Jonte’ Taylor wrote “Darkness Fall, USA” years ago, and it recently appeared in the Down Yonder ‘Zine. During the Zoom event where Taylor read and spoke about the piece, he noted its continued relevance, especially within the past year. He talked about changing some lines here and there to bring it to 2021, and one of the lines that he changed struck me because it is something I constantly think and write about on this blog. Taylor writes, “We keep going to their regions with our pistols and rockets, yet we do nothing about our white national Bin Ladens.” What caught me was the second part of this line, us not speaking about the “white national Bin Ladens.” This is where language and our word choice is important.
Through the use of Bin Laden, Taylor draws the connection between “white nationalists” and white supremacists to terrorism, a distinction that many in the media and elsewhere do not do in their work. 22 USC § 2656f(d)(2) defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” Based on this definition, then, the individuals who participated in the January 6 insurrection are “terrorists.” They went to the capital with plans to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
In May, Rep. Andrew Clyde claimed that the individuals who attacked officers with weapons, screamed for the murder of Vice President Mike Pence and other officials, and who sought to overturn the election, as nothing more than tourists. He said, “Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures. You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.”
Clyde’s comparison of insurrectionists to “normal tourists” positions them not as individuals perpetuating “politically motivated violence” which led to the death officers and others but as merely individuals out for a leisurely trip through the capital on a sight seeing tour. This obfuscates the participants’ purpose, and through the use of such obfuscation, Clyde seeks to alter the narrative. It’s like the Lost Cause narrative where Confederates who fought to uphold slavery became “virilie youth” returning home to rebuild their destroyed homes while facing opposition from “freedmen, scalawags, and carpetbaggers intent on enacting violence upon them.” In this manner, Clyde places the terrorists as “very fine people” who are getting attacked for no apparent reason. This muddling of the truth is dangerous, especially when people fail to see that what occurred on January 6 was, plain and simple, a terrorist attack on a government building.
During his statement in front of the January 6 select committee, Officer Daniel Hodges testified about that day. Throughout his testimony, Ofc. Hodges referred to those storming the capital terrorists 15 times. At one point, he said that as he looked at the crowd of violence he saw Christian flags and symbols. He even told the committee, “It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians.” Here, Ofc. Hodges points out that the weaponization of Christianity and Christian imagery to further a political position through violence. This is the marriage of Christianity and politics from which Christian Nationalism sprouts. Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead define Christian Nationalism as “an ideology that idealizes a fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation.” Yet, how often do we hear “terrorist” and “Christian” describing an individual or group? Instead, following 9/11, we equated “terrorist” with “Islam.” So, what is the difference?
When Rep. Jamie Raskin asked why he constantly used the word “terrorists” to refer to those storming the capital on January 6, Ofc. Hodges responded, “I can see why someone would take issue with the title of terrorist, it’s gained a lot of notoriety in our vocabulary in the past few decades. . . . But I came prepared.” He then proceeded to read the definition for “domestic terrorism” found in 18 USC § 2331.
(5)the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—(A)involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;(B)appear to be intended—(i)to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;(ii)to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or(iii)to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
Again, based on the language within 18 USC § 2331(5), those who attacked the capital fall under the definition of “terrorism” and “domestic terrorism.” However, those words have become so laden with stereotypical images of radical Islamists who despise America that any use of the term to refer to white, Christian, Americans who commit acts of premeditated political violence becomes an affront to their positions where they view themselves as right and anyone who opposes them as wrong. This is white supremacy. This is white supremacist terrorism, a selfish, narcissistic positioning of oneself above all laws and community.
With all of this, I think to Anders Breivik ‘s terrorist attacks in Norway on July 22, 2011 where he killed 77 people. He shot 69 participants of a summer camp for the Worker’s Youth League on the island of Utøya. Most of the victims there were teenagers between the ages of 13 and 19. He dressed as a police man and walked up to his victims on the island, under the guise of helping them, and shot them in the head. He would cry out, as he shot them, “Today you will die, Marxists!” A self-proclaimed “Christian conservative,” Breivik’s terrorist act was an attempt to stop the multicultural advancements on Norway.
I bring up Breivik for a few reasons. The main reason, as Sindre Bangstad points out in Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia, when the attacks occurred, the Norwegian media speculated that the attacker or attackers “had been motivated or inspired by radical Islamism” instead of homegrown domestic terrorism. Norwegian anti-terror groups saw racial Islam as the primary threat to Norway while ignoring the far-right and neo-Nazi growth within its own borders. Thus, they initially scapegoated Muslims and Arabs while the terrorist was a thirty-two-year-old white Norwegian who had far-right views “and an intense hatred of both social democrats and Muslims.”
Along with this, Breivik’s views on the downfall of civilization coming as a result of multiculturalism and the truth of history reminds me a lot of the current rhetoric surrounding Critical Race Theory and education in the United States. During a school board meeting in Nevada, “speakers railed at school board members, calling them Marxists, racists, Nazis and child abusers, among other epithets.” All of this coalesces in tragedies such as January 6 or July 22. All of this leads to terrorism, the deliberate act of political violence, with disregard to any opposing viewpoint, to forward one’s political standing.
We must use the correct language when describing individuals and events. We cannot detether what happened on January 6 and claim that the individuals involved were nothing less that terrorists and insurrectionists. When we do that, we diminish what happened. We whitewash it, obscuring the truth of what these people attempted to do on that day. That is the harm of obfuscating the truth through language.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.