Earlier this month, Eric Rudolph was sentenced to four life sentences without parole for the deadly 1996 Olympic park bombing in Atlanta and attacks at two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub. In May 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed for the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. His accomplice, Terry Nichols, is currently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.
But while there is general joy that these miscreants are off the streets, human rights groups and government agencies believe that ‘home grown terrorism’ remains a clear and present danger to post 9/11 America.
For example, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an advocacy organization, says that extremist groups in the US are planning events and heightened activity through the month of April, especially during the period of April 15 through April 24, at a time when they traditionally commemorate the birthday of Adolf Hitler. The ADL says national groups such as the neo-Nazi National Alliance and local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan.
One reason for the growth of ‘home grown terrorism’ appears to be that fanatic extremists have now added Islam to their list of ‘targets’. Since 9/11, the Department of Justice reports a dramatic increase in hate crimes directed against people perceived to be Arabs, though Sikhs and Hindus are frequently attacked because they ‘look like’ those of Middle Eastern descent.
A second reason is the rise of religious fundamentalism in the U.S., making homosexuals, same-sex couples, abortion clinics and those who work in them – even ‘activist’ judges and their families -- likely targets. White supremacist Matthew Hale faces 40 years in a federal prison after a judge gave him the maximum sentence for plotting to assassinate a federal judge.
Another reason is that, while known individual membership in militias and other organized ‘paramilitary’ hate groups is believed to have fallen since 9/11, remaining members appear even more intensely committed to acts of violence.
Still another factor is that the Internet has made bomb-making knowledge accessible to everyone.
The bottom line is that ‘Lone Wolf’ domestic terrorists – like McVeigh, Nichols and Rudolph – are now seen as the primary domestic threats. But the US militant militia movement has been overshadowed by the threat of Al-Qaeda.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department Homeland Security (DHS) have devoted massive resources to Islamic terrorism. But the agencies deny that there has been any slackening in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, whether directed against Muslims or anyone else.
For example, the FBI, which is responsible for investigating hate crimes, reports that nearly 7,500 incidents were classified as hate crimes in the United States in 2003, the last year for which complete data is available. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), however, points out that FBI and DOJ data are based on reports voluntarily submitted by local law enforcement authorities, who do not always track or report hate crime statistics. SPLC estimates that there are probably 50,000 more hate crimes than the FBI is reporting.
More than half these crimes are motivated by racial prejudice. Intimidation and vandalism were the most frequently reported hate crimes, though there were 14 murders. Six of those murders were among more than 1,200 incidents based on sexual orientation.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it received reports of 1,019 anti-Muslim incidents during 2003 — a nearly 70 percent increase from the previous year and the highest number of civil-rights complaints from those of the Islamic faith in the nine years the group has been tracking them.
In their report, "Unpatriotic Acts," hate crimes against Muslims (Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South-Asian Americans perceived to be members of these groups) jumped 121 percent that same year.
While the DOJ and FBI claim to be applying increasing resources to combating hate crime, Arab-American and Muslim-American civil rights groups have accused the agencies of racial profiling, harassment of ‘Middle Eastern-looking’ people at airports and in other public settings, and widespread abuses in the round-ups and detention of Arabs and Muslims after the 9/11 attacks.
Law-enforcement observers agree that the membership of militant right-wing groups has decreased since the Oklahoma City bombing – from some 20,000 to perhaps a few thousand now -- but many believe that has made them all the more dangerous.
Nonetheless, the contrasting treatment given to two cases illustrate the priority given to foreign terrorism.
In 2002, federal agents arrested Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen, claiming he was an Al-Qaeda operative planning to explode a ‘dirty bomb’ in the US. He was officially declared an ‘enemy combatant’, and was held virtually incommunicado in a naval brig –though the Supreme Court ruled he should be charged or released.
A few months later, federal agents in Texas arrested William Krar, who was found to have a bomb like the one used in Oklahoma City, as well as a half-million rounds of ammunition. Krar is now serving an 11-year prison term.
Padilla had no record of militant activity and had no weapon when he was arrested. Krar was known as a right-wing zealot and was heavily armed. The disparity in their treatment indicates a double standard, according to Daniel Levitas, the author of "The Terrorist Next Door," which describes indigenous American terrorist movements. He attributes this double standard simply to the government saving face.
"I think it's embarrassing to the United States to present frightening evidence that there are people in this country who are just as fanatical and murderous as Islamic terrorists halfway around the world," he said. As a result, Levitas said, the Justice Department made little of Krar's arrest, but took pains to publicize Padilla's.