But many are now asking why Americans since September 11, 2001, have gone ballistic on al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other international terrorists with an Islamist bent, while doing next to nothing to combat the terrorist next door, who is typically white and hates Muslims (not to mention Jews, Hispanics, blacks, and other minorities). It has become trendy for journalists, professors, presidential candidates, and security practitioners not only to call out the domestic-terrorism double standard, but to prescribe a massive, post-9/11-like counterterrorism response.
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The Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum questioned the hypocrisy on Twitter: “The question is when we will begin to speak about domestic, white supremacist terrorism the same way we speak about foreign, jihadi terrorism. Both are coherent ideologies, spread by the internet, exacerbated by extremist politicians. Both demand a similar response.” The Daily Beast echoed, “Now, before it grows any stronger, should be the time to move against it with the same kind of concerted international focus of attention and resources that were trained on Osama bin Laden. Now is the time for a global war on white nationalist terrorism.” The Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has also drawn direct parallels between 9/11 and the El Paso attack: “After 9/11, I joined thousands of other Americans in signing up to fight the threat to our nation. Now, in the face of white-nationalist terror, our leaders must stand up to fight this threat to our national security.” The South Bend, Indiana, mayor tells audiences that he “learned a lot [in Afghanistan] that sadly will be applicable here at home, too.” Former CIA and FBI practitioners are likewise specifying all sorts of ways the post-9/11 global War on Terror can be applied to fighting white-nationalist terrorists, from tracing the networks of extremists “just like we did against other terrorist groups” after 9/11 to changing our laws for us to “fight domestic terror groups … the way we treat foreign ones.” Six former senior directors for counterterrorism at the White House’s National Security Council just released a joint statement calling on the government to go after the Timothy McVeighs as ferociously as the Osama bin Ladens. “So can we please start a war on terrorism at home now?” the Stanford political-science professor Michael McFaul tweeted after the El Paso attack.
But hold on. Is 9/11 the best model for us to aspire to replicate? Do we really want a war on terrorism at home? And what exactly would it look like? As a Columbia postdoc noted on Twitter, “In response to 9/11, we invaded a country that had nothing to do with it because they shared an ethnicity with the attackers. If we treat white supremacist violence the same way, the equivalent might be regime change in Belarus.” For the sake of consistency, we could round up some white suspects, throw them in Guantánamo Bay, and dust off the old waterboard. To put an end to the domestic-terrorism double standard, we could also pit local terrorist organizations against one another as we did in Syria. Or maybe arm unrestrained national militaries to do the dirty work, as has been our policy in Yemen.