To defeat and eradicate the threat of white nationalist terrorism, the US will be required to wage a war on itself. Is it up to the job?

When al Qaeda attacked the United States on 9/11, it pretty much succeeded in accomplishing only one thing: uniting a country that had been torn apart a mere 10 months earlier by a disputed election result – one that was ultimately settled only when the conservative-stacked Supreme Court intervened on behalf of George W. Bush.

Had the Bush administration opted against duping the public into supporting an invasion of Iraq, and thus never miring the US in a conflict that continues to drain American lives and treasure, then it’s at least somewhat likely that the country would have remained united in supporting measures that mitigate the global jihadist threat.

That threat has largely come and gone, however. ISIS has been reduced to a do-it-yourself slogan, and al Qaeda has shifted its short-term sights from the “far enemy” to the “near”, insofar as allocating its energy and resources to embedding itself within local and regional conflicts rather than carrying out spectacular attacks against the US.


Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

The global jihadist threat was always exaggerated by those who sought to profit from never-ending war – including politicians, arms manufacturers and the media. It was this exaggeration that played a self-defeating role in making the threat even worse. Had the US not invaded Iraq, ISIS would never have emerged and the overall threat would have been mostly contained to the mountains of Afghanistan.

But, today, America is faced with a terrorist threat that is not only ripping it apart, but also one that has the very real potential to end the United States as we know it.

Whereas groups like ISIS and al Qaeda were confined to drawing recruits from an infinitely tiny pool within the US, reduced to targeting a handful of unstable and unhinged individuals and their online propaganda, such as Omar Mateen – the gunman who swore allegiance to ideologically competing terrorist groups moments before killing 51 people in an Orlando nightclub – the white nationalist domestic terror threat can recruit from hundreds of thousands of right-wing extremists.

In this past year alone, there has been the attacker who murdered 22 Hispanic American shoppers in El Paso and the gunman who attacked the Gilroy Garlic Festival killing four people in northern California last week; the gunman who attacked a synagogue in San Diego in April, killing one; the gunman who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people; the gunman who shot dead 17 of his former classmates at a high school in Florida; and the guy who sent a string a pipe bombs to CNN, Democratic Party law-makers and various critics of Donald Trump.

A crippling violent insurgency emerging in the near future isn’t nearly as far-fetched as some would think.

Then there are the far too many to count foiled right-wing terrorist plots, including the former US coast guard who was arrested for plotting a white supremacist terror attack “on a scale rarely seen in this country”. On Friday, a man was arrested in Las Vegas for plotting to carry out an attack on a local synagogue and LGBTQ bar.

Right-wing extremists are responsible for 100% of terrorist attacks on US soil since end of 2017 and 73% of all extremist-related murders during the past decade. Under Trump, these attacks are occurring more often and with increasingly deadlier consequences.

Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi-turned-anti-extremism activist, warns that mass shootings perpetrated by violent right-wing extremists are likely to increase in frequency and ferocity as white nationalists compete with each other in a race to become the most infamous.

“It’s all based on conspiracy theories, but what’s similar about these things is now that they’re trying to outdo each other, I think the death toll is going to get bigger and bigger,” he told CNN, adding that situation is being exacerbated by the rhetoric and policies of President Trump.

John Berger, a renowned terrorism expert and author of the recently released book Extremism, observes that in Trump “institutional white nationalists find some new presidential pronouncement to celebrate almost every week, and white nationalist political priorities are being carried out by the Government in real time”.

The way in which Trump portrays white America to be locked in a ‘do or die’ struggle with non-white immigrants, whom he refers to as “invaders” and worse, mirrors the manifestos and screeds posted online by the white nationalists who carried out the attacks in El Paso, Pittsburgh and San Diego – as well as those of Brenton Tarrant, who shot 51 Muslims dead at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in April, and Dylann Roof, who killed nine African Americans at a church in South Carolina in 2015.

While white nationalists and white supremacists have agitated and advocated for a race war in the United States since time immemorial, the difference today is that their views have been readily disseminated by the internet and put into the mainstream by Trump and the right-wing-media industrial complex, which together validate “white genocide” and “white replacement” conspiracies.

When the US saw itself locked in what was an imagined war with “radical Islam”, it was largely dealing with a foreign threat and thus fighting wars over there, so it didn’t have to fight them at home. But, how does it defeat and eradicate a movement that is not only leaderless but also closely aligned with many of the ideas and values espoused by mainstream conservative politics?

Right-wing extremists are responsible for 100% of terrorist attacks on US soil since end of 2017.

In other words, for the US to defeat and eradicate the threat of white nationalist terrorism, it will be required to wage a war on itself.

While its difficult to envisage another civil war playing out on the American continent, the likelihood of a crippling violent insurgency emerging in the near future isn’t nearly as far-fetched as some would think. One only has to consider what might happen should Trump come face-to-face with the probability of defeat on the night of the 2020 presidential election, knowing that losing the protection of the Oval Office will subject him to a potential slew of federal indictments and possible jail time.

In such a situation, Trump “holds a rally with his supporters at which he declares himself the winner, tells the crowd ‘what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening’, slams the ‘fake news’ media, and claims ‘millions and millions’ of people voted illegally for the Democrats,” according to Mehdi Hasan. “He denounces a ‘deep state’ coup and warns of violence.”

These are all things Trump has said before, so it’s not unthinkable he won’t say them again after the final vote has been counted on the night of 3 November 2020.

Were this to happen, you can be almost certain that what was once a white nationalist domestic terrorism threat would instantly morph into a violent, bloody and protracted right-wing insurgency, putting Federal Government buildings, black churches, synagogues, mosques, LGBTQ venues, malls, schools and movie cinemas in the sights of probably hundreds of thousands of these lunatics over night.

If attacks like El Paso move from being a near monthly to daily feature of American life, the fear will become paralysing. Parents will be reluctant to drop their children off at school; malls will have more tumbleweed than shoppers; and people will increasingly barricade themselves in their homes, which will only add to the feeling of increasing isolation, fear and mistrust. 

No country can function like that. Is this how America ends?

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story! Sign up to our newsletter (and get a free edition posted to you)

Our leading investigations include: empire & the culture warBrexit, crony contractsRussian interferencethe Coronavirus pandemicdemocracy in danger, and the crisis in British journalism. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under Argument

‘Damn Rees-Mogg’s Politics of Civility’

, 27 January 2023
The Conservative MP's promise to bring back ‘civilised political debate’ in his new GB News show is an insult to the people harmed by this Government, writes Iain Overton

Concerns that Government’s Finance Bill Benefits Big Money and Harms the Planet

, 27 January 2023
The Financial Services and Markets Bill risks wrecking the UK's commitment to net zero, writes Thomas Perrett

Rishi Sunak’s Government is Sinking Into its Own Swamp 

, 26 January 2023
The Prime Minister promised a break from the chaos and corruption of Boris Johnson's administration. After three months, his MPs fear little has changed

More from the Byline Family