February 21, 2020

Dealing With the Threat of Home-Grown White Nationalists

Members of white nationalist groups gathered around a statue of Robert E. Lee during a rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, 2017.

We need to accelerate our exodus from a new and mounting tyranny, but not the way white nationalists — including the alleged Chabad of Poway shooter — use the term.

The truth is I had never heard the term “acceleration” in the context of white supremacy, until Anti-Defamation League (ADL) leaders hastily organized a call with the media on April 28, the day after the Chabad shooting.

We all know that a car accelerates when you step on the gas pedal and that tech investors put money into accelerators intended to bring promising new products to market quickly. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt — speaking on the call from San Diego, where he flew immediately following the attack — said the alleged shooter reportedly posted a “manifesto” online before the attack. And that document posted on PasteBin and 8Chan — message boards beloved by extremists — referenced acceleration.

“Accelerationism is a term white supremacists have assigned to their desire to hasten the collapse of society as we know it,” the ADL posted on its website on April 16. “The term is widely used by those on the fringes of the movement, who employ it openly and enthusiastically on mainstream platforms, as well as in the shadows of private, encrypted chat rooms.”

Days before the Chabad shooting, the ADL posted, “We have also recently seen tragic instances of [accelerationism’s] manifestation in the real world.”

In the briefing, Greenblatt said, “Acceleration means ‘the time is now to attack our enemies because right now we have the numbers.’ We’re increasingly seeing it on all social media. We’ve been tracking individual extremists for many, many years and are constantly sharing individuals who we believe pose a threat with law enforcement around the country.”

Greenblatt and Oren Segal, director of ADL’s Center on Extremism, both said they had never heard of the alleged shooter before he acted in Poway. His anti-Semitic hunt was timed to the six-month anniversary of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, in which 11 people were killed. The Chabad of Poway victims were attending services to celebrate Shabbat and the last day of our people’s celebration of our exodus from tyranny.

Many generations after we left Egypt and the experience of living under Pharaoh’s heel, a new kind of tyranny has taken hold in this country — a tyranny of intentional denial. The one that claims that there “are good people on both sides” when alt-right white nationalists rally in Charlottesville, Va., terrorize an entire city and kill a counter-protester.

We need our own acceleration and to bring the incontrovertible facts to the attention of lawmakers. Facts are not partisan. Facts are not “fake news,” though things described by President Donald Trump as fake news are just facts he doesn’t like revealed by the news.

What’s needed is not only condemnation of domestic terror attacks after they happen but, as Greenblatt said, “by enforcing norms before it happens. We desperately need our leaders to stop politicizing these issues.”

These are the actual facts: Extremists murdered 50 people in America last year, and 49 of them “were committed by people espousing extremist white-nationalist ideology,” Greenblatt said.

“The data does not lie,” he added. “It is not my opinion that there is a problem. We know anti-Semitism is on the rise because the FBI is telling us that. In 2017, hate crimes were up 37 percent against the Jewish community. We are the most targeted religious minority in the country despite our small numbers. Anti-Semitism is not some abstraction. Anti-Semitism is a clear and present danger right now in this country. This needs to serve as a wake-up call once and for all.”

We must get our political leaders to stop obsessing about brown people entering our country through the southern border or from Muslim-majority countries and convince them to start paying attention to the real threat: The home-grown white nationalist terrorists responsible for all but one of the extremist murders in this country last year.

The new tyranny paints equivalencies between far left-wing and far right-wing sources of anti-Semitism. It focuses more on reflections of anti-Semitism — like the hideous cartoon stupidly published in the The New York Times over the weekend — than on the actual violence taking Jewish (and black and Muslim) lives.

The mid-level editor with astoundingly poor judgment and anti-Semitism in his or her heart who unilaterally decided to publish that disgusting image should be fired. The Times has promised “significant changes.”

Anti-Semitism — surging in America and around the world — is coming from both the far left and the far right. But it is only the far right in America that is leading to the killings of Jews.

Between 2009 and 2018, “right-wing extremists accounted for 73% of the extremist-related murders in the United States,” Segal said. “Twenty-three percent came at the hands of jihadist, or radical Islamist, terrorists.”

Why then is 99.9% of our president’s attention focused on his largely invented dangers posed by brown people? They, of course, are victims of extreme-right nationalism just as we are. I know the conventional answer: Trump does so because he’s playing to his base. This poses a danger to us all. This white nationalist extremism is not going away. Instead, it is growing unchecked.

What’s needed is not only condemnation of domestic terror attacks after they happen but, as Greenblatt said, “by enforcing norms before it happens. We desperately need our leaders to stop politicizing these issues.”

My check of 8Chan late on April 28 revealed that an appreciation thread for the alleged Chabad shooter began the day of the attack. It’s full of the most nauseating anti-Semitic language and images imaginable. Someone posted a crude cartoon of a hook-nosed man shaking two other people and saying, “C’mon, accelerate.” Someone else wrote, “It is not acceleration if you kill only one kike. If that kike is not [George] Soros or [Jared] Kushner, it really is a waste of bullets.”

There is even more vile language on the thread that I won’t repeat here.

Greenblatt said on the call, “It’s not partisan to call out prejudice; it is, frankly, the patriotic thing to do.” I agree. It is time for us all — progressives and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans — to stand up to a president who for years has been bent on twisting reality to suit his dangerous fantasies, from President Barack Obama not being born in the U.S. to his most recent, in which he accuses doctors and new mothers of “executing” newborn babies.

Let’s use a Trump technique and repeat, repeat, repeat the fact that our president and other leaders of our country are ignoring the reality that nearly all extremist murders are being committed by homegrown white nationalists, not the immigrants over whom they obsess.

We need to accelerate their awareness of this fact. Our lives depend on it.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is the Jewish giving maven at Inside Philanthropy and is a freelance journalist in New York City.