The color of terrorism

The man who shot innocent people in in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin yesterday was likely a white supremacist, the Southern Poverty Law Center says.

It’s a reminder that right up until September 11, 2001 in this country, the word “terrorist” and “white supremacist” were closely linked. In fact, the threat of terrorism from white supremacists in this country was often a nightly news story. Then, the planes were driven into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the popular portrayal of “terrorist” changed to a different color.

Now, it’s clear, white is back.

The threat of terrorism from white supremacists is cataloged by a number of recent alleged plots .

In April, for example, two Minnesota men with ties to white supremacist groups — 31-year-old Samuel Johnson of Austin and 42-year-old Joseph Thomas of Mendota Heights — amassed several weapons as part of a plan to attack the government, minorities and others. The FBI started investigating the two in 2010. Thomas told an undercover agent he also tried to get explosives and automatic weapons to attack “left-wing individuals.” He was allegedly planning to attack the Mexican consulate.

In May, 10 members of the American Front, a white supremacisty group were arrested for planning to kill Jews and minorities in the “inevitable” race war, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

In October 2008, law enforcement agents broke up a plot by two neo-Nazi skinheads to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 88 black people.

Sometimes the threats succeed. In June 2009, James W. von Brunn opened fire at the National Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.

And, of course, there’s Timothy McVeigh, who set off a bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, and killed 168 people including 19 children under the age of 6.

Since 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center says, the number of right-wing extremist groups has jumped from 149 to 824.

“With the breathless way the media covers hate groups, it is sometimes easier to characterize them simply as misfits or extremists, rather than acknowledge them as part of the larger problem of widespread racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia,” civil rights advocate Loretta Ross wrote back in 1995.

Not much, apparently, has changed but the attention paid to the problem.