When The Enemy Looks Like US

In Kansas, the FBI completed an eight-month investigation into a terrorist cell, capturing the members before they were able to do any harm. This cell was in the process of gathering explosives and weapons, using social media to attempt to recruit others into their Crusade, hoping to strike the day after the election.

But there’s no 24/7 media coverage of these attackers. We’re not investigating why they were radicalized. In fact, there’s a good chance that this is the first you’ve heard of this planned. Because when they were arrested, they weren’t called terrorists. We called the militia. Because they’re white.

Some papers are now starting to call them terrorists, but they’re not getting the same coverage as the NYC bomber, or any other arrest that the media can tie to ISIL.


What Happened In Kansas

Three men purchased what they thought were functioning weapons from FBI agents. The FBI began investigating these men about 8 months ago, gathering information and trying to see how widespread the group was.

Their plan was brutally simple: They wanted to create four car bombs, similar to those used by Timothy McVeigh, and target an apartment complex because it was home to more than 200 Somali Muslim Immigrants as well as their Mosque. The vehicles would be placed at the four corners of the complex and set to go off in a massive explosion.

In addition to this large attack, they were also stockpiling weapons and ammunition, planning to send Crusaders, the term they used for their group, to the state border to keep refugees from crossing. At least one of the men brought up the idea of attacking any churches that supported immigrants or Muslims. To them, the only good Muslim was a dead Muslim. They were looking forward to killing them all, even if they were children.

Why November 9th? Because it is the day after the US Presidential elections, and they didn’t want their actions to potentially influence the vote. It’s not hard to guess which way they wanted that vote to go.

Facebook Post
Facebook post of one of the arrested suspects

Obviously, Trump didn’t tell them to do this. I think that his rhetoric contributed to this, but these sentiments existed long before he came into the public eye, and they’ll exist long after he fades from it. The problem is that we have people becoming radicalized in our country, and the only time it seems to be a problem is if the radical has brown skin.


The Myth Of The Lone Wolf

The Kansas terrorists aren’t unique. The man who shot three police officers in Baton Rouge this summer was a member of a Sovereign citizen movement, and the Dallas shooter who murdered 10 officers at a peaceful Black Lives Matter movement also had ties to a movement that closely resembles the Sovereign Citizens.

In Oregon, “Militia” took over a wildlife refuge, led by a man who declared himself part of the Sovereign Citizen movement. The Sovereign Citizen movement is highlighted by the FBI as a domestic terrorist threat and a study in 2014 identified them as the top perceived threat among law enforcement officers. But it’s unlikely you were aware of the movement before this summer, of before reading about them here. I know I didn’t know much about it until I followed the Oregon Standoff and heard the term mentioned there.

But these “Fringe” groups are not the only dangers out there.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 276 anti-government armed militia groups in the United States. Maybe some of these are little more than glorified boys-clubs, where the goal is more the image than anything else, but there’s still a lot of violence.

In Texas, a 50-year-old man was arrested by the FBI for attempting to buy parts to make a bomb from an undercover agent. Last year, the FBI arrested three men in Virginia who were planning a series of shootings in African-American churches who hoped the murders would start a race war.

Each one of these incidents might be an example of someone “acting alone.” but they’re getting radicalized. They’re getting pushed to a point where they can justify killing others and can rationalize it. The number is growing. From militia’s having standoffs in the midwest to men murdering bystanders in a planned parenthood, calling these instances lone wolf attacks ignores the forest for the trees.

In Florida, Omar Mateen claimed “allegiance” to ISIL, but the government found no ties between him and the group. Despite this, our culture was quick to connect him to the group, based off of a single statement he made. For all we know, he was self-radicalized. A lone wolf. But we’ll never call him that.


When They Look Like Us

As a culture, we reserve the word “Terrorist” and only apply it to people we can call other. Muslims? Terrorists. BlackLivesMatter? A lot of people who look like me are ok with calling them terrorists as well.

But what if the terrorist looks like us? What if the shooters look like people we went to school with? Then, we start making excuses for their actions. We claim mental health or call them lone wolves. We say that they seemed like such nice people until they snapped. Everything carefully stated to try and make it clear that they do not represent “us.”

I think this is dangerous. If we don’t start looking about how these people are becoming radicalized, why the number of school shootings is up, it’s only going to get worse. We need to stop making excuses for this behavior. Calling them lone wolves is avoiding culpability, it’s claiming that there’s nothing really wrong, just some people went a little crazy. It’s saying that we can continue doing what we’re doing because they’re just outliers. 

We can’t continue this way.

Perhaps the only positive thing about this terrible election season is that it’s brought the topics of racism, class, and civil unrest into the national conversation. It’s not about the candidates. This election season might’ve given these groups some increased visibility, but long after the candidates turn the spotlights away from them, the problems will still remain. 

So now that we’re talking about it, let’s really TALK about it. Let’s stop ignoring evil simply because it’s uncomfortably similar to who we see in the mirror. We need to address the fact that sometimes terrorism isn’t some outside force. Sometimes it’s people who look like us. 

You and I would never consider the things that the three in Kansas did. But we’re responsible for finding a way to make sure that the people who do think like that never succeed and never find support.

We Need To Stop Ignoring Our Culture Of Hate

Orlando Shooting Vigil

In Orlando, a man walked into a nightclub and killed or injured more than 100 people in one of the worst mass shootings our country ever experienced.

In the wake of the tragedy, the media tried pinning down the killer’s motive, with most reporting on the fact that the shooter was a Muslim, and apparently called 911 prior to the attack to claim allegiance to Dae’sh. A comparative few sources noted that the killer had a history of homophobic outbursts, and many politicians expressed sympathy to the victims of the attack without ever acknowledging that his victims were from the LGBTQ community.

If there’s anything positive to come out of this brutal attack, it’s knowing that it could’ve been a lot worse. Across the country, another would-be killer was arrested on his way to a gay pride parade armed with multiple weapons, and an explosive device.  This time, however, the attack wouldn’t be carried out by a Muslim, it wouldn’t be by someone claiming to support Dae’sh. It would be by a white teenage boy from Indiana.

It’s easy to try passing the blame for hatred off on the radicalization of Muslims because most of us don’t follow Islam. At best, what we know about it is what we hear on the news, often only the worst bits, from the most radical groups. But violent homophobia is not a trait you find only in radical Muslim communities, it’s something that’s part of our American culture.

Calling something out as wrong and demanding action is easy when the killer doesn’t look like us, but we rarely ask ourselves about our own culture, and how out own actions could make such crimes possible. What do we do when the hatred looks like us?

An American Response

In the wake of the attack, there was an outpouring of grief and horror.  Vigils occurred around the country, and around the world and the line for blood donations in Orlando went around the block with fundraisers appearing in the hours after the attack to raise money for the victims and families. In many ways, this is the American response we imagine happening after a terrorist attack, and I think it’s what Hillary Clinton said when she wanted to go back to the “attitudes of 9/12.”

Despite our differences, despite the divisiveness this year brought to us, when there is an attack on our soil, for most Americans, this is how we respond to tragedy, with outrage and many seek a way they can help.

Unfortunately, not everyone acted this way. For some, including those who proclaimed to be following the words of Christ, they responded with a perverse joy. Before his video was removed from YouTube, an Arizona pastor praised the killings.

To him, he said that the only people that died were pedophiles and sinners.  To him, they were not the children of grieving parents, or fellow murdered citizens, they were things he was happy to be rid of. In fact, the only concern he showed is because he felt that it would be used as an excuse to take his guns away.

I want to say that he’s an outlier here, but despite being far more outspoken than most, he wasn’t the only one cheering. The Westboro Baptist Church, a controversial cult-like church known for protesting the deaths of those victimized by hate crimes, also cheered and called it God’s judgement.

Most Christians will rightly point out to you that these hateful voices don’t speak for us, that they don’t hold opinions we share, and they’d be correct in doing so. But, we’re also ignoring a larger reality when we do this. It’s not just small fringe groups spewing this hatred, it’s pastors and organizations who have the ear of those seeking positions of power ,of “Christians” positioning themselves as figureheads of what they insist is a Christian Nation. Remember, Jerry Falwell, one of the countries most outspoken evangelicals, said that it was our tolerance of homosexuality that caused 9/11. This thinking is still present in the current day.

This video clip is from a speech by Kevin Swanson at his Freedom 2015 conference. In it, he says that both the Old and New Testament call for the death of anyone who practices homosexuality. This isn’t the first time Swanson made such arguments, he has a history of them. In fact, he has a radio program where he says that elements of modern culture, including the girl scouts and women’s soccer, are ‘turning our children gay.’ And that as Christian’s, we’re called to fight a culture war for their souls.

And we can’t write Swanson off as just a relatively unknown nut job. At his Freedom conference, three presidential candidates spoke. Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz all agreed to speak at his conference, presumably to try and gain the support of his followers who think that killing people because of who they’re attracted to is an acceptable punishment.

Kevin Swanson appears to have no love for Trump, but he says that Trump will be God’s tool to help prepare our country for its destruction.

These voices don’t represent the thoughts of most, or possibly even a substantial minority of Christians, but they do represent almost the only voices regularly speaking on the topics of Homosexuality. When the world asks what Christians think about LGBTQ rights, about treating others as human beings, these are the voices they hear.

Most moderate voices, those who will say that the extremists don’t speak for them, are silent, or worse, we’ll say something along the lines of “I believe that homosexuality is a sin, but I don’t think you should kill someone for being gay.” Or, put another way “I agree with the killer’s position, he just took it too far.”

If you’re more concerned about making sure victims still know you think they’re living in sin than you are about showing concern, you’re not showing the love of Christ. Muslim Iman’s around the world expressed outrage at these attacks, as they express outrage at every other act of terror. Most of them don’t use their speeches as a podium to talk about the morality of the victims. So why do Americans?

Seeking An Excuse For Our Behavior

There’s something terrible that happens when the killer is identified as Muslim, or black, an illegal immigrant, or some other group that we’ve decided to consider as “other.” We immediately use the crime as a reason to justify our distrust or discrimination of an entire group of largely innocent people. We call for every single member of that group, or anyone we can connect to them, to apologize for the actions of the killer.  At the same time, we link every action taken by that group that we disagree with as just another piece confirming our opinions of them.

Dinesh, a popular evangelical conservative, is linking the Murderer of 50 innocents to a curious teenager in Texas who was discriminated against because he made the mistake of doing science as a Muslim. To too many, the very act of being Muslim is enough to make them hate you, and every act that any Muslim commits helps them justify their irrationality.

Contrast this to how we treated the White Christian Nationalist Dylan Roof when we went into a church and committed an act of racially motivated terrorism, or when a militant pro-life supporter murdered innocents in a Planned Parenthood.  Or think about how we reacted when two gay men were viciously attacked in Philadelphia, or the everyday violence and discrimination that members of the LGBTQ community have to face just for existing.

Compare our response to the events in Orlando with how we treat the heinous murders committed by those who aren’t a member of a minority group or something we can label quickly as “Un-American”

We don’t have TV pundits calling on every single Christian to bear responsibility for the hatred that others commit in His name. We don’t link these events to part of any broader movement, in fact, we go to great lengths to try and write all of them off as merely isolated incidents. Because as a culture, we’ve conveniently defined hatred and terrorism as things only committed by people who don’t look like us.

Blinders That Harm

Just a few short weeks ago, one of the largest national debates was over where we’d allow people to go pee. You had elected officials insisting that unless we could physically check the genitals of children, we had to bar them from going where they felt most comfortable. South Carolina passed a law, with other states rushing to follow, that actively discriminated against a group that even the lawmakers admitted were innocent.

No, we passed a law that targeted one of the groups most targeted by hate crimes for additional discrimination and distrust, because we refuse to admit that our culture, OUR CULTURE has a problem with sexual assault.

Dae’sh is a terrible, terrifying organization that exists to spread their hatred as far they can, and the threat of them seducing others into their murderous crusade is something that we should take seriously. But looking at the events in Orlando purely as an act of “Islamic Terrorism” is a myth, something we’re desperately trying to perpetuate because we don’t want to admit that what Orlando really was: a hate crime against the LGBTQ community.

Because admitting this means admitting that we also are responsible. But no matter what fictions we choose to believe, the truth remains the same. We’re responsible for this hatred, and we need to do something to stop it.

Calling It Hate

What happened in Orlando was a hate crime. Period.  

Someone targeted members of the LGBTQ community and murdered them because they were members of the LGBTQ Community. The more we learn about the killer, the more complicated his apparent motives become, but what we have to admit to ourselves is that the killer’s hatred is not unique.

Like the almost-killer from Indiana, it appears like the Orlando Shooter had a conflicted relationship with their sexuality. But where the Orlando killer was labeled a terrorist as soon as police released his name, the almost attacker in LA is already having people try to say that this is just a “lone wolf” thing. They’re interviewing his friends and family to try to paint him as just another unbalanced person, and so we can avoid culpability again.

The hatred and fear of the LGBTQ community is not something you can pin on Muslims. The murderer was an American Citizen, born in New York. He grew up in our country, and what makes his act of violence unique isn’t his faith, it’s the severity. Hate crimes against people because of their sexual orientation is depressingly common, and the attacker is rarely someone who’s identified as a Muslim.

Trying to call this an act of “Islamic Terror” is an attempt to shift the blame, to justify our own prejudices and hate by insisting that “we’d” never go that far. We demand that everyone who worships Allah be held accountable for this murder, and in the same breath absolve every other American of culpability. It’s pathetic, shortsighted, and shameful.

I’m not trying to tell you how to believe about morality. I cannot tell you what to believe, but I am asking you to think about how you respond, how you treat others, even those you disagree with. Instead of having the loudest response from the Christian community be words of hatred, we need to be there to help them with their grief. The last thing they need is something like this:

“It’s really sickening that anyone would use the rainbow flag in the context of today’s tragedy,” Schwab wrote. “The victims of this horrific tragedy were sons and daughters of God. It is a disgrace to refer to them by a reductionist reference to their sexual attractions. The rainbow flag is propaganda for the false “gay” construct and lies that continue to oppress millions of people. It is [a] symbol of evil that destroys temporal and eternal life in the same way that this terrorist destroyed earthly life. BOTH are evil.”


That speaker is Jeremy Schwab, a well-known “ex-gay” Christian activist that helped write a texas law legitimizing conversion therapy. Again, this is not just some fringe individual. He is not an outlier, he’s part of a pattern. More importantly, he represents a type of response that I’ve seen from many on social media. He strips the victims of their identity, removes the references to this being a hate crime, before he offers them any sympathy.

What I’m asking is before we let yet another hate crime get whitewashed and passed off as something we have no control over, we take a good hard look at the culture we participate and ask ourselves if we could see the same thing happening again. The answer, sadly, is yes.

It’s time to stop trying to pin this hate on some outside force and claim that we’re not responsible.  We are responsible. Calls to love one another don’t mean a damn unless we act on them.

Our culture is broken. Insisting that it’s some outside force corrupting us will only allow the cancer to consume us from within. We need to be better than the hatred, or it will continue to define us.


Image from Fibonacci Blue showing a vigil for the Orlando Shooting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Use with permission via the Creative Commons 2.0 License.  

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