On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we need to talk about the new terror threat taking root in our own backyard

As we reflect this weekend on the 20th anniversary of the horrific 9/11 terror attacks and send a communal prayer of love and healing to the thousands of people who lost a loved one or whose lives were irrevocably altered that day (including the hundreds of first responders exposed to toxic carcinogens at Ground Zero), we cannot forget the growing threat of far-right terrorism that is right here, in our own backyard. 

In an analysis of terrorist acts that have occurred in this country in the 20 years since 9/11, it is not Islamist fundamentalists that have posed the biggest threat but, rather, far-right extremists. 

The past few years have witnessed an explosion of far-right violence and the normalization of the extremist ideas that drive it. In the United States in 2019, 48 people were killed in attacks carried out by domestic violent extremists, 39 of which were carried out white supremacists, making it the most lethal year for such terrorism in the country since 1995. In 2020, the number of domestic terrorist plots and attacks in the United States reached its highest level since 1994; two-thirds of those were attributable to white supremacists and other far-right extremists. In March of this year, the FBI had more than 2,000 open investigations into domestic violent extremism, roughly double the number it had open in the summer of 2017,” writes Cynthia Miller-Idriss, the director of American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab, in an in-depth article, “The War on Terror Supercharged the Far Right,” published in the Aug. 24 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that shows how our nation’s 20-year War on Terror “has supercharged the far right.” 

Miller-Idriss is far from alone in her analysis of the growing threat of far-right terrorism in the U.S. On March 1, the Director of National Intelligence Office released a report showing domestic violent extremism (DVE) poses a heightened threat in 2021, stating: “Enduring DVE motivations pertaining to biases against minority populations and perceived government overreach will almost certainly continue to drive DVE radicalization and mobilization to violence.”

Even more relevant to everyone who has been following the local arguments erupting at Camas and Washougal school board meetings, the report warned that “newer sociopolitical developments — such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence — will almost certainly spur some DVEs to try to engage in violence this year.”

Two weeks ago, members of the Proud Boys, a group the Canadian government deemed a right-wing “terrorist entity” in February of this year, showed up to a Washougal School Board meeting. 

A man who spoke at the Aug. 24 school board meeting sported a #freerufio t-shirt — a reference to the Ethan Nordean, also known as Rufio Panman, a Proud Boys leader charged with conspiracy in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack — and identified himself as a member of the Proud Boys, an all-male group of self-described “Western chauvinists.”

“Every man sitting on this board, every single one of you, is a coward,” he said. “You have the power to stand up to end (critical race theory), end the sex ed, end the masks, end all of this bullshit, but you won’t ‘cause you’re cowards.” 

The Proud Boy member, who described himself as a combat veteran, also called out board member Donna Sinclair, telling the history professor: “You know nothing about our brotherhood. In fact you’re scared of it, and all you can do is hide behind your mask, and hide behind your laws, your rules.” 

The man then made veiled threats against the board members, telling them “Guess what? One day, all that power’s going to be gone, ‘cause the people gonna take it back. And every single person in this room won’t forget who each and every single one of you are — especially the men.”

Days later, Proud Boys showed up to three Vancouver schools to protest a mask mandate and caused lockdowns during the students’ first week back.

The Anti-Defamation League, an organization founded by a Chicago attorney in 1913 that seeks to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment for all,” describes the Proud Boys as “violent, nationalistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic” with “some members espousing white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies and/or engaging with white supremacist groups.” 

In April, National Public Radio published an article about the Proud Boys’ history of violence, and quoted Christian Picciolini, “a former extremist who now helps people disengage from the white supremacist movement” as saying the Proud Boys are “the closest thing” to what he was 30 years ago, when he identified as a “white power skinhead.” 

Are these the people we want to represent our communities, shout down our elected school board officials and rally outside our children’s classrooms?

If not, the time has come for our elected city, county and state officials to take action.

Where are the city councilors and state representatives and county councilors and police chiefs when these folks are harassing elected school board officials and members of the public — including one man at the Washougal School Board meeting in August who was trying to maneuver away from the meeting in his electric wheelchair to get to his vehicle — and causing our schools to go into lockdown? Their silence is not helping. 

This week marks 20 years since a group of Islamic extremists terrorized our nation. It is time for our government leaders and law enforcement to help prevent the next wave of extremist terrorism — this time from the far-right — from taking root right here in our own backyard.