A string of incidents over the past month has served as a reminder that despite the intense, decadelong focus on the jihadist threat, domestic terrorism is still an issue in the United States. On Aug. 5, Wade Page opened fire on the congregation of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding three others. Though Page killed himself and did not leave any evidence explicitly listing his motives for the attack, his long association with the white supremacist movement was clearly a factor in his target choice.
On Aug. 15, Floyd Corkins shot and wounded a security guard in the lobby of the Family Research Council’s office in Washington after the guard blocked him from entering the office. Corkins reportedly was carrying a bag containing a box of ammunition and a number of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. He apparently targeted the Family Research Council because of its public support for Chick-fil-A in the wake of the controversy over statements made by the fast food chain’s founder regarding gay marriage. According to media reports, Corkins said, “I don’t like your politics,” before opening fire.
And on Aug. 16, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy was shot and wounded while working as a security guard at an oil refinery in St. John the Baptist Parish, La. When two other deputies responded to a nearby trailer park where a vehicle reportedly associated with the shooting was spotted, the trailers’ occupants ambushed and killed the deputies. An additional officer was wounded, along with two of the suspects involved in the shooting, Brian Smith and Kyle Joekel. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the incident, including Smith’s father and brother. News reports indicate that the group was associated with the sovereign citizen movement, and members of it were under investigation for weapons offenses and previous threats to law enforcement officers in other states.
All three of these incidents stem from distinct ideological streams: the white supremacist skinhead movement, the radical left and the Posse Comitatus/sovereign citizen movement. While unrelated as far as timing and motive, when taken together they show that extremist ideologies subscribed to by certain individuals on the fringes of U.S. society continue to radicalize some to the point that they are willing to take violent action in accordance with those ideologies. Domestic terrorism is thus alive and well.
First, we need to remember that terrorism is a tactic practiced by actors from a wide array of ethnic and religious backgrounds who follow various ideologies stretching from anarchism to neo-Nazism. Terrorism does not equal jihadism. Long before jihadism reared its head in the United States, anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President William McKinley, white supremacist James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., and Posse Comitatus member Gordon Kahl killed three law enforcement officers in a multistate spree of violence.
Indeed, as we look at all of the recent attention being paid to lone assailants and small cells, it must be remembered that anti-government and white supremacist leaders in the United States embraced the leaderless resistance model of operations long before jihadist groups began to promote it.