In Charlottesville, Virginia, the face-off between counter-protesters and white nationalist groups turned into a deadly domestic terrorist attack when James Alex Fields, Jr., of Ohio, rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters gathered to oppose a "Unite the Right" white nationalist rally. According to a report in the New York Times, the rally began as a planned protest by alt-right white nationalist groups, who were there to protest the city's plan to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, and the counter-protesters who were there to oppose them.
As tensions between the two opposing groups rose, the city called a state of emergency and declared the alt-right protest an unlawful assembly, which effectively cancelled the demonstration before its planned start time and led to the gruesome attack over the weekend.
Since 9-11, America has seen a rise in domestic terrorism. However, not every act of terror, particularly terrorist acts committed by certain groups of people, are identified "officially" as acts of terror. Yonah Alexander, a terrorism expert, defines terrorism as "the threat and use of both psychological and physical force in violation of international law, by state and sub-state agencies for strategic and political goals." The FBI defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."
Both definitions claim to outline terrorism, yet ever since America declared a war on terror no one seems to actually know (or rather they refuse) to define the crimes committed by certain groups of people as "terrorism." Assuming that both the descriptions above are accurate, perhaps the reason terrorism cannot be defined easily is because as domestic terrorism continues to morph, so does the face of terror.
In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville this weekend, there was a public outcry because of the length of time it took Donald Trump to respond to the killings. However, Trump did eventually make a statement:
"No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time. No matter our color, creed, or political party we are all Americans first."
While President Trump is correct when he states that Americans "are all Americans first," he refused, even when presented with the opportunity to do so, to denounce the white supremacists and call them out for who they truly are: domestic terrorists.
This has not been the first time America has failed to call out certain group's actions as terrorism, even when those individuals have used violence for political or personal purposes. For example:
When the Department of Justice charged Dylann Roof with murder instead of terrorism, even after he went into the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, with a gun and murdered nine black church members during a Bible study, the people wanted answers. Accordingly, during Roof's FBI confession, he admitted that he murdered nine innocent black people because he hoped to bring back segregation or start a race war.
However, during a June 20 press conference, FBI Director James Comey told reporters "he didn't see the murders 'as a political act,' a requirement he designated as necessary for terrorism." While Comey believes Dylann Roof's motives were not political, his motives were definitely in accordance with the definition's need for "violence against persons in order to attain a social objective." Therefore, Dylann Roof is a terrorist.
There are other cases in which terrorists have not been deemed as such: Robert Dear, who killed and terrorized people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, and Richard B. Spencer, who coined the term "alt-right" to describe a movement of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites, and whose mission it is to halt what he deems the "deconstruction of European culture through ethnic cleansing." Spencer was indirectly responsible for this weekend's brutal killing in Charlottesville, Virginia. Why? He is the one that sparked the fury around the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue when he rallied a group of white nationalists together in early May of this year.
As more information about the Charlottesville car-crash suspect emerges, we now know that James Alex Fields "is being held on suspicion of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and failure to stop in an accident that resulted in death." And, despite the fact that Fields' crimes look eerily similar to the terrorist attacks in Paris and London, Fields was not charged nor labelled a terrorist.
Perhaps when President Trump missed his chance to denounce far-right extremist groups, he did more than not condemn the white nationalists who were responsible for the bulk of the violence and disorder in Charlottesville — he denied the American people the opportunity to identify and call out the new faces of terror.
Collette Gee is a Relationship Specialist, Author And Speaker that helps men and women create and sustain healthy relationships. Learn More About Collette
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