Comfort To The Enemy

Trump's travel ban ignores what terrorism looks like today

The immigration and travel ban that Donald Trump signed last Friday is immune to hyperbole. Barring citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries and all refugees, even temporarily, is wantonly cruel, inhumane, and quite possibly unconstitutional. It's also sloppy and haphazard, seemingly designed to further polarize the country. And that seems likely to be the only thing about it that actually works.

Trump's "Muslim ban" is not equipped to address the foreign terrorism from which it claims to protect us. No Americans in more than 40 years have been killed in attacks conducted by people from the targeted countries: Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. Other Middle Eastern nations with closer links to terrorism (and, in some cases, Trump's personal businesses) were excluded from the list. The countries that produced the September 11 hijackers didn't make the cut. The ban sent away scientists, doctors, and young patients seeking medical treatment for no sin other than their birthplace.

But perhaps worst of all, the ban ignores that the most urgent terrorist threat to American citizens comes from American citizens.

The core of Trump's economic message is isolationist and dogmatic, fostering hatred and resentment among citizens whose problems remain real and unaddressed. That's partly why his terrorism stance remains simplistic and crude beyond even George W. Bush's standards, casting an entire religion as the enemy. Per his own policy, terrorist acts are primarily committed by people with melanin who don't live here. The president is wrong, and dangerously so. According to the nonpartisan think tank New America, conservative militants and far-right lone wolves have struck more often and claimed more lives since 2002 than have so-called Islamic extremists. And even those who have recently committed attacks in the name of Islam are either American or have been vetted extensively by the government.

Whitening the face of an American problem, such as the drug crisis, usually inspires quicker action. Not so with domestic terrorism.

Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the heinous Orlando club massacre last June, was born in New York State to Afghan parents. The 2009 attacks against soldiers at Fort Hood and Little Rock were carried out by Americans, one of whom was also in the military. One of the Tsarnaev brothers behind the Boston Marathon bombing was a citizen, and the other was here legally. The San Bernardino attack in 2015 was carried out by a guy born in Chicago and a Pakistani woman with a green card. Trump's ban wouldn't have done a damned thing to stop any of them.

And what about those white terrorists here at home, nearly all of whom share a deep antipathy to women, minorities, immigrants, and the government itself? Whitening the face of an American problem, such as the drug crisis, usually inspires quicker action. Not so with domestic terrorism. The rise in right-wing hate groups during the Obama administration was dramatic, as were the politically motivated attacks, but the facts have been slower to seep into the public consciousness because their crimes aren't called "terrorism."

Robert Dear, who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, is from South Carolina. So is Dylann Roof, the young white supremacist who sought a race war, murdering nine churchgoers in Charleston as retribution for black people "rap[ing] our women" and "taking over our country." Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh committed the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in United States history. The Ku Klux Klan and other similar groups have been dedicated to intimidating and exterminating African-Americans for generations. That same white nationalism has been infecting our systems of justice; The Intercept recently reported that the FBI has been investigating the infiltration of white supremacists and other domestic extremists into U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. There's good reason that a white hood, or even a cop's uniform, scares some Americans a lot more than does "Allahu Akbar."

So what does the Trump administration plan to do to stop the next domestic terrorist, many of whom feed off of conservative media? Nothing, it seems, other than racial profiling and other detrimental actions that do nothing but trade the humanity of some for the empty gratification of others. If there is anything to be divined from Trump's encouragement of mob intimidation and soft reactions to bias attacks committed in his name during and after the presidential campaign, there will be no substantive plan forthcoming. Even worse, his own recklessness actually stands to exacerbate the problem.

Trump indulges execrable media figures like crank talk show host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Stephen Bannon, a former radio host himself, has also uttered his share of bigoted insanities, and made space on his Breitbart show for others to offer more. As if appointing a reputed white nationalist as his campaign chairman wasn't insulting enough, Trump then chose Bannon as his chief strategist after the election. Mother Jones reported that Stephen Miller, another key Trump adviser, started an Islamophobic student group during his days at Duke and worked closely there with Richard Spencer, the neo-Nazi who, by now, you've likely seen punched in the face several times to the tune of various songs. Whether Trump agrees with these men in his heart of hearts isn't as much a concern. Bannon and Miller are still helping him shape policy such as the immigration ban.

ISIS is happy about it, that's for sure. Much like men like Roof were radicalized online by white-nationalist groups, the Islamic State wants disenchanted young people to feel like they're hated. But the blatant targeting of Muslims through policy like the ban may also fuel foreign terrorists who don't fit Trump's profile. Last Sunday night, a man opened fire inside a mosque in Quebec City. Six people were killed and eight were wounded. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deemed it "a terrorist attack on Muslims." The only suspect is Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old white nationalist with a history of online misogyny and antipathy toward immigrants. A fellow university student recounts Bissonette frequently expressing support for Trump.

Ignoring that it promotes the very ideology that radicalized Bissonette, the Trump administration tried to use his crime as a justification for last Friday's action. "It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our nation’s safety and security," said press secretary Sean Spicer, as if we don't know better. Had he tried before he killed a bunch of worshipers, the Canadian suspect would've been welcomed across our borders. Rather than emboldening the case for Trump's executive order, the Quebec City case destroyed it.

Despite that, there is little hope that Trump and his administration will ever admit what, and who, terrorism looks like. Perhaps not even a spate of deaths perpetrated by American-born killers will sway them from their view. Well, maybe then. It may very well depend upon how brown the killer's skin is.