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Renée Graham

White extremism drives American terrorism

Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Globe file photos; Adobe/Globe Staff; Globe file photos; Adobe

While he wasted no time ripping into Academy Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee and former Democratic senator Harry Reid, President Trump has said next to nothing about Christopher Hasson. Despite his political incompetence, even Trump knows better than to attack his base.

Oh, have you already forgotten about Hasson? Perhaps that’s because the media have been preoccupied with every story except the one about the Coast Guard lieutenant whose recent Google searches included “civil war if trump impeached.”

Authorities say Hasson stockpiled weapons and compiled an assassin’s hit list of prominent journalists, media personalities, and Democratic politicians. A self-proclaimed white supremacist and neo-Nazi, he wanted to spark a race war and wrote about “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.”


“The sheer number and force of the weapons that were recovered from Mr. Hasson’s residence in this case, coupled with the disturbing nature of his writings, appear to reflect a very significant threat to the safety of our community, particularly given the position of trust that Mr. Hasson held with the United States government,” Robert K. Hur, the US attorney for the District of Maryland, said last week.

Hasson remains in custody on gun and drug charges. That hardly ends the threat posed in this country by violent white extremists, who have committed far more acts of terrorism on American soil in the past decade than any other group. That includes last year’s mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 people dead, the worst anti-Semitic attack in this nation’s history.

If any of these acts had been committed by Muslims or undocumented immigrants . . . well, you know the rest.

We can never say we weren’t warned — or that Republicans didn’t do everything within their power to bury those warnings.


In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security, under the Obama administration, released its alarming report “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” Stoked by economic woes — and especially the election of Barack Obama, this nation’s first black president — “right-wing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears,” the report cautioned.

The report, also made clear that “right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.” The GOP quickly ignited a backlash against the term “right-wing extremists” (even though it was accurate). Calls were made for the report to be rescinded. Others demanded that its author, Daryl Johnson, then a DHS senior analyst for domestic terrorism, be fired.

As Trump would do years later with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests against racial injustice and police violence, Republicans also flipped the report into an attack on the military. Soon, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was apologizing all over the place, and the report’s conclusions were pushed to the background of the nation’s consciousness.

With lives at stake, the Obama administration flinched when it should have flexed.

Within a year, DHS had no intelligence analysts working on domestic terrorism threats, Johnson wrote in a Washington Post essay. The piece was published days after Heather Heyer, an anti-racism protester, was murdered by a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.


By then, Trump, still courting the very people that Napolitano report warned against, was president and defending neo-Nazis. From his Muslim travel ban to his stupid border wall, Trump continues to fire the anger and racism of an overwhelmingly white base willing to abide any atrocity so long as it can salvage its ill-gotten supremacy.

Trump claims he’s getting a “complete briefing” on the Hasson case but, really, what does this mean coming from a pathological liar who is notorious for his unwillingness to read or listen to briefings? And the most he could muster about Hasson was to call the situation “a very sad thing.”

Far more terrifying than sad is the relentless danger presented by white extremism, our nation’s greatest terrorism threat, and the president who all but explicitly condones it. Hasson is behind bars now, but if he had attended a Trump rally with a sign vilifying those on his hit list, he would have been standing behind the president.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.