columnist for The Daily Beast and host of The Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM radio.
journalist with ProPublica, where he is a team leader for a project that documents hate crimes, bias incidents and racial extremists.
As the nonexistent terrorist attack manufactured by Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway makes headlines, we speak with reporters covering an actual threat from a white extremist in Bowling Green, Ohio, and the ongoing trial of a Christian minister in Tennessee for plotting to travel to upstate New York to kill Muslims there, using explosives, an M-4 assault rifle and a machete. We continue our conversation with ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson and Dean Obeidallah, a columnist for The Daily Beast.
See ProPublica’s Documenting Hate Project
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 of our closer look at the Bowling Green massacre. No, not the nonexistent one, the terrorist one manufactured by Donald Trump’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, but an actual threat by an extremist in Bowling Green, Ohio. In 2012, an FBI raid uncovered a full arsenal of assault rifles, firearms, body armor and ammunition amassed by the suspect, who prosecutors later determined was planning to carry out mass killings. But the suspect is not a radical Muslim. He’s a white supremacist. His name is Richard Schmidt. Federal authorities say he was planning on targeting African Americans, attacking them, Jews, as well. Investigators found a list of names and addresses of people to be assassinated, including the leaders of NAACP chapters in Michigan and Ohio. Schmidt was sentenced to less than six years in prison after a federal judge said prosecutors had failed to adequately establish he was a political terrorist. He’s scheduled for release in one year, February of 2018.
Schmidt’s case isn’t the only one involving terror threats by white supremacists that received little coverage by mainstream media—certainly, by the Trump administration, very little attention, if any. On Monday, the trial of Christian minister Robert Doggart began in Tennessee federal district court. Undercover FBI agents allege Doggart was plotting to travel to upstate New York to kill Muslims, using explosives, M-4 assault rifle, a machete. According to a federal investigation, Doggart saw himself as a religious "warrior" and wanted to kill Muslims to show his commitment to his Christian god. Doggart’s trial began on the same day that the president falsely claimed during a speech to U.S. CENTCOM at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida that the media is intentionally covering up terrorist attacks.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, according to our next guests, the cases that the press is ignoring are not those involving Muslim terrorists, but those of white supremacists and white nationalists committing hate crimes and planning attacks on Muslims, Jews, African Americans and other marginalized communities. In Berkeley, California, A.C. Thompson is with us. He’s a journalist with ProPublica, where he’s a team leader for a project that documents hate crimes, bias incidents and racial extremists. He highlighted Richard Schmidt’s case in his article, "When the Government Really Did Fear a Bowling Green Massacre—From a White Supremacist." And joining us here in New York, Dean Obeidallah, who is a columnist for The Daily Beast and is host of The Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM radio. He’s written several times about Robert Doggart, most recently in the article, "The Terror Trial We’re Really Ignoring."
So, thanks for joining us for Part 2 of this conversation. A.C. Thompson, is there any discussion that the Trump administration is looking to rename the Department of Homeland Security?
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, what we’re hearing about—and Reuters reported on this—is a move to change the Countering Violent Extremism program and to focus that purely on Islamic extremism. So that would leave out the white supremacists, the racial extremists and the sort of Christian fundamentalist and far-right extremists.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how would they be—how would those attacks be monitored? How would they be logged?
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I believe that they would still—I believe that they would still be investigated by DHS in certain cases, investigated by FBI in most cases. But I think what you’re seeing is an overall shift in emphasis from the past regime to this current regime, where the focus is going to be solely on Islamic radicals. And I think that’s a problem.
I should point out, though, you know, Daryl Johnson was a DHS analyst back in 2009 who put out a report for the Department of Homeland Security on right-wing extremists at that time. He said, "Look, we’ve got a confluence of issues here that could lead to a rise in the white supremacist and the militia movements." And he said, "Look, these are servicemembers returning home from the battlefield to a crumbling and troubled economy. It is a rise in immigration or concerns about immigration. It is a bunch of gun control proposals for legislation and the election of the first African-American president." And Johnson, who has been on your show, said, "Hey, this could create a situation where we have a 1990s-like revival of these far-right extremist movements."
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s—
A.C. THOMPSON: He got slapped down for that. And, you know, I think that the movement away from looking at this stuff started back then.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Daryl Johnson. In 2012, following the massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, in which six people were killed, Democracy Now! spoke to Daryl Johnson, the senior analyst at the Department of Homeland Security. In 2009, as you were saying, he called attention to the threat of far-right extremist groups and sparked a political firestorm in the process, the report warning that the election of the first African-American president combined with economic anxieties could fuel a rise in far-right violence. This is Johnson describing the fallout from his research.
DARYL JOHNSON: I never anticipated that, you know, the Department of Homeland Security, my employer, would actually clamp down on the unit and stop all of the valuable work we were doing. Leading up to this report—and I’ll talk about this at length in my book—my team was doing a lot of good things throughout the country. We received numerous accolades from law enforcement, intelligence officials, talking about the great work we were doing in the fight against domestic terrorism. And then, in lieu of the political backlash, the department decided to not only stop all of our work, stop all of the training and briefings that we were scheduled to give, but they also disbanded the unit, reassigned us to other areas within the office, and then made life increasingly difficult for us. Not only did they stop the work that we were doing, but they also tried to blame us for some of the attacks that were occurring.
AMY GOODMAN: In a New York Times "piece":"http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/06/24/charleston-and-the-threat-of-homegrown-hate-groups/for-domestic-hate-apply-the-vigor-and-strategy-used-for-muslim-terror headlined "For Domestic Hate, Apply the Vigor and Strategy Used for Muslim Terror," Johnson wrote, quote, "Domestic terrorism is the national security threat whose name we dare not speak. The numbers of both extremists and the radical movements that spur them to violence are soaring, and coalescing, in alarming ways. Yet through reckless neglect at nearly all levels of government, domestic terrorism not tied to Islam has become a cancer with no diagnosis or plan to address it." A.C. Thompson, your response?
A.C. THOMPSON: I think that’s absolutely true. And I think you can see a failure at many different levels, like Daryl Johnson said. And one of them is the FBI’s tracking of hate crimes statistics. The data is terrible. Twenty percent of the law enforcement agencies in the country don’t even participate in the hate crimes tracking program. Many of those that do participate claim that they never, ever see hate crimes. So, in Mississippi, for example, in 2015, the last year for which we have data, Mississippi said they had two hate crimes in the whole state. The state of Hawaii doesn’t participate at all. And so I think you see a failure in addressing these issues at all different levels.
AMY GOODMAN: Dean Obeidallah, you went to a hate crimes summit, kind of, that President Obama held?
DEAN OBEIDALLAH: Yeah, it was at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism last year. I spent the day there. They had a lot of great speakers. I’ll be blunt: Almost the entire focus was just about Islamic terrorism. There was a little bit about gangs. There was almost nothing about white supremacists. And also, you know, to be also blunt, that President Obama did a lot of extreme vetting that Donald Trump talks about today. The difference is, President Obama didn’t go on the bully pulpit and demonize Muslims when he was doing it. He worked with our community and tried to protect all of us against—against any kind of terrorism and Islamic terrorism, because we have the same interests as Muslims. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our community, the rest of the country, to fight it.
Donald Trump, though, goes out there and just talks about Muslims who want to kill you, ginning up fear. That’s why we have this spike in hate crimes after his election and during his campaign, well documented by Southern Poverty Law Center. So it’s a different tone. I think there has to be a focus on white supremacists. You’re going to see them—they cheered when they heard that Countering Violent Extremism was not going to focus on them anymore, online cheering: "Look, we’re fine now. This is a great time for us." They’re getting bold. And who knows what they do next? So it’s a scary time. They have to be focused on.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us further what this trial of Doggart, that’s taking place now in Tennessee, is all about.
DEAN OBEIDALLAH: Sure. I mean, Robert Doggart from Tennessee, for some reason, got in his mind that this town in upstate New York, Islamberg, was a place for a Muslim training camp. How did he get that in his mind? Fox News continually reported that, even though local law enforcement said that’s not true at all. There’s no Muslim training camp. There’s no terrorist training camp. But because they’re black and they’re Muslim, I’m showing, if you’re a bigot, you’ve got two reasons to hate the people. So he got on the phone, according to the FBI, talked to certain people—no one else was indicted, but some were FBI informants—and said, "We want to go up there. It’s my commitment to God," as a—his professed view, his twisted view, of Christianity—no different than the twisted view ISIS has of Islam—to go kill Muslims. So he got together, talked to people. He got explosives. He got a M-4 rifle. He got a machete, which he said he was going to use to cut the Muslims to shreds. He was going to burn down a school and a mosque there. And thankfully, before he went up there to do surveillance, that’s when he was arrested. So, he’s on trial right now. But he’s not alone. Again, there are other people out there plotting, white supremacists, to kill Muslims. They’ll kill other people of color. I mean, Dylann Roof was not in ISIS. He was a white supremacist terrorist. Why the media didn’t use the term "terrorist" to describe him is beyond me.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, maybe it’s because of this. I want to turn to comments made by FBI Director James Comey a week after the Charleston massacre, where the avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black worshipers, including Pastor Clementa Pinckney, at the historic Emanuel AME Church in June of 2015. Last month, Roof was sentenced to death for the murders. But this is James Comey speaking at a news conference a week after the attack. He said the massacre would be investigated as a hate crime, but ruled out the term "terrorism."
JAMES COMEY: I wouldn’t, because of the way we define "terrorism" under the law. Terrorism is an act of violence done or threatened to—in order to try to influence a public body or the citizenry, so it’s more of a political act. And again, based on what I know so far, I don’t see it as a political act.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is the FBI director, then and now, but he was speaking right after the Dylann Roof massacre. A.C. Thompson, your response?
A.C. THOMPSON: FBI has a code. It’s 266, domestic security/terrorism. And, you know, I’m not an expert. I’m not a lawyer. But you really do feel like that could fall into that category, the Charleston massacre, that these white supremacist attacks, they’re inherently political. They are about disempowering particular groups of people. This is not purely about hate. These are political acts of violence.
AMY GOODMAN: I asked Dean to talk more about the trial that’s going on in Tennessee. We began this second part of the conversation—we discussed it more fully in the first—talking about the Bowling Green massacre—not the one Kellyanne Conway talked about that didn’t happen. But if you could tell us more about what you learned, the Bowling Green massacre, in fact, that involved a white supremacist?
A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah. You know, the thing that’s really chilling about the whole story of Richard Schmidt, who gets arrested back in 2012 by federal agents—they find a secret room behind his sports business that’s just filled with his rifles, ammunition, his writings, etc.—but I think the chilling thing about him is that he seems to have been a member of the National Alliance. And when you look at the National Alliance, they’ve had this incredibly potent and violent legacy. The National Alliance was a white supremacist group—is a white supremacist group founded by the late William Pierce. William Pierce is the guy who wrote the racial, dystopian, apocalyptic novel The Turner Diaries. And The Turner Diaries laid out a scenario where white insurgents fought the government to establish a white state. And that really laid the blueprint for Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people, and many, many other white terrorists since then. J.M. Berger, the terrorism researcher, has linked The Turner Diaries to more than 200 murders and many, distinctly what you would call, acts of terrorism. So, seeing a guy like Schmidt, who’s got this arsenal, who the government calls a one-man army bent on creating a race war, and seeing his direct tie to the National Alliance, as well as skinhead street gangs, that’s what’s really pretty terrifying.
AMY GOODMAN: What, A.C. Thompson, should the federal government be doing that they aren’t doing now in dealing with these white supremacist, white nationalist attacks?
A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I mean, the first thing is to speak the name, is to speak out about it, is—we have an administration that is very happy to use Twitter and every other form of communication to speak out about issues. And it would be great to see the government and see the commander-in-chief using any forum to say, "Hey, this is a pluralistic society, and I don’t endorse white nationalists. I don’t endorse white supremacists. I’m sickened by anti-Semitism and the proliferation of swastika graffiti around the country. I’m sickened by these attacks on mosques and other places of worship." But we haven’t seen that yet. And I feel like that is—the first step is to signal to the public that this is not OK. The next step is to actually direct your government agencies to consider this a priority.
AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Wisconsin Republican Congressman Sean Duffy tried to defend the exclusion of the Charleston, South Carolina, and Quebec City massacres committed by white supremacists from a White House list of 78 recent terrorist attacks. Duffy made the remarks in an interview with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Congressman, why isn’t the president talking about the white terrorist who mowed down six Muslims who were praying at their mosque?
Rep. SEAN DUFFY: Yeah, I don’t know. But I would just tell you, there is a difference. Again, death and murder on both sides is wrong. But if you want to take the dozens of scenarios where ISIS-inspired attacks have taken innocents, and you give me one example of what’s happened—I think that was in Canada—of America—
ALISYN CAMEROTA: How about the Charleston—how about the Charleston church shooting, Congressman?
Rep. SEAN DUFFY: But so—but—but here—but here’s what you’re doing. So, yeah—
ALISYN CAMEROTA: He was an extremist. He was a white extremist.
Rep. SEAN DUFFY: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, he was, OK.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: How about that? That doesn’t matter?
Rep. SEAN DUFFY: No, it does matter. It does matter. Look at the good things that came from it. Nikki Haley took down the Confederate flag. That was great!
AMY GOODMAN: So there you have Wisconsin Congressmember Sean Duffy. Dean Obeidallah, Wisconsin, the site of the Sikh temple massacre?
DEAN OBEIDALLAH: Right. It’s stunning that he would not talk about something that happened in his own state. It’s also stunning that—also maybe it’s not stunning that he doesn’t know about the other attacks, the other plots by white supremacists, because our mainstream media doesn’t cover when—and I was on CNN earlier in the week, where—I was on with a Republican, who said, "Well, there’s no white supremacists trying to build a dirty bomb." I go, "Yes, there is. Glendon Scott Crawford, sentenced to 30 years to life in December for trying to do that." And the guy was—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that.
DEAN OBEIDALLAH: Glendon Scott Crawford, a U.S. Navy veteran, worked for General Electric as electrical engineer, member of the Klan, wanted a plan to kill Muslims in New York. What he did, with his co-defendant, who actually got eight to 10 years in prison, was try to build an actual radiation dispersal device that he could use in targeting Muslims, like an X-ray. But this is not a guy sitting in his basement. This is an actual electrical engineer going through all the process, began the testing phase of it. Finally, FBI finds out about this. He’s on trial in federal court, got 30 years to life. And I’m not defending this congressman, but the fact is the mainstream media doesn’t report this kind of case.
They do a little blip when the men in Kansas, called the Crusaders—we talked about it earlier—who wanted to kill Somali refugees in Kansas in this apartment complex, and the FBI intercepted their communications saying "We were going to dip the bullets in pig’s blood and kill them." If that sounds familiar, because Donald Trump told that story on the campaign trail how General Pershing allegedly put bullets in pig’s blood before he killed Muslims in the Philippines. That’s not true. He didn’t do that. Didn’t matter. These men were mimicking the words of Donald Trump. In fact, one of the three men, who are known as the Crusaders, was a self-professed Trump supporter.
So you have this language demonizing fear of us. You have right-wing media. You have Breitbart. Now you have Steve Bannon in the White House with his view, this apocalyptic view, of a coming clash of civilization between Judeo-Christian values and Islam. And it makes people think it’s OK, that it’s normal, and we’re not going to look at the other threats. And sadly, we’re going to have a Quebec situation in America, as sure as we’re sitting here. We’re going to see someone walk into a mosque and kill Muslims, because the planning is happening, and people get caught before it happens. And sadly, this will happen. And people will go like, "We didn’t see the signs." Well, I’m begging you to see the signs. I’m begging the media to report on this. And I thank you very much for having this discussion, because most the mainstream media will not have this discussion, frankly.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being a part of it, Dean Obeidallah with The Daily Beast and The Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM radio. And, A.C. Thompson, thanks for joining us from Berkeley, California, with ProPublica. This is Democracy Now! We’ll link to both of your pieces at democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.