speak to color, we’re reaffirming the myth of difference and invoking the language on which that myth is dependent.
Saying a white supremacist did this, or a Black person did that, we’re seeing the behavior through myth of the group. We’re not seeing the individual, which is necessary if we’re going to understand the behavior that drives these individuals.
It’s also necessary if we hope to take power away from the offending “group.” In order for white supremacists, for example, to exist, we need to see and reaffirm them as a group: white. Take away the coded language, and you’ve dismantled, in part, a significant factor that group needs to exist.
These and other ideas need to be explored if this problem is going to be tackled in the upcoming year.
Meanwhile, one group is taking to the streets and tackling the problem. Watch the following video about New York’s Guardian Angels patrolling the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where anti-Semitic crimes have been rampant in the last weeks. The citizen’s patrol group was started in 1979 by Curtis Sliwa (featured in the video) as a response to the out-of-control crime in the New York City subway. The group now has branches in over 130 cities and 13 countries worldwide. Older Jewish residents of Crown Heights remembered the Guardian Angels’ presence during the 1991 Crown Heights riots, when the police largely let widespread violence against Jews go unanswered: