A handful of Senate Democrats are pushing for hearings on domestic terrorism following last month’s shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, S.C.
“We urge you to hold hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the threat posed by domestic terrorism and homegrown hate groups. In the past, mass violence in our country has been explained away as an act of insanity to be treated as a mental health issue. What we saw in South Carolina is about hate, and it is about evil,” the six senators wrote to Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-IA). The group of senators include Patrick Leahy (VT), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee; Dick Durbin (IL); Richard Blumenthal (CT); Dianne Feinstein (CA); Chris Coons (DE) and Al Franken (MN).
Domestic terrorism has often taken a back seat to plans of foreign terror attacks following the massive loss of human life on 9/11. In the nearly 14 years since then, deadly terrorist attacks have largely come from homegrown threats, according to statistics provided by the New America Foundation. Homegrown jihadists often acting on behalf of radical groups like ISIS (also known by some as the Islamic State or ISIL) have killed 26 people since then — more than half of whom were killed at a shooting in Fort Hood, TX. Right wing attacks have killed 48 people since 9/11. The most deadly of these attacks was in Charleston on June 17 when Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans at the Emanuel A.M.E.
Right wing radicalism has largely been overlooked in comparison with the focus on homegrown jihadis. The lawmakers said that the U.S. “must address the reality of domestic terrorism spurred by racial hatred head on,” according to The Hill.
“If this same act had been perpetrated by someone claiming a desire to harm Americans in the service of Islamist principles, it would immediately be labeled an act of terror,” the senators wrote in the letter. “A violent act motivated by a racist desire to intimidate a civilian population falls squarely within the definition of domestic terrorism.”
“There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown,” Dr. John G. Horgan, the director at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell’s Center for Terrorism & Security Studies, told the New York Times. “And there’s a belief that the threat of right-wing, antigovernment violence has been underestimated.”
The mass murder in Charleston last month has shined a spotlight on the issue of domestic terrorism and right-wing radicalism in particular. Initial reactions seemed to try and downplay the issue. “I just think he was one of these whacked-out kids,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN after the shooting. “I don’t think it’s anything broader than that.”
But as statistics show, Roof is not alone in his views nor in his actions. As Jelani Cobb wrote in the New Yorker last month, “The fact that Roof appears to have acted without accomplices will inevitably be taken as solace. He will be dismissed as a deranged loner, connected to nothing broader. This is untrue. Even if he acted by himself, he was not alone.”