In this week’s report: A new database sheds light on how we perceive terror attacks on U.S. soil, a wave of hate crimes follow major terror attacks in the U.K., a Virginia teen’s brutal murder raises questions about the line between road rage and hate crimes, and a professor receives death threats after pushing back against white supremacist appropriation of classical art.
Home is where the hate is
During a speech in late February, President Donald Trump staked a forceful claim about national security priorities. His administration, he assured a crowd in Pennsylvania, will take “strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.”
The statement was intended to set the tone for Trump’s agenda – and to lay the groundwork for his proposed travel ban, which has since been pummeled by a series of federal court rulings. But it also in some ways betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding about terror attacks in the U.S.: They’re more likely to be linked to right-wing extremists than to those acting in the name of Islam.
That’s according to a brand new database compiled by the Investigative Fund, which collects and categorizes nine years of domestic terror incidents. The findings sometimes contradict the White House’s rhetoric on the issue.
- From January 2008 to the end of 2016, there were 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism – incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, where no attack took place.
- During the same period, The Investigative Fund found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
- Right-wing extremist terrorism incidents were more often deadly: Nearly a third involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. (The total deaths associated with Islamist incidents were higher, however, reaching 90, largely due to the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.)
Backlash against Muslims in the UK
First came the deadly terror attacks on London Bridge and at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Then came the backlash: a spike in anti-Muslim crimes.
According to a Guardian report, Manchester police recorded an over 500 percent increase in Islamophobic attacks between the two weeks sandwiching the May 22 concert bombing. While they did not provide exact figures, officials told The Guardian that London had seen a similar spike following the June 3 bridge attack that left eight dead and dozens injured.
The highest-profile incident occurred on June 19, when a 47-year-old drove a van into a crowd of worshippers leaving a mosque in London’s Finsbury Park neighborhood. “I want to kill all Muslims!” he reportedly shouted moments before the attack.
The Guardian lists other examples:
The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Heidi Beirich told us there were similar spikes in Islamophobic incidents after the 9/11 attacks, the 2015 attack in San Bernardino, California, and even when political leaders have stirred up anti-Muslim sentiment.
However, Beirich said, political leaders have the ability to stem the tide of hate incidents if they so desire.
“After 9/11, there was this outbreak of hate crimes against Muslims. President George W. Bush, very quickly, went to a mosque and decried the violence,” she said. “He was able to tamp it down.”
Beirich praised U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May for immediately condemning the Finsbury Park massacre but expressed regret that President Trump has an itchy Twitter finger when it comes to attacks by Islamist fundamentalists yet has been less aggressive pushing back on violence against Muslims.
When a white nationalist killed six Muslims outside a Quebec mosque, Trump never tweeted about it from his personal account. After Jeremy Christian fatally stabbed two people defending two women on a Portland train, one of whom was wearing a hijab, Trump waited days before tweeting about it. Yet he weighed in on the London Bridge attack almost immediately.
“He feeds the hysteria around Muslims,” Beirich said.
A statue of a different color
Over the past year, stickers and posters have popped up on college campuses across the country, emblazoned with slogans like “Protect Your Heritage” and “Let’s Become Great Again.” They are marketing materials for the white nationalist group Identity Evropa.
Founded by military veteran Nathan Damigo, the group advocates for the creation of white-only ethno-states within America’s borders.
The images prominently feature white marble statues like Michelangelo’s David and the Apollo Belvedere as a connection to white, European culture.
Sarah Bond, an assistant professor of classics at University of Iowa, was uncomfortable with white nationalists appropriating the art she’s spent her career studying. In a blog post, Bond wrote the statues are currently represented as stark white. However, they were originally painted in a vibrant colors, most of which chipped off over the centuries.
Erasing the original color renders invisible the diversity in skin tones of the people depicted, thereby letting white supremacists claim exclusive connection to this part of the artistic canon. Race, Bond argued, is a modern concept that wouldn’t have occurred to the artists who created these works. Importing that idea is an anachronism that bolsters white supremacy
Bond noted how this misinterpretation affects art produced today:
After Bond’s post was the subject of critical articles on conservative sites like Campus Reform, the Blaze, and the National Review, she was hit with a wave of online harassment, replete with death threats and calls for her to be fired.
As the alt-right has embraced a confrontational form of identity politics, those in the movement have adopted various cultural artifacts, watching with glee as their political opponents reject them as symbols of white supremacy. From New Balance athletic shoes to the OK hand sign to the Pepe the Frog internet meme, previously neutral pop culture symbols have become a new political battleground.
For Bond, foundational European cultural signifiers like classical sculpture aren’t ground to cede to white supremacists. “I’m really sick of alt-right groups appropriating classical antiquities for nefarious reasons,” she told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Classical antiques belong to everybody.”
Some kind of monster
“You are not a monster. I have never sentenced a monster,” U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier told Robert Doggart last week, as the judge sentenced the 65-year-old Tennessee resident to a maximum of 20 years in prison. “In many respects, you have lived a life of honor. But you’re not standing here to be sentenced for that.”
Given the attack Doggart was convicted for attempting to carry out, Collier’s conditional praise raised eyebrows.
In 2015, the former Tennessee Valley Authority engineer and one-time political candidate was arrested for trying to recruit volunteers to attack Muslims in the rural community of Islamberg, New York. According to prosecutors, Doggart planned to burn down a mosque, school and local cafeteria.
“I don’t want to have to kill children,” Doggart said in an audio recording of a conversation about the plot played during the trial, “but there’s always collateral damage.”
Road rage or a hate crime?
Over 20,000 people have signed an online petition calling on law enforcement officials to investigate the Virginia killing of a Muslim teenager as a hate crime.
Nabra Hassanen was walking with friends early Sunday morning when the group was allegedly accosted by Darwin Martinez Torres, who struck Hassanen with a baseball bat and dragged her into his car. Hassanen’s body, which showed evidence of sexual assault, was discovered later that afternoon in a lake near Torres’ home.
Police initially declared the attack “road rage.” (The confrontation began over an argument about the teens walking and riding bikes in the street.) Hassanen’s family is skeptical. They believe Hassanen was targeted for the traditional Islamic clothing she was wearing after attending Ramadan prayers at a mosque in Sterling, Virginia.
Officials defended the decision not to view Torres’ actions as a hate crime because witnesses didn’t report him using racial slurs before the abduction.
Hate crime charges require the government to prove an attacker’s motivation. The reasoning behind doling out harsher punishments for hate crimes is that violence triggered by racial or religious animus intimidates an entire community. Unless suspects somehow make their reasoning explicit, disentangling Islamophobia from other reasons leading to a killing can be difficult.
Yet, the effect on the community remains regardless of the statute under which the suspect is charged.
On Wednesday morning, a memorial for Hassanen in Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle was set on fire. A 24-year-old South Carolina man was arrested in connection with the blaze.
An online crowdfunding effort to support Hassanen’s family has raised over $300,000.
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