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.

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