Conservatives like to claim that America is a conservative country. There’s a certain amount of truth in the claim … and not to the country’s benefit.
For example, Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic makes an observation:
There is, however, another factor that likely explains some of the reticence of some Americans, including professional commentators, to focus very much attention on the Oak Creek massacre.
Their disinclination to grapple with it has less to do with the victims than the gunman. The key factor isn’t that they’re Sikhs; it’s that the apparent homegrown terrorist — a term virtually no one would object to had a murderous Muslim burst into the Sikh temple — was perpetrated by a white guy.
Hold the victims constant and give the perpetrator the last name Mohammed. Does anyone think for a moment that such an attack wouldn’t still be the most discussed story at Fox News and National Review? And at various network news shows and unaffiliated newspapers for that matter?
Instead Wade Michael Page was the gunman.
Attacks like his are disconcerting to some white Americans for a seldom acknowledged reason. Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they’ve tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. (If Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD sent officers beyond the boundaries of New York City to secretly spy on evangelical Christian students or Israeli students or students who own handguns the national backlash would be swift, brutal, and decisive. The revelation of secret spying on Muslim American students was mostly defended or ignored.)
In the name of counterterrorism, many Americans have given their assent to indefinite detention, the criminalization of gifts to certain charities, the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, and a sprawling, opaque homeland security bureaucracy; many have also advocated policies like torture or racial profiling that are not presently part of official anti-terror policy.
What if white Americans were as likely as Muslims to be victimized by those policies? What if the sprawling national security bureaucracy we’ve created starts directing attention not just to Muslims and their schools and charities, but to right-wing militias and left-wing environmental groups (or folks falsely accused of being in those groups because they seem like the sort who would be)? There are already dossiers on non-Muslim extremist groups. In a post-9/11 world, Islamic terrorism has nevertheless been the overwhelming priority for law enforcement, and insofar as innocents have suffered, Muslims have been affected far more than any other identifiable group, because the bulk of the paradigm shift in law enforcement hasn’t spread beyond them.
Would that still be true if the next terrorist attack on American soil looks like Oklahoma City? How would President Obama or President Romney wield their unprecedented executive power in the aftermath of such an attack? Who would find that they’d been put on no fly lists? Whose cell phone conversations and email exchanges would be monitored without their ever knowing about it?
Steve at No More Mister Nice Blog has an answer, and it’s depressingly likely that he is correct:
We might have a serious counterterrorism crackdown against whites in the near future, but we absolutely won’t have a serious counterterrorism crackdown against right-wing whites. If a future large terrorist attack is conducted by a Weathermen-like group, the hammer will come down on lefties; by contrast, if the next big attack is like Oklahoma City, the reaction will be … well, like the reaction to Oklahoma City: there’ll be no crackdown on like-minded people, no significantly stepped-up surveillance, no nationwide cloud of suspicion, no wave of new laws. That’s for non-whites and lefties only.
The key factor isn’t just skin color — the ’60s and ’70s leftists who were tracked by law enforcement were mostly white. The key factor is that right-wing extremists share a lot of beliefs with the mainstream right — they’re anti-cultural elite, anti-urbane, distrustful of government, unswervingly opposed to gun control, and fed up with programs meant to help non-whites, the poor, women, and gay people. That’s the resemblance that matters in this society, not skin color; that’s why we’ll never consider a serious crackdown on right-wing extremism, however organized and violent right-wing extremist groups become. No liberal or left-centrist president would dare challenge the pro-“regular American” bias that protects right-wing extremists, and no Republican would even dream of cracking down on the far right.
I don’t generally predict the future, but I will say that I would not be surprised if the next large-scale terrorist action to take place on U.S. soil were the work of the home-grown right-wing fringe rather than Islamists.