Over the course of the summer, we saw two terrible mass shootings targeting police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. The shootings were blamed almost immediately on Black Lives Matter, despite the fact that the movement had nothing to do with them. Then it transpired that both were committed by veterans who had become radicalised — something we might have had a heads up on if the GOP hadn’t blocked a programme that was specifically examining the issue of radicalisation in veterans.
Returning from a war can be incredibly isolating. Some veterans have the support of friends, family, and colleagues who help them readjust as they get used to living back home, start seeking jobs, and build new lives for themselves. Others don’t have access to those tools. They arrive stateside adrift and vulnerable, trying to get used to a very different life with very different people, and they make easy targets for radicalisation because there can be something very comforting and familiar about a group that positions itself in a way that suggests it gets veterans. Understands them.
No, I’m not talking about ‘radical Islamic terrorists.’ I’m talking about right wing militant organisations in the US, which are a serious and growing domestic threat that originates on US soil, and typically involves white, Christian mean with an overinflated view of themselves and a deep-seated fear that everything in the world might not be going their way. Said groups are very fond of ridiculous amounts of firearms, and they often run in a way that is vaguely evocative of the military, sometimes because veterans are counted among their numbers.
Veterans looking for a new place to call home may find something comforting and familiar in these environments. They’re a space filled with people who are catering to their interests and talking about issues that concern them. This is a big deal. Many veterans are dealing with issues like low pay or joblessness, health problems, PTSD, and the stress of a totally new environment. We seek what we recognise in the world, going to the corner with the people who at least superficially look, act, feel, and think like us, because it is a nonthreatening corner.
Don’t mistake me: I don’t think that all veterans are susceptible to radicalisation, nor do I think that all veterans have white supremacists lurking under their uniforms ready to bust out. That would be an unfair thing to say on a number of levels, not least of which is that not all veterans are white. But some, a corner of the population, are, and it’s actually pretty easy to identify who might be at risk, but you need to do some research to back that up.
Which the US government was actually trying to do. Some of the aspects of that research included surveillance without warrants, which is not acceptable, but the core ideas behind it were solid, even if it needed some modification. Members of the GOP, however, became extremely upset by the initial findings of that research — namely that localised radicalisation was a much better security risk than anything else. Despite the fact that these data were revealing some important and sometimes concerning information, the GOP decided to throw out the whole thing because it revealed uncomfortable truths about this country.
What’s interesting is that the GOP has no problem with surveilling people without warrants or depriving them of other civil liberties. But when that information turns up materials that they don’t like to see, then suddenly it’s not okay. The GOP refuses to acknowledge that ‘sovereign citizen’ groups are a huge domestic security risk and they need to be identified and stopped in their tracks before they cause substantial harm to this country. For example, they were behind the occupation at Malheur that caused no end of nuisance and environmental damage, in addition to harming culturally sensitive sites, because the occupiers didn’t give a fig for the Native artefacts and sites they trampled.
Many of these groups (though not the ones the Baton Rouge and Dallas shooters belonged to) are also white supremacist organisations. That explains a lot of the GOP’s drive to cover them up, because these groups are a natural growth of the rightwing extremism in the party, and the party’s growing acceptance of people who engage in rampant nationalism and white supremacist activities. When a leader of the KKK is endorsing your presidential candidate and he doesn’t repudiate that, you have a problem.
The thing is that this kind of research, when done well, saves lives. It could have saved the lives of those police officers. It could save many more lives. When radicalism is allowed to thrive unchecked, it grows bolder and bolder, and that’s bad news for everyone else. Many of these groups are heavily armed, and their materiel sometimes includes equipment that can be used for making bombs and other devices designed to create considerable destruction. That’s not good, to put it mildly. We shouldn’t be silently tolerating the growth of such organisations, and we should be identifying and keeping an eye on those who are mostly likely to fall into their clutches, and we should be intervening to provide those individuals with options.
Apparently the GOP believes that supporting the growth of radicalist groups in the United States is more important than protecting the lives of police officers, which is something worth remembering the next time you see a Republican spouting off about the dangers that face members of law enforcement.
Image: Old Faithful Veterans, Marco Bartolini, Flickr