Every April, I write about domestic terrorism in the U.S. and the neo-Nazi, white supremacist movement. My articles began with the 168 people who died in the Oklahoma City bombing almost 20 years ago. I became the community and media liaison for Oklahoma's Tulsa Jewish Federation shortly afterwards, so that I could see what led to the deadliest bombing, prior to 9/11, on our native soil. The violent hatred that I saw has continued, and sometimes blossomed in recent years with spring surges. In April 2013, the result was the Boston Marathon bombings. April 2014 has been marked by shootings at a Jewish Community Center and Jewish Seniors Home in Kansas City by a former KKK Grand Dragon and White Supremacist. Here in Chattanooga, the most prominent neo-Nazi group in the U.S. is planning its 40th anniversary rally on the steps of our Court House on April 26, the weekend of Holocaust Memorial Day. Where was their most recent rally just months ago? Yes, it was Kansas City. We cannot, and should not, overlook past lessons, current momentum and future consequences.
In 1995, I saw not one, but several underground movements supporting and reflecting the violence that was ultimately expressed on April 19. There were small groups, such as a self-appointed pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma who claimed he was anointed to wipe out America's undesirables. There was a cell of a few people, including a local socialite that ran a neo-Nazi telephone hot line out of their home. Rallies by the Ku Klux Klan received headlines locally, but they faded against the lone destroyer, Timothy McVeigh.
My job included security for the complex of Jewish Federation organizations in Tulsa. My work included training and debriefing by the FBI, the ATF and the local gangs task force of the police department. As part of my job, I was shown a secretly recorded video of Elohim City, a secretive, community that the McVeigh was rumored to have frequented. A breeding ground for dangerous extremists, as noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Elohim City hasn't gone away, nor have the societal trends that created it.
Yes, places like Elohim City still exist, but the country's focus needs to be increasingly on the individuals and small groups that are difficult for the FBI and ATF to track. Due to their lack of history and formal organization, these rogue destroyers escape detection or prosecution until they erupt in deadly violence. Although the Oklahoma City bombing took place in 1995, there is no reason to believe that the growth of small groups or diffuse groups with violent intentions has ended. On the contrary, the economic distress and social dislocation that provided fertile ground for anti-social groups, also grows an increasingly large crop of anti-social, dangerous individuals.
In 2008, I wrote about how the severe economic downturn we were experiencing would have as a byproduct an increase in random violence. When people feel they have little to lose they lose their socialization. I predicted that we would see a rise in gang-related violence, domestic violence and opportunistic kidnapping and theft. After a rise in such incidences, I wrote a handbook for young leaders to offset their impact, Inspire Your Inner Global Leader.
Last year, I wrote about the April bombing at the Boston Marathon and about massive shootings in movie theaters, on college campuses, in shopping malls. Too many of the perpetrators are young men who seem to feel the American dream has failed them. We cannot ignore what is an inevitable byproduct of their social and economic dislocation. Security, awareness, preparedness and realism are required. It takes the concerted effort of an entire community, as well as faith bordering on religious zeal, to deal with the violent elements in its midst. Given our highly networked society, Americans of all ages should be on a mission to contain our dark side.
We see what happens in other societies when so many are unemployed and hopeless. We wring our hands as we see their plight in foreign communities, whether inner cities or war-torn nations, can't or won't absorb them. We can no longer afford the luxury of thinking that this isn't happening in America. The combination of a depressed economy and oppression, whether real or perceived is volcanic. The violent anger of hate groups should get national attention as domestic terrorism.
Yes, many of the rallies of the neo-Nazi groups focus on illegal immigration and its impact on jobs. That was the theme in Kansas City and will be in Chattanooga. But, the neo-Nazi rallies around immigration issues should not be considered part of a mainstream political debate. Rather, look at these rallies as recruiting, promotional and marketing events for hate groups. If we are not going to develop into a society hunkered down in our homes, armed to the teeth to protect ourselves, we need fundamental change in our response. Focus on what is happening to the alienated, desperate and hopeless among us. They are easy targets for recruitment and the spread hatred as if it were a toxic chemical spill.
There are those who are addressing some of the root causes of this violence and deserve more visibility, support and funding. Their efforts may be based in religious institutions, community centers, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. They provide food, health care and shelter to those who have no access to basic necessities. Mentoring programs that target our youth are right on target with the prevention of hate group recruitment. Kudos to the sports figures and other celebrities who use their fame to promote these efforts. Past experience shows that these bombings and shootings generate fear, hatred, anxiety and distrust. Yet, they can also generate waves of publicity and appreciation for the efforts to diminish the rage and violence that threaten us.
Lastly, do not see this violence as mental illness, as some will claim. Look beyond the craziness, beyond even the obvious antisemitism, and see how the violent hatred is the result of a constellation of societal issues resulting from economic displacement and a "nothing-left-to-lose" mentality. It is the perfect storm that brings drugs and gangs to our streets. It is a mode of speech that is penetrating our social discourse and social networks. It is violence-provoking language that now fuels our political debate. Kudos to all those who insist on civility, on making a difference, and having a voice. May your ranks grow and your programs flourish in the wake of April tragedies.