Since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked domestic terrorist plots and attacks in the United States. It lists more than 100, including the slaying of nine black churchgoers during a 2015 prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C.
That was in 1995, when domestic terrorism seemed to be the nation’s most immediate security threat. Now President Donald Trump sees the greatest risk in potential attackers who sneak into the U.S. from abroad. But Welch and others say the administration can’t ignore threats from home.
“ISIS, to me, is really not a hell of a lot different than the militia movement in the U.S.,” he said, referring to anti-government groups that were provoked by deadly standoffs with federal agents in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas — two flashpoints cited by Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
A list of worldwide attacks recently released by Trump’s administration left off many that were carried out by right-wing extremists and white supremacists. And organizations that track terrorist and hate groups say the government focuses too narrowly on threats from the outside instead of adopting a broader approach.
In a move that the administration described as an anti-terrorism measure, Trump last month suspended the nation’s refugee program and banned travel from seven predominantly Muslim nations, although a federal court soon halted his executive order.
Welch disagrees with Trump’s order banning travelers from certain countries, particularly when no terrorist attack in the U.S. has been tied to refugees from those places.
“You’ve got to be honest with people and quit making up these stories,” he said. “But that’s the problem nowadays. We let politics get too involved.”
Since the Oklahoma City bombing, the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked domestic terrorist plots and attacks in the United States. It lists more than 100, including some that shocked the nation: A 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin that killed six; the slaying of nine black churchgoers during a 2015 prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina; and the ambushes last year that killed eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Legal scholar William Yeomans said Dylann Roof, convicted in the Charleston attack, is a “classic example of a homegrown domestic terrorist.”
“He certainly was inspired by domestic organizations,” said Yeomans, who is on the faculty at American University and formerly served as a high-ranking official in the Justice Department’s civil rights division. “He spent a lot of time on the internet looking at far right-wing websites.”
Some Republicans have sought to distinguish between attacks carried out by white assailants and those tied to foreign extremist organizations.
Sean Duffy, a GOP congressman from Wisconsin, recently asserted that the Charleston church shooter and a Canadian man accused of gunning down six people last month at a Quebec City mosque did not get support from a network like the Islamic State and other extremist organizations.
“There’s no constant thread that goes through these attacks,” Duffy said on CNN.
The congressman told the USA Today Network-Wisconsin that white extremists are already here and that Trump’s ban was intended to keep IS operatives out. Duffy’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.
Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen said taking a more balanced look at all terror groups is “a bipartisan failure” — something that President Barack Obama’s administration could have handled better as well.
Cohen said the threat of Islamic extremism should not distract from radical right extremism, which in the U.S. dates back to slavery, the Jim Crow era and groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.
“The congressman talked about there being a difference. I wouldn’t say they’re the same, but oftentimes trying to make a sharp distinction between the two is just the first step in minimizing one or the other.”
The law center released a report Wednesday that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups tripled in 2016 from a year earlier, now at 101. The increase was driven by assaults such as the June attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, by a gunman who killed 49 people and pledged allegiance to IS. But Trump’s rhetoric also played a role, the report said.
Nearly 22 years after it happened, the Oklahoma City bombing remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism on U.S. soil. It killed 168 people, including 19 children.
Jannie Coverdale, who lost two small grandsons in the bombing, said her greatest anger came when she saw McVeigh “and realized he was an American.”
But Coverdale agrees with the president’s thinking and voted for Trump, even though she usually supports Democrats.
“Now things are different,” she said. We don’t have a lot of homegrown terrorists. They are coming from overseas, and somebody’s got to do something to put a stop to it.”