Another terrorist attack in the United States is everyone’s worst nightmare, especially one on the scale of the Oklahoma City Bombing or the 11 September attacks. That’s why the United States invests substantial resources in fighting terrorism at home and abroad, with a special focus on identifying and combating domestic terrorism, and with good reason; incidents of home-grown terrorism are on the rise, and that poses a serious security threat.
Some critics, though, are questioning the allocation of these resources and wondering if there’s a political agenda behind them. Right-wing extremism has contributed to a growing number of hate crimes and threats across the US, targeting racial and sexual minorities who are at greater risk than ever before. The National Abortion Federation, which tracks incidences of violence against reproductive health care providers, notes that stalking, attempted bombings, trespassing and bioterrorism threats are part of the job for abortion providers. In the last five years, violence originating in the far-right has increased dramatically.
Meanwhile, the FBI and groups like it dedicate substantial resources to investigating the environmental movement, and in some cases, people allege, to framing or entrapping environmentalists and animal welfare advocates in terrorism plots. Will Potter, writing for TruthOut, argues that there is a world of difference between the violence of the far right and the activism of the far left, and that there’s a substantial inequality in terms of security concerns when comparing the two.
When it comes to the far-right, the tactics used resemble those we traditionally associate with terrorism. They involve actions designed to frighten or intimidate people, including bombings, threats, stalking, shootings and other direct threats to personal safety and wellbeing. Environmental activists, on the other hand, primarily engage in blockades and property destruction. While property destruction may be a concern to the US government and the owners of the property involved, surely the lives of innocent people, as well as the safety of minorities, should be a much larger consideration.
But the law seems to think otherwise. Legislation like ag gag laws specifically targets environmentalists and animal rights activists, handing down stiff penalties for activities like exposing animal welfare abuses, while similarly tough legislation hasn’t been passed to limit activity by extremist conservative groups. The message sent to advocates is clear: run a Neo-Nazi rally and get a police escort to protect you from counter-protesters, go undercover at a farm and film animal abuse, get five years in jail.
Yet, with investigational resources funneled into campaigns focusing on identifying far-left activists, the far-right goes largely unnoticed and unpoliced. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 1,018 hate groups in operation across the United States, including groups that have conducted terrorist actions or produced credible threats in addition to incitements to violence. Such groups primarily focus on vulnerable minority populations, and the SPLC has expressed concern about the fact that their numbers, and their militance, are on the rise.
The FBI, like other law enforcement agencies, has a duty to uphold the law, but some critics fear it may be leaning towards a conservative bias in its enforcement of the law, and express concerns about the agency’s priorities. Reform at the FBI and partner agencies is critically needed to ensure that life and liberty of those in the US are protected along with property; in a nation where some people cannot freely walk down the street without harassment, it seems appalling to be infiltrating groups of idealistic young men and women who might not even engage in monkeywrenching tactics without instigation from an embedded plant.
Photo credit: Joel Bombardier