When Terrorism Is White, As It So Often Is

Don't go looking for consistency in the application of counterterrorism. The only relevant consistency is America's tolerance of white terrorism, terror as American as apple pie.

When Terrorism Is White, As It So Often Is

Edited by Sam Thielman

THE TERRORIST SAW America slipping away from him, and he had to do something about it.

He knew his enemy. They were the mongrel races shoving his people out of the center of American life and into a degrading, rigged competition for scarce resources. The demons who call themselves Jews and issue the orders that the mongrels obey. The system, once the guarantor of white prosperity, that now ensures replacement.

He reconnoitered his target, a place where the enemy were known to gather, for battlefield preparation. He selected his weapon for its ability to inflict maximum damage on the enemy. He authored a manifesto to explain why the attack was necessary—a line of operation, to use the U.S. military's terminology, for winning the communications battlespace. Perhaps others would be inspired by his heroism and awake from their apathy to save America.

Then, kitted out like a soldier in an endless war, he murdered everyone he could before he was taken, alive and unharmed, by the police.

I'm talking about the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Buffalo, at a supermarket, on Saturday. But notice how the pattern fits the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Pittsburgh, at the Tree of Life Synagogue, in October 2018. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in El Paso, at a Walmart, in August 2019. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Oak Creek, at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, in August 2012. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Charleston, at the Mother Emanuel AME Church, in June 2015. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Birmingham, at the 16th Street Baptist Church, in September 1963. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Poway, at the Chabad of Poway, in April 2019. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Oklahoma City, at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in April 1995.

Substitute a few words here and there and you also have the misogynist terrorist atrocity in Isla Vista, near the University of California-Santa Barbara campus, in May 2014. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Christchurch, at the al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center, in March 2019.  Or the misogynist terrorist atrocity in Atlanta, Georgia, at the summer Olympic Games, in July 1996. Or the white supremacist terrorist atrocity in Oslo and Utoya, at the Parliament house and the Labour Party's youth retreat, in July 2011.

I suppose something I wrote in my generic description above doesn't quite capture the Buffalo attack. I saw a section of the terrorist's livestream that someone posted—Instagram quickly deleted it—where he leveled his weapon at someone inside the Tops Friendly Market before he realized they were white. So I suppose he didn't murder everyone he could. Just everyone whom his politics demanded he see as subhuman.

While the terrorist's actions may not be tolerated by the authorities, his politics—his foundational presumptions—are. Not in their disreputable version, whereby he gets to seek white martyrdom through violence. But in their respectable version, whereby America's racialized socio-economic order places—and must place—people like him at the top of a hierarchy that assesses who gets to experience freedom, wealth and security. America doesn't have to provide him with substantial or even significant material benefit. It just has to ensure that nonwhites, writ large, have less than he does.

America's bourgeois democracy ensures that the formal political process is downstream of this socio-economic order. Those with media and political platforms who believe as the terrorist does—or who simply benefit from cultivating these beliefs in white people, whether they themselves believe it or not—have a way of framing challenges to that socio-economic order. They call it Replacement.

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AT THE BEGINNING of REIGN OF TERROR, I tell the story of the 1995 Oklahoma City attack, because it stands in contrast to everything the War on Terror is. Accordingly, it shows what the War on Terror, when it begins six years later, can't be.

Long story short: Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Army veteran of the Gulf War, was a white revolutionary. He availed himself of an infrastructure of white revolution, including a white terror training camp/safe haven in Oklahoma called Elohim City; a radicalization novel about white replacement known as The Turner Diaries; a theory of leaderless resistance proffered to such revolutionaries in the 1980s by a KKK Grand Dragon named Louis Beam; and the racist underbelly of gun shows, where he could amass an arsenal, earn money by selling weapons, and disseminate white-terrorist propaganda.

McVeigh and his comrades in their fantasized race war did not understand themselves as trying to overthrow the Constitutional order. They understood themselves to be restoring it. While liberals and mainstream conservatives spoke about the Constitution as the operating system of the United States, McVeigh recognized in 1995, as other white nationalists recognize in 2022, that whatever the Constitution might say, its purpose is to codify the socio-economic order that merges capital with white supremacy; and to create infrastructural obstacles to changing that compact.

"With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro," said Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, in 1861. Stephens was summing up the compact that a Constitution would either protect or not; if it didn't protect the compact, whites would gain a license to violate the Constitution. All Stephens wanted was for the Constitution to be understood according to the Founders' original intent. Not the nice shit that, say, Jefferson the republican wrote, but the real shit that Jefferson the slavemaster did.

When McVeigh killed 168 people, including 19 children, the reaction, from law enforcement, journalism, and national politics, unfolded according to that long history. The prosecutor, a guy you may have heard of named Merrick Garland, focused on convicting McVeigh, and shunted aside any focus on the white-terror infrastructure from which he emerged. The legislative response rejected expansions of law-enforcement surveillance and prosecutorial power to confront that infrastructure, and instead pointed those repressive and lethal powers at Muslim radicals abroad who had nothing to do with Oklahoma City. (The other effect of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Pentalty Act of 1996 was to make it easier to execute felons, a substantially nonwhite population.) The media response was first to blame Muslims for a white Christian's attack, and then, after McVeigh's culpability was plain, to omit or obscure McVeigh's political purpose. "An Ordinary Boy's Extraordinary Rage," was the headline of a Washington Post story that's worth clicking.

The reason for all this was to avoid addressing the fact that McVeigh's terrorism emerged from a very deep American heritage, a heritage that has not only stolen the lives, freedom and wealth from millions of black people, but which shapes, in fundamental ways, the America in which we currently live. Whether the journalists, police, prosecutors and politicians involved understood it or not—I would contend their actions were path-dependent; that is, they unfolded within choices constrained within that framework of American history—their actions maintained the compact.

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia described the Buffalo massacre as "a straight up racially motivated hate crime." Not, notice, a straight up terrorist attack to preserve the material components and benefits of white supremacy. Hate is not the point. Racism does not require hate, only hierarchy; hate develops to justify the hierarchy. White replacement theory is simply the necrotic tissue of settler colonialism, a process defined from the start by guns, blood, theft and rationalization. (That's why it emerged in Christchurch as well.) Whatever Garcia meant to do, he preserved the compact.

THE WAR ON TERROR is not a thing that can be applied consistently, because it is American, and that is just not how America is designed to operate. Its expansive lists of horrors will not be mitigated by consistency—which is to say, to subject white communities to the same collective suspicion, targeting and state execution that Muslims have experienced for 20 years and black people in America have experienced for 400. Nothing useful is gained by making repression ecumenical, even if such a thing were possible. The only thing to do with a War on Terror is to abolish it, root and branch, repealing its authorities, taking away its funding and breaking up its institutions.

We saw after January 6 that nationalists wish to experience government repression so as to use it for justifying revanchist violence. It was reasonable in the past year to worry and warn that the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress, steeped as they are in the Sustainable War on Terror (read the middle of REIGN OF TERROR for what I mean by that), would pass a material-support law to criminalize degress of association with "domestic" (they can't even say white) terrorism. While that seems to have abated, the administration and its congressional allies have shown no desire to wage the political fight necessary to force violent white supremacy into abeyance. They fear a white backlash more than they fear white terrorism. In that sense, liberals and nationalists are locked into a dialectical relationship, not an oppositional one, something neither side wishes to face.

Yet notice how the nationalists fear a political response. You can see it in how the purveyors of white replacement theory affect outrage that they might be associated with the Buffalo terror attack. Eoin Higgins puts it well here:

[Tucker] Carlson is hardly alone. His allies and followers in the Republican Party have been parroting the “replacement” line for years. GOP rising star Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), one of the biggest proponents of the conspiracy, used it in a September 2021 campaign ad. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) used the term directly in a tweet praising Carlson, and candidates such as Ohio’s JD Vance have also embraced the language. You can read a good overview from Judd Legum here.

But instead of rethinking how they talk about immigrants and people of color, conservatives have gone on the offensive, playing aggrieved to drown their critics in crocodile tears. Stefanik, in a statement, expressed her sympathies for the victims of the shooting—and then turned things over to senior advisor Alex DeGrasse for a doubling down on anti-immigrant sentiments.

The only thing to do with the capitalist-white supremacist compact is to organize the multiracial working class and defeat the compact through socialism's promise of real freedom, real wealth in the hands of those who produced it, and real security from those who hunt them down in supermarkets, churches, mosques and synagogues; round them up and deport them; steal their wealth to take trips to low-earth orbit; and justify it all as the natural order of a tragic world. There is no alternative but political struggle. The only thing that has ever redeemed and will ever redeem America is not a political process born from the compact. It is Americans ourselves, united under the banner of solidarity, breaking the compact, and forcing the political process into a binary choice: Yield before our power; or be replaced by it.