For the better part of two decades, Americans have generally ignored their quietly mounting problem of homegrown domestic terrorism committed by white far-right extremists: Both the numbers and the history demonstrate that, both officially and in the media, we have underinvested in monitoring and confronting such terrorism and the forces that fuel it. Indeed, domestic terrorism is not even a prosecutable federal crime.
Now that inattention is coming home to roost as the rising tide of white nationalism isthreatening to swamp us with a fresh wave of domestic terrorism committed by “red-pilled” young men brimming with anger and extremism—and two recent cases suggest how poorly prepared we are to handle it in the realm of law enforcement and the courts.
The arrest in the first case—out of Monroe, Washington, and the Snohomish County court system—occurred in December, when 20-year-old Dakota Reed’s violent Facebook posts under the nom de plume Rudolf Höss, taken from the commandant of Auschwitz, finally attracted police attention: “I’m shooting for 30 Jews,” he posted on Nov. 11. “No pun needed. Long ways away anyways. See you Goys.”
He was freed on $50,000 bond, yet only four months later, he was booked into jail again after police found even more Facebook posts threatening mayhem and death. “Y’all mind if I go in to a random courthouse in the movie Narnia and take my M32 grenade launcher?” he asked his readers. He also posted a meme featuring the character of Yoda from Star Wars that read, “Coming for my guns, the police is. Booby trapped with explosives, my front door has been.”
This time, the judge set bail at $500,000, and he has been sitting in jail since, having pleaded guilty in May to the charges. He faces sentencing on Tuesday.
The problem is that, with no state or federal domestic terrorism statute, prosecutors wound up having to simply charge Reed with two counts of making threats to bomb or injure property—the standard sentence for which is only six to 12 months. Prosecutors indicated they intend to ask for the maximum of a year.
Meanwhile, in Utah, a 27-year-old man named Christopher Cleary who spouted “incel” rhetoric and was arrested in January for threatening to carry out a mass shooting, “killing as many girls as I see,” appeared likely to see no further jail time at all, after he worked out a plea bargain with prosecutors according to which he would plead guilty to attempted threat of terrorism and receive probation as punishment. Detectives said they found no evidence he was a participant in the incel movement, consisting of men who say they are “involuntarily celibate” and feel entitled to retribution against women for this unwanted state.
However, the judge in his case, Christine Johnson, rejected the plea deal and instead sentenced Cleary to five years in prison. Prosecutors later said the deal was only tendered in order to obtain Cleary’s guilty plea.
The prosecutors declined to explained why Reed was not charged with a hate crime.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, was dismayed by the inability of law enforcement to handle cases such as Dakota Reed’s more appropriately. “There’s no way that if someone was connected to Islamic extremism they would be handled this way,” Beirich told Daily Kos. “We have two totally separate terrorism regimes legally right now—one for white supremacists and one for Islamic extremists. And the latter is much more punishing and larded with legal tools that just don’t exist domestically. Some of the sentences for domestic terrorists are ridiculously light in comparison to the others.”
The wildly inconsistent outcomes in these cases underscore the difficulties faced by law enforcement when dealing with the new wave of terrorism committed by perpetrators who have been radicalized online by conspiracy theories, rather than by traditional terrorists recruited by organizations and acting out their specific agendas. Authorities often overlook the very real terrorism of the new wave because the actors lack specific organizational ties—which in fact is the whole purpose of the “lone wolf” terrorism strategy adopted by white nationalists in the late 1980s.
"The weaponization of social media yields an opportunity for authorities to interdict, deter and meaningfully punish online terroristic threats, but frequently that opportunity is scuttled," noted Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. "In an era where online rants have been precursors to violence,” he added, “one has to consider that slaps on the wrist arguably diminish the intended deterrent effect not only on the defendant, but others who share similar antipathy."
“All I wanted to be was loved,” Christopher Cleary had written in the long Facebook post that resulted in his arrest. “Yet no one cares about me, I’m 27 years old and I’ve never had a girlfriend before and I’m still a virgin, this is why I’m planning on shooting up a public place soon and being the next mass shooter cause I’m ready to die.”
Dakota Reed told detectives that his posts were “fictional” and he was just “venting.” However, it was clear that not only did he fantasize about killing people, but he also had the actual capability to do so: On Facebook, according to court papers, he shared pictures of himself with three AR-15-style weapons, two hunting-style rifles, an AK-47-style rifle, a pump shotgun, and at least one pistol. He gave Nazi salutes while posing with the guns in a room full of white supremacist materials.
Reed’s posts professed a belief in a “Northwest Front,” a racist dream of a white nation-state in the Pacific Northwest. He shared a picture of a certificate saying he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.\
“I’m over here saving up to buy more guns and ammo to kill (((rats))) and animals,” read one of Reed’s posts, from Oct. 25. In dark corners of the internet, an “(((echo)))” symbol is an anti-Semitic code to identify people with Jewish backgrounds or ties.
Many other writings suggested an obsession with killing Jews.
“Six years until recleamtion (sic) day in the synogauge (sic),” read one post.
A day later, he wrote, “Tom stopped into the synogauge never to return.”
Tom was one of his alleged pseudonyms.
“Gonna make the news some more and shoot some Jews in 2025,” he posted on Nov. 24.
He wrote in early December about his parents asking why he owned military-style guns.
“To kill people,” he answered, according to his post. “Why else would I own them?”
At his court hearing last month, Reed smirked and waved at reporters.
“It’s always a challenge interpreting intent through the ‘everything-is-a-meme’ nature of his posts,” explained an FBI agent when he alerted prosecutors about Reed’s more recent posts. “But hearing the New Zealand shooter say ‘subscribe to pewdiepie’ in his video and write ‘remove kebab’ on his rifle have only reinforced how these Internet subcultures and vernacular can carry all the way into real life actions.”
Published with permission of Daily Kos