Since the war on terror began, extremism has been a much more conscious concern for many. Terrorism has been a global threat in the past and is back in the news with the foiled plot to overthrow the state government of Michigan. We should look at terrorism in a more objective lens, less pushed in one direction by biased media coverage, and recognize our tradition of complicity with domestic terrorism.
Earlier this month, six individuals were arrested and charged over a plan to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at her vacation home and seven more for a plan to storm the Michigan Capitol. After entering the spotlight earlier this year from her imposition of strict COVID-19 restrictions, Governor Whitmer has been a target of many right-wingers from the local to national level. Thirteen of the perpetrators were far-right extremists and anti-government conspirators. This plot, by any reasonable definition, should be deemed terrorism. If the overthrow of a state government for extremist political views doesn’t count, what does? However, if you only watch or read news from right-leaning outlets, it’s very possible you may have quite a different interpretation of what events conspired that brought charges against those 13 people.
Looking at two outlets, TheBlaze and Fox News, one may come away from their coverage believing one of the perpetrators is a left-wing anarchist Trump-hater. I can assure you some of the commenters on the articles believe that if the facts aren’t on your side, you should make new facts, make alternative facts or make some way to flip the narrative. In the instance of TheBlaze, they chose to characterize one perpetrator as an anarchist without context, and although it is technically true, it is nevertheless very misleading. Anarchists can be left-wing or right-wing, such as anarcho-capitalists. In either case, supporting the dissolution of the state is what makes someone an anarchist, meaning that anarchists fit into neither right- nor left-wing policy. However, for the average reader, seeing the term “anarchist” will almost certainly cause them to think the perpetrator is affiliated with the left-wing. Also, Fox News decided to deceptively include the fact that said perpetrator was very opposed to President Trump. That’s not a surprise since virtually any anarchist, left or right, would be necessarily opposed to an authoritarian leader and state. But by not clarifying his political ideology, one could easily walk away with the idea that if someone was a Trump-hating anarchist, they must represent the ideals of the left.
Beyond this story, I think there’s still a bigger problem around the discourse of terrorism and extremism. We tend to focus heavily on acts by certain groups of individuals and not on others. When it comes to overinflation, one can examine left-wing extremism. The Anti-Defamation League tracks extremism and hate groups in America. One report released in February compiled data on deaths from extremists from 2010 to 2019. If you read conservative press, you may very well believe that 40, 50, maybe even 60 percent of the deaths were from left-wing perpetrators. In reality, only 3 percent of deaths were from left-wing perpetrators while 76 percent were from right-wing perpetrators. Fascist demagogues and outlets focus on the mythical left-wing terror movement while protecting the “very fine people” on the side of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. On the flip side, other threats are grossly underestimated or not criticized in the same way other terror attacks, such as the Orlando nightclub shooting, were criticized. Take the Iraq War — an illegal, offensive war against a country that didn’t attack us which killed 400,000 civilians. The furthest any politician goes is to call it a “mistake.” Invading a country is not a “mistake,” but terrorism. Ordering drone strikes on civilians in the Middle East is not a “mistake,” but terrorism. Toppling democratically elected governments in South America and instilling fascist demagogues is not a “mistake,” but terrorism. Brutalizing protesters standing against white supremacy, whether in Selma, Minneapolis or Louisville, is not a “mistake,” but terrorism. Domestic terrorism is still terrorism.
Terrorism will never truly stop, but we can change how we think about it. We must not be blinded by our preconceptions about what is or is not a threat. We must not be led astray by political actors manufacturing consent. We mustn’t be blinded by patriotism nor tradition. The plot against the Michigan state government is terrorism, plain and simple. Do not fall into the hands of those who say otherwise, whether it be the media, politicians or ignorant individuals.
Seth Gully is a junior triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.