When a Terrorist Is a White Supremacist, the DOJ Stays Quiet
January 11, 2018
Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post & Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash at Truthout
Usually, when the FBI arrests a terrorist, it's a big deal. But the Trump Justice Department's quiet handling of the federal terrorism case against Taylor Michael Wilson -- an armed White Supremacist -- is indicative of the government's approach to domestic terrorism. On October 22, 2017, Wilson hijacked an Amtrak train and took hundreds of passengers hostage. The failure to publicize this brazen attack suggests an attempt to obscure a terrorism case that doesn't fit into Trump's broader agenda
Sessions' DOJ Charged A White Supremacist
With Terrorism. They Just Didn't Tell Anyone
Ryan J. Reilly / The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON -- Usually, when the FBI arrests a terrorist and the Justice Department charges them, it's a big deal. Combating terrorism is one of the Justice Department's top priorities, and terror cases are a great way for federal prosecutors and agents to make names and build careers. The press and the public are very interested. Officials will typically blast out a press release, and, if it's a big takedown, might even hold a press conference.
The Justice Department didn't do any of that when federal prosecutors unsealed terrorism charges last week against Taylor Michael Wilson. The 26-year-old white supremacist from St. Charles, Missouri, allegedly breached a secure area of an Amtrak train on Oct. 22 while armed with a gun and plenty of backup ammunition. He set off the emergency brake, sending passengers lunging as the train cars went "completely black."
The attempted terrorist attack took place aboard an Amtrak train that started off in California and was making its way through a part of Nebraska so remote that it took an hour for the nearest deputy to arrive on the scene. Wilson was found in the second engine of the train, "playing with the controls," according to the FBI affidavit.
As passengers waited in dark train cars that smelled of burning rubber, Amtrak workers kept the man pinned down. "I'm the conductor, bitch," Wilson allegedly said to Amtrak personnel while subdued. They say Wilson had tried to reach for his front waistband, where he was storing a fully loaded handgun.
The incident received little national coverage at the time, perhaps in large part because law enforcement officials didn't initially treat it as a terrorism case. A subsequent FBI investigation, however, painted a disturbing portrait of an individual who escalated his radical activity in recent years as he built up a massive gun stash, even hiding weapons and extremist propaganda in a secret compartment behind his refrigerator.
In a court affidavit, the FBI agent who investigated the attempted terrorist attack said he'd learned that Wilson traveled with an "alt-right Neo Nazi group" to the deadly "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in August; may have helped vandalize restaurants with "whites only" stickers; pointed a gun at a black woman during a road rage incident; and spoke of "killing black people" during recent protests against police violence in St. Louis.
But even when the federal terrorism charges were unsealed against Wilson last week, the case didn't get a ton of national pickup. One key reason: The Justice Department didn't tell anyone.
There was no press release on the case out of Justice Department headquarters in Washington, nor from the US Attorney's Office in Nebraska. The reporter who broke the story of the terrorism charges on Thursday evening, Lori Pilger of the Lincoln Journal Star, told HuffPost that she spotted the unsealed case when checking the federal court docket online.
On its face, the lack of attention the Wilson case received from Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Justice Department could read as a brazen political decision by Trump administration officials to obscure a terrorism case that doesn't fit into their broader agenda.
Why would they want to highlight a terrorism charge against an alleged neo-Nazi who attended a violent alt-right event that President Donald Trump insisted included "very fine people"?
But the lack of attention the Wilson case has received actually reflects the priorities embedded in a system built up by US lawmakers and law enforcement officials over the years: a US criminal code and federal law enforcement apparatus that treats domestic terrorism as a second-class threat.
Many in the law enforcement community acknowledge that's a problem.
"This type of a crime certainly, from a perspective of seriousness and the potential for injuring or even killing large numbers of people, is very much on par with other terrorism crimes that we've seen in the United States and elsewhere which are motivated by the Islamist extremist ideologies such as that promoted by ISIS," Mary McCord, a Justice Department veteran who headed DOJ's National Security Division until last spring, told HuffPost.
"If this alleged crime had been committed by someone who at the time of arrest or elsewhere said that he was pledging Bay'ah [allegiance] to [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi or doing this for reasons motivated by ISIS, or al Qaeda, or some other Islamist extremist organization, that would be considered an international terrorist offense," McCord said. That would mean the National Security Division would've been closely involved. There would have been a national press release.
Because it was considered a domestic terrorism case, the Wilson investigation apparently was hardly a blip on the National Security Division's radar. Attorneys at DOJ headquarters in Washington typically play a minimal role in domestic terrorist investigations, and court filings in the case against Wilson don't indicate any involvement from the National Security Division.
A spokesman for the US Attorney's Office for the District of Nebraska told HuffPost the case was handled "solely" by federal prosecutors in Nebraska.
The spokesman, Joe Jeanette, had a simple answer for why his office didn't send out a press release: the criminal chief, who normally sends out information on new cases, was off at the time the Wilson case was unsealed.
McCord doesn't think that the lack of a press release alone indicated that anyone in the US Attorney's Office was not taking the crime seriously, and said the affidavit showed that the FBI got involved in the case pretty quickly and did the work they needed to do. But broadly speaking, she worries that the Justice Department isn't putting the same sort of institutional emphasis on domestic terrorism cases as they do with terrorism cases involving Islamic extremists.
"I think that domestic terrorism should be put on the same moral plane as international terrorism," McCord said. "When the reason for a crime of violence is in order to influence a civilian population, or influence actions of the government ... it certainly has the same level of seriousness and should be taken just as seriously as international terrorism."
A close review of how the Wilson case unfolded indicates that, at virtually every step along the way, the investigation into the 26-year-old was handled differently than it would have been if authorities had any suspicion Wilson was inspired by any foreign terrorist organization, like the self-described Islamic State.
At the time of Wilson's arrest, local authorities took a full day to inform the FBI, indicating they likely did not consider the incident a terrorist event at first. Wilson was found carrying business cards for the National Socialist Movement (America's neo-Nazi party) and the Covenant Nation Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is based on the belief that "White people are part of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel."
He was charged only with felony criminal mischief and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony on the local level. There were questions about his mental health, but Wilson was deemed competent to proceed.
Remarkably, Wilson was released by local authorities on a partially secured bond on Dec. 11. By the time of his release, the FBI was aware of Wilson's extremist views, his involvement in two potential hate crimes, and his extensive weapons cache. But they hadn't yet obtained or executed a search warrant on his home.
Wilson spent nearly two weeks out of custody until he was eventually arrested by federal authorities on Dec. 23, several days after federal agents executed their search warrant on an apartment he shared with his cousin.
In international terrorism investigations, federal agents often zero in on what friends and family members knew about a suspect's path of radicalization. Wilson's family, according to an affidavit from the FBI agent Monte Czaplewski, evidently knew a lot.
His cousin, who cooperated with authorities, said Wilson had joined a neo-Nazi group he'd found online; traveled to Charlottesville with a shield and bulletproof vest; built up a weapons stash of more than 20 guns; and expressed an "interest in 'killing black people' and other people of color, especially during the protests in St. Louis." The cousin believed Wilson was "serious about killing black people."
Very Quietly, Justice Department Charges
White Supremacist With Domestic Terrorism
Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash at Truthout
(January 10, 2018) -- One would think that when the Department of Justice nabs a terrorist, they would be beaming from ear-to-ear, and, taking pains to let the public know about their success. Perhaps a press release. Maybe a press conference. After all, arrests like that boosts careers.
Unfortunately, the Trump Justice Dept., currently under the leadership of Jeff Sessions, is taking cues from the Big Kahuna himself, tending to downplay domestic terrorism. After all, said Trump, after this summer's neo-Nazi, Alt-Right tödlicher Aufruhr (deadly riot in German) in Charlottesville, Virginia, there are "some very fine people" on both sides.
I'm assuming that Trump doesn't think that Taylor Michael Wilson is one of those "very fine people." However, according to the Huffington Post's Ryan J. Reilly, "The Justice Department didn't do any of [the above] when federal prosecutors unsealed terrorism charges" against Wilson.
"The 26-year-old white supremacist from St. Charles, Missouri, allegedly breached a secure area of an Amtrak train on Oct. 22 while armed with a gun and plenty of backup ammunition," Reilly reported. "He set off the emergency brake, sending passengers lunging as the train cars went 'completely black.'"
The incident, which occurred in late October, received very little play in the media. Reilly point out that at first the case was not treated like a domestic terrorist incident. After all, officials may have assumed, no Muslim involvement, no terrorism.
"A subsequent FBI investigation, however, painted a disturbing portrait of an individual who escalated his radical activity in recent years as he built up a massive gun stash, even hiding weapons and extremist propaganda in a secret compartment behind his refrigerator," Reilly noted.
And when the FBI investigated Wilson, they discovered that he attended the "Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where he "may have helped vandalize restaurants with "whites only" stickers; pointed a gun at a black woman during a road rage incident; and spoke of 'killing black people' during recent protests against police violence in St. Louis," Reilly wrote.
"This type of a crime certainly, from a perspective of seriousness and the potential for injuring or even killing large numbers of people, is very much on par with other terrorism crimes that we've seen in the United States and elsewhere which are motivated by the Islamist extremist ideologies such as that promoted by ISIS," Mary McCord, a Justice Department veteran who headed DOJ's National Security Division until last spring, told the Huffington Post.
It is clear that the Trump administration does not view domestic terrorism by homegrown neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or alt-rightist a major threat. Initially, the case wasn't even treated as terrorism at first. You can bet that if Wilson's crime had been committed by a Muslim pledging their allegiance to ISIS or al Qaeda, Trump would have turned the rhetoric of fear to full tilt.
The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as an attempt to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping."
As longtime investigative journalist David Neiwert pointed out in an August piece for The Nation magazine, "A databaseof nine years of domestic terrorism incidents compiled by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting" found that:
* From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.
* During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
* Right-wing extremist terrorism was more often deadly: Nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. (The total number of deaths associated with Islamist incidents was higher, however, reaching 90.)
* Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecot-errorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities -- making the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress earlier this month somewhat of an anomaly.
* Nearly half (48 percent) of Islamist incidents in our database were sting operations, more than four times the rate for far-right (12 percent) or far-left (10.5 percent) incidents.
Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center's Daryl Johnson reported that a Congressional report "distributed in August highlights the growing threat from domestic terrorists, described as 'people who commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from US-based extremist ideologies and movements.'
The report, published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), highlights several gaps in US policy related to identifying, analyzing and assessing domestic terrorist threats. It notes that domestic terrorists 'have not received as much attention from federal law enforcement as their violent jihadist counterparts,' which has not always been the case."
In the end, the Sessions' DOJ keeping the arrest and charges against Taylor Michael Wilson a secret fits the president's agenda of building and sustaining fear and Islamophobia.
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