Wake Up

ISIS Hunter: Time to Wake Up to the White Nationalist Terror Threat

Rita Katz has been tracking jihadist radicals for nearly two decades. She says an equally grave threat is being largely ignored: the rise of white nationalist extremism.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

I was born and raised Jewish, and have witnessed anti-Semitism firsthand. My father was executed in a public hanging in Baghdad by Saddam Hussein. His crime: being a Jew. My grandmother, at 52 years old, was murdered by the same thugs, for the same reason.

Later in my life, still a child, I lived in Israel, where the Holocaust was a cornerstone of our education. We grew up in an atmosphere of normalized war as the Arab-Israeli War and others clashes unfolded before us. We saw our very lives and existence as a nation in peril.

My husband and I moved to the United States, after we had three boys, largely so they could be free of such threats and feelings. But over my past 20 years here, I am still hated—even personally—because of my heritage.

On white nationalist forums, members threaten Jews and exclaim that they must protect themselves from “Filthy Jew Rita Katz,” now that I am tracking what they say online. Such rhetoric seems fitting to a recent wave of anti-Semitic hate crimes across the country, including messages on subway windows, the desecration of hundreds of graves in Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia, defacements to buildings, bomb threats to Jewish centers, and a plot to shoot a synagogue “in the spirit of Dylann Roof.”

While we don’t yet know who has committed some of these recent crimes, they give more than enough reason for a long-outstanding discussion about this country’s white nationalist movement. Having monitored jihadist and far-right threats for years, I’ve always been troubled by how little attention the latter receives from both authorities and the media.

As a result, Americans often hear about hate crimes by white nationalists but miss a full view of the larger community itself. That can no longer stand. With anti-Semitic and white nationalist rhetoric hitting a fever pitch, it’s time to take such extremism seriously.

White nationalists are not a collection of isolated individuals. They comprise an organized community which recruits, incites, and propagates its message like any other extremist movement. Their hate, just like jihadists’ hate, is reinforced by structured ideologies and communicational spaces. Websites like Stormfront, an online white nationalist forum with more than 240,000 members (most of whom are Americans), and Vanguard News Network (VNN), a neo-Nazi forum, are hubs for extremist activity. Users often make incitements, distribute literature and articles from white nationalist news outlets, and praise the actions of people like Adolf Hitler and Dylann Roof.

And much like jihadi forums, these sites are also hotbeds for incitement of violent sentiments—some of which manifest into real-life attacks.

Frazier Glenn Miller, a prominent white supremacist leader, was active on VNN for years, expressing disgust for Jews and calling for genocide against them. He was dangerous offline, too. In the 1980s, he was indicted for allegedly plotting the assassination of Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) founder Morris Dees, and was arrested again for running a paramilitary training camp in violation of a signed agreement with Dees.

Despite his high profile, Miller continued posting violent rhetoric on VNN uninterrupted. Such messages included praise of Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011. Miller wrote that he had read “some of [Breivik’s] manifesto,” and suggested to apply the same style of attack on Jewish kids in the United States:

I mean, if some enterprising American fellow, went to a youth camp in the Catskills, Camp David, or Martha’s Vineyard, and ‘sprayed’ some young’uns belonging to our immigrant-loving JOG [Jew-owned government]…I just might sleep even better than my norm, possibly with a wide grin on my face.

On April 13, 2014, Miller opened fire on a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement community in Kansas. Three were murdered.

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Miller was not the only one on these forums to commit violence. Wade Michael Page was a high-profile member of the “Hammerskins” skinhead organization and larger white nationalist movement. He was also active in the white power music scene with his band, End Apathy. Page’s rhetoric on Stormfront, where he was active since at least as early as 2008, and the Hammerskins’ “Crew 88” forum urged action by other white nationalists “regardless of the outcome,” and proclaimed, “Passive submission is indirect support to the oppressors. Stand up for yourself and live the 14 words” (“14 words” referring to the slogan “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”).

On Aug. 5, 2012, Page opened fire on a Wisconsin Sikh temple. Six people were murdered.

Incitements against Jews persist on these forums to this day. Commenting on the Jewish cemetery defacement in Philadelphia, a prominent Stormfront member posted: “Jewish cemeteries are a waste of valuable land… Jews should be cremated so they don’t take up space.” A senior American forum member’s reply brought back chilling memories of my education on the Holocaust, reading: “LIVE Jews should be cremated so they don’t take up space.”

Of course, conversations on Stormfront have also taken aim at me, my extremist-monitoring organization SITE, and other “Jewish and Jewish-led” observers of extremism, condemning our reporting as “anti-white” for opposing “White advocacy, White solidarity, and White unity.”

The white nationalist movement is poised to spread its message on social media through any medium available: songs, videos, memes, you name it. This month, Stormfront users celebrated a “parody” rap video featuring “Moon Man,” a white nationalist meme-character taken from old McDonald’s advertising. The music video, titled, “Right Wing Death Squads,” declares “fascism’s back” and both visually and lyrically depicts violence against Jews, Latinos, African Americans, and other minorities. One part shows Moon Man shooting an offensively characterized Jewish man in a YouTube “Think tank” room. Another part makes a picture of political cartoonist Ben Garrison rap:

Moon Man’s dad, back for round two, got a life sentence when I shot a Jew… Name the Jew, BLAME the Jew, and when you’re online then blame the Jew.

Though some users on the Stormfront forum wrote the video off, others praised it for “finding new angles” to promote their message. One user stated:

Moonman is hilarious, but he also has said numerous truths and exposes the lies, propaganda and antiWhite agenda. He is verbally brutal. Good. No time to be a pussy.

It’s strange that at a time in which every headline reveals a new hate crime, we somehow fail to bring attention to anti-Semitic statements and videos such as these. And it’s just as strange that the video, with more than 111,000 views, still hasn’t been taken down from YouTube since it was posted on Dec. 14, in clear violation of its policies. When compared to ISIS videos, which are typically taken down by YouTube within hours (sometimes minutes) of being uploaded, this reaction proves pitiful and dangerously permissive.

President Trump did indeed speak about the recent wave of hate crimes in his address to Congress last week with a long-overdue condemnation, stating that “we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

The president’s statement was imperative but ultimately useless by any practical measurement, particularly when considering that his administration plans to refocus the government’s Countering Violent Extremism program, which has encompassed white nationalist activity, exclusively on jihadi terrorism.

Whether you’re assessing recent hate crimes, analyzing the “alt-right” movement on social media, tallying casualties from deadly domestic attacks, or observing the emboldened rhetorical emanating from white nationalist circles, it’s clear that jihadism is not the only extremist threat to the U.S. As someone who has received death threats from various extremist communities, I am far more scared of America’s white nationalists than I am of its jihadists. Like any domestic lone wolf jihadist, white nationalist extremists live among us, and recruit and attack on American soil. Some are even so bold as to try running for public office.

The media and investigators seem to prefer masked savages overseas, declaring America as an enemy, over those purporting to fight for the nation. We’ve witnessed this double standard at SITE for years. When we report on jihadists’ calls for attacks, we get emails and phone calls from journalists and government officials asking us for more information. But when we report on the same types of messages from white nationalists—spanning calls for “lone wolves“ to target government officials, statements that Dylann Roof should have “shot up a synagogue,” or fantasies of “anti-whites hanging from every light post”—we hear nothing but crickets.

If Trump and other leaders are as concerned with national security as they say, they should counter white nationalism with the same vigor as “radical Islamic terrorism.” Doing so won’t require any violations of constitutional rights or civil liberties, only a look into what’s already out in the open. If approached with half the energy as is shown for a teenager praising ISIS on Twitter, attacks like Miller’s, Page’s, and others’ can very well be prevented.

My family and I came to the U.S. to get away from the threats that had chased us for generations. I want my children to always feel safe and protected. My country, the United States of America, holds dearly freedom and the right to pursue happiness. To enable this pursuit, the U.S. must protect all people under its wing from those who prove a true threat. My family, and numerous other families around our country, depend on it.