Domestic Terrorism Of The Right-wing Kind: Spokane Arrest Manifests Once Again Where The Threat Lies
Not that it'll ever happen, but boy, does Bill O'Reilly owe Mark Potok an apology.
One day after castigating Potok publicly on his Fox News show for contending that "our biggest domestic terror threat ... pretty clearly comes from the radical right in this country", Potok's point was pretty clearly substantiated by the arrest of 36-year-old Kevin Harpham for planting a backpack bomb along the parade route on Martin Luther King Day in Spokane.
The emerging picture suggests 36-year-old Kevin William Harpham is a “lone wolf’’ with a military ordinance background and apparently increasingly extreme radical-right views that may have prompted the attempt to carry out a mass murder on the late civil rights leader’s birthday. He is also a man who has joined a neo-Nazi group, apparently posted to racial extremist websites and worried that the 9/11 attacks were actually a government conspiracy.
The domestic terrorism suspect faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted of the initial two charges he faces: attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and possession of an improvised explosive device. Other federal charges could come when a federal grand jury in Spokane reviews the case on March 22.
“This one is very serious,” federal defender Roger Peven said outside the courtroom, moments after he was appointed to represent Harpham.
The backpack bomb, reportedly containing shrapnel dipped in rat poison to enhance bleeding, was spotted moments before hundreds of people were to march by it. Authorities rerouted the parade immediately.
At some risk, a bomb squad defused the device and kept it intact — likely leading the FBI to capture a windfall of forensic evidence, possibly including fingerprints and DNA that could have identified Harpham as the suspect.
Of special note is the fact that Harpham appears to have been an admirer of Alex Jones' conspiracy theories:
On another Web site, Harpham posted that he watched the video “Loose Change” — popularized by the antigovernment “Patriot” group We Are Change — that the U.S. government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11.
Leading anti-Semites, including Christopher Bollyn, have suggested that Jews were responsible for 9/11.
On the “Loose Change” Facebook page, there are references to a “Zionist connection” and links to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — a famous forgery that is a touchstone for the neo-Nazi right, including the late founder of the Aryan Nations, Richard Butler, who accuse Jews of plotting to control the world.
“I typically don’t buy into these conspiracies, then my friends told me to watch this video called ‘Loose Change,’” Harpham posted on another website forum devoted to steam automobiles.
“Some of the stuff was speculation but overall it changed my opinion greatly,’’ the Harpham posting said.
It's not coincidental that, as Alexander Zaitchik recently reported for Rolling Stone, Gabrielle Giffords' would-be assassin, Jared Loughner, was also an admirer of Loose Change.
Also worth remembering: Harpham happens to fit precisely the warning of the dangers inherent in rising right-wing extremism made two years ago by the Department of Homeland Security in its much-maligned bulletin for law enforcement -- specifically the key language in the report that upset all those conservatives:
DHS/I&A assesses that lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States. Information from law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations indicates lone wolves and small terrorist cells have shown intent—and, in some cases, the capability—to commit violent acts.
[..] DHS/I&A has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy—separate from any formalized group—which hampers warning efforts.
[..] Similarly, recent state and municipal law enforcement reporting has warned of the dangers of rightwing extremists embracing the tactics of “leaderless resistance” and of lone wolves carrying out acts of violence.
... U//FOUO) Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.
Of course, conservatives have been trying to whitewash away the existence of these radicals. Unfortunately for them -- and the rest of us too -- the radicals won't let them do it for long.
In their eagerness to promote Peter King's dubious and nakedly Islamophobic hearings on homegrown Islamic-radical terrorism, O'Reilly and his Fox colleagues have openly sneered at suggestions that we ought to do the same for right-wing extremists and their mounting acts of violence. This case definitively underscores that need, embodied in the 22 cases we've documented over the past two and a half years:
Simultaneously, it's also not very clear that the Islamic radicals pose a serious threat in terms of domestic terrorist activity. Certainly, there's plenty of reasons to believe that the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism is wildly overstated -- not least of which is the fact that, as Zaid Jilani at ThinkProgress reported, terrorism incidents in the USA have been coming from non-Muslim sources at nearly twice the rate as that of Muslims.
Indeed, it's probably overstated to the same degree that the danger of right-wing extremists is understated. Perhaps there needs to be some reassessment of our terrorism priorities here -- particularly in the media.