White Terrorism Becomes Cliche

White gunman stalks Muslim woman in Texas last week.

Last Monday night, four men showed up to the Black Lives Matter protest outside the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct and shot five unarmed black protesters. This was after a week of similar visits from white menarmed with guns, cameras, and racist commentarystreaming live video to the internet for the entertainment of their fellow racists.

It’s become a cliche after such attacks to ask overly timid headline writers, “What if the white guy with a gun was a brown guy with a gun?” When armed men in masks menace unarmed civilians; when these men post video of themselves delivering hate-filled messages and flashing weapons; when this ends in a mass shooting… This describes an act of terrorism.

Here’s why it matters. We treat terrorism differently than other violent crimes. We go to much greater lengths to protect ourselves from it, and to punish those responsible. We see some greater value in stopping politically motivated acts of violence which are intended not just to maim and murder, but to intimidate whole populations.

I worry we’re not taking seriously enough these threats from well-armed whites with a political axe to grind. The Thursday before the 4th Precinct shooting, a video was posted online showing two men in a car, driving to the Black Lives protest. The driver held up a handgun while promising to engage in some “reverse cultural enriching,” finally signing off to his viewers with the phrase “Stay white.” Sitting in the passenger seat was Lance Scarsella, who returned to the protest with three other men on Monday, the night of the attack. These are the four men now under arrest in connection with the shooting.

Minneapolis Police had four days prior to the shooting to track down the two men in the video. The driver was correctly identified by name in a comment on the “Black Lives Matter” Facebook page three days before the attack. As a resident of south Minneapolis, it took me five minutes to retrace the route taken in the videoright back to the driveway they pulled out ofusing a basic knowledge of local landmarks and Google Street View. If it was a priority, these details should have led police to Scarsella.

As MPD’s union head was comparing the Black Lives Matter protest to “Benghazi” on talk radio, the job of intelligence gathering was left to an unpaid social media detective:

Scarsella, Gustavsson and Macey, along with the man who was questioned and released, are featured in several videos of a now-deleted YouTube page. The page’s banner featured two dozen men — some masked — holding weapons, along with a pair of Confederate flags. The videos were deleted by Monday afternoon, but they had been archived by Minneapolis-based researcher Tony Webster.

I’m a big Tony Webster fan, but we shouldn’t have to rely on the work of a skilled volunteer to track and archive the online activities of the violent white extremists who threaten our city. It’s just too big of a job.

Since 9/11, domestic terror attacks by white Americans have killed anywhere from two to five times as many people as those carried out by jihadists. We often hear about the social media prowess of ISIS; far less publicized is the degree to which sites like 4chan and reddit are an increasingly effective recruiting tool for a new generation of white nationalists. Though the idea of white terrorism doesn’t seem to break into the headlines, police from across the country are aware of the threat: a 2015 NY Times national survey of law enforcement agencies identifies right-wing terror as the top threat facing American cities.

I assume there are people in positions of authority who are aware of these facts, but recent events do not inspire confidence in local law enforcement. The racial and religious diversity of the Twin Cities makes them a tempting target for hate groups. Let’s be sure we’re focusing our anti-terrorism efforts, both locally and across Minnesota, beyond the usual suspects.