Las Vegas Sun

May 17, 2021

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Right-wing terrorism has become a defining issue

As lawmakers discuss how to hold former President Donald Trump accountable for his role in inciting an attack on the heart of democracy, President Joe Biden must prioritize solving the broader issues that increasingly plague our nation: right-wing terrorism and white supremacy.

This is best shown by the mob violence Jan. 6 in the nation’s Capitol. In storming the building and threatening the lives of members of Congress, the predominantly white insurrectionists denounced our free and fair elections, declared Black Lives Matter peaceful protests as unjust and once again exhibited the privileges granted to them due to systemic racism. And as a living example of doublethink from Orwell’s “1984,” some carried out their assault with the help of police while others beat officers and killed one in the process. As this tragedy and its aftermath unfold on a global stage, we must bring the perpetrators and enablers to justice. Developing bipartisan solutions to this political and social breakdown of morals is essential to the Biden administration.

Intelligence agencies have cited the rise of right-wing terrorism and white supremacy as a leading national security issue. The culmination of these problems produced an insurrection aimed at changing the results of the 2020 election, creating an inflection point. The Biden administration must treat this as the threat to democracy that it is. The number of right-wing terrorist attacks has risen in recent years, and these crimes are becoming bolder and more dangerous. Consider events like the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmore or the death threats against Dr. Anthony Fauci and multiple secretaries of state. These are movements to terrorize minorities and intimidate government officials. Regardless, those officials have a sworn obligation to defend our constituents against threats foreign and domestic.

Nevada is not immune to right-wing extremism. In early June of 2020, three men with reported ties to the Boogaloo Bois, an anti-government group that uses social media to incite violence and insurrection, were arrested in Las Vegas for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack to exploit the unrest of Black Lives Matter protests. Similarly, the infamous Bundy standoff in 2014 saw private citizens reject federal claims to public lands. And last May, right-wing militants used fear tactics by parading weapons and shouting death threats in front of the Nevada governor’s mansion, in protest of the statewide lockdown to stem the pandemic. In fact, there are several decades’ worth of right-wing terrorist attacks and plots here in the Silver State.

Terrorists do not radicalize overnight. They are often a product of a steady and deliberate campaign to recruit people and facilitate unrest. In many instances, terrorists are created through widespread discrimination — such as by race, class, religious beliefs or a synthesis of such. It should be noted that the majority of domestic attacks continue to be orchestrated by white male perpetrators.

These coalitions often start with misinformation from conspiracy theories exacerbated by groups such as QAnon and the Proud Boys. In many cases, unfounded assertions are stimulated by alt-right news sources, hammering concepts like “fake news” or “stolen elections,” and using instigative hashtags like #saveourchildren and #stopthesteal. These news sources act as vectors of problematic rhetoric on social media outlets. The messages are further perpetuated by leaders throughout our levels of government — with self-proclaimed believers even on local school boards here in Nevada.

Yet it does not require QAnon’s outlandish conspiracy of a Democratic Party cabal participating in child abuse and sexual ritualism to create this problem. Lies like widespread election fraud nudge people in the same direction as standalone conspiracy theories. This in turn helps groups like the Proud Boys capitalize on radicalization and recruitment. One of Nevada’s state legislators attended the attempted legislative coup in Washington. Although she condemns the rioters’ acts, she still defended the president’s rhetoric prior to the riot — even as he tweeted a statement condoning rioters and grimly told people to “Remember this day forever!” Additionally, a letter sent out by the Nye County GOP chairman contended that Trump would be inaugurated and reinforced misconceptions of widespread election fraud, despite repeated failures to demonstrate fraud in courts across the country. These are local and state officials participating in the proliferation of inflammatory misinformation. They are direct examples of doublethink infiltrating conservative ideologies and poisoning our society.

The reluctance of some conservative voters to accept the election results catalyzed a national delusion that plagues the United States. In the status quo, we struggle to confront an ongoing public health dilemma, while simultaneously addressing an increasingly violent misinformation crisis. The latter is arguably more threatening to U.S. stability. It is crucial to note that this is not a witch hunt for conservatives. There is a range of valid conservative beliefs. However, there is no longer a clear separation between officials like Trump and these radicals. Conservatives across the country need to draw a line for whom they align with, denouncing unverifiable inflammatory ideas.

The Biden administration must combat the expansion of domestic terrorism. It should not focus just on preventing attacks and arresting perpetrators, but also make a deliberate effort to target large-scale national recruitment and radicalization strategies. Social media and tech giants have taken the step of purging accounts and applications that spread misinformation and radicalize people. And though the response was within the week of the attack on the Capitol, it is frankly too little, too late.

The new administration should take action by finding and designating organizations like right-wing militia groups as domestic terrorists. Currently, there are limited legal mechanisms for designating groups as domestic terrorists. While there are arguments against creating such a designation, like the government’s historic use of law enforcement against minority groups, there is now an increased urgency to combat right-wing extremism. Given how this problem affects Nevada, historically and presently, it is in our best interests to support efforts to stymie these terrorists. Nevada’s federal delegation and state government should work with federal agencies to create a careful designation that could avoid government abuse while tackling right-wing extremism. These designations would send a clear signal of government priorities and encourage cooperation to bring these terrorists to justice — as well as restore the foundations of order and faith within our democracy.

Kristian Thymianos is a fourth-year political science, German, and Brookings Public Policy student at UNLV. Joe Bradley is a UNLV graduate, policy debate coach, and an advocacy and voting rights activist in Nevada.