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For months, officials say, the 36-year-old white supremacist Timothy Wilson has amassed bomb-making supplies and talked about attacking a mostly black synagogue, mosque or elementary school.
Then the coronavirus hit the United States, giving Wilson a new target – and a deadline. The FBI says Wilson planned to bomb a Missouri hospital with COVID-19 patients inside, and he wanted to do so before the Kansas City home order came into effect at midnight March 24. .
“Wilson considered various targets and eventually settled in a local hospital in an attempt to harm many people, targeting a facility that provides critical medical care in today’s environment,” said the FBI in a statement.
The attack never took place. Wilson died in a March 24 shootout when federal agents decided to arrest him after a six-month investigation. It was a case of extraordinary domestic terrorism, but it got lost in the steady stream of news about the coronavirus pandemic. Extremism researchers warn against neglect of such episodes; they worry that the example of Missouri is a harbinger as far-right activists seek ways to exploit the crisis.
Watchdog groups have already registered a wave of hatred – including physical violence – against Asian Americans. Dehumanizing memes blame Jews for the virus. Conspiracy theories abound on causes and remedies, while encrypted conversations speak of the spread of infections to people of color. And there is the rise of “Zoombombing” – racists who overwrite private video conferences to send hateful pictures and comments.
“We know from our work in the trenches against white nationalism, anti-Semitism and racism that where there is fear, there is someone who organizes hatred,” said Eric Ward, executive director of Western States Center, in a statement. The Oregon-based watchdog group recorded approximately 100 prejudice-motivated incidents in the two weeks following the failed Missouri plot.
Here are some areas that extremist trackers observe as the pandemic unfolds:
March FBI assessment predicted “Incidents of hate crimes against Asian Americans are likely to increase across the United States due to the spread of coronavirus disease,” according to an intelligence report. obtained by ABC News.
The report, prepared by the FBI office in Houston and released to law enforcement officials across the country, warned that “part of the American public would associate COVID-19 with China and the people of Asia.” This idea was reinforced by political leaders, including President Trump, who referred to the “Chinese virus” and variants that refer to China or Wuhan rather than the clinical terms used by health officials.
Asian Americans say they have experienced hostility, with a dramatic increase in reports of racist incidents. A handful of them were violent attacks that are being investigated as hate crimes. For example, federal authorities say hatred motivated a 19-year-old Texas man who was arrested in a stabbing attack against an Asian-American family in a Sam’s Club. The suspect told authorities that he thought the family was spreading the coronavirus.
Some Asian Americans have expressed concern that violence will escalate once the orders for home stays are lifted. A coalition of advocacy groups has called on Congress to speak out against racism and xenophobia linked to the pandemic.
“This is a global emergency that needs to be addressed both with urgency and with a cultural awareness that Covid-19 is not isolated from a single ethnic population,” said Jeffrey Caballero , executive director of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, in a statement. . “Xenophobic attacks and discrimination against Asian American communities are unacceptable. “
Recruit out-of-school children
Millions of young Americans come home from school, get bored, and browse social media sites for hours every day. For white supremacist recruiters, they are prey.
Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor at the American University who writes extensively on far-right extremism, said that the increase in unsupervised screen time in times of crisis creates “a perfect storm for recruitment and recruitment.” radicalization “. PERIL, the extremism research laboratory that Miller-Idriss runs on campus, is fighting for “quick response” grants to develop an awareness campaign and a toolkit for parents and guardians about risks radicalization online in the era of coronaviruses.
“For extremists, this is the perfect time to exploit young people’s grievances over their lack of agency, the economic distress of their families and their intense sense of disorientation, confusion, fear and anxiety,” said Miller-Idriss. Without the usual social support of trusted adults such as coaches and teachers, she said, “young people are becoming easy targets for the far right.”
Anti-government flash points
Militias and self-proclaimed “constitutionalist” factions, classified by federal authorities as anti-government extremists, are making noise about house arrest orders. Some armed groups categorically reject these measures, calling them unconstitutional or overly broad. Another subset is overtly provocative, as if the daring authorities were using force and turning the problem into a high stakes deadlock.
Over the Easter weekend, Ammon Bundy, who led the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016, organized a service that drew some 200 people to an Idaho warehouse. The photos showed worshipers, including children, unmasked and seated in tight quarters.
If the perceived constitutional violations escalate, Bundy has told his supporters, then “defend yourself physically the way we should do it.” This kind of provocation could quickly become ugly, warn observers of the anti-government movement.
Call for violence
Observers of extremism keep an eye on the so-called accelerators, a subset of the racist right who believes in using violence to wreak havoc in order to collapse society and replace it with a model. white nationalist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, an extremism watchdog, said: “Accelerators see themselves as the revolutionary vanguard of the white supremacist movement. In discussion forums, they discussed the use of the virus to infect people of color, the staging of attacks on medical centers, and other forms of violence that they hope will have an effect. domino leading to the collapse of society.
“These far-right extremists argue that the pandemic, which has challenged the ability of the federal government to lead the nation through a crisis, supports their argument that modern society is on the verge of collapse”, a writes Cassie Miller of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Miller wrote that, for now, the fallout is already so chaotic that the accelerators are content to watch, saying “the situation seems to be getting worse, requiring no further involvement on their part.”
Miller quoted a white supremacist podcaster who said to his subscribers, “It seems to be going very fast, thank you. “