FBI foils 'race war' plans in Virginia

Although Islamic terrorism dominates media attention, homegrown extremism, especially by white supremacists, has undergone a revival during the Obama years. 

A plan hatched by three Virginia men to instigate a "race war" came to an end on Sunday, after an FBI investigation revealed their plans to bomb black churches and Jewish synagogues, shoot members, and commit other violent crimes to raise money for weapons, land, and training. 

Robert Doyle, Ronald Beasley Chaney, and Charles Halderman were taken into custody in Chesterfield County, Virginia on Sunday, and charged with felonies. The men had expected to buy guns and explosives from an undercover agent, posing as a dealer, whom they had contacted several times. The FBI was alerted to the case in September, when they received news that the group was holding a meeting to plan attacks, WTVR-TV in Richmond reported. 

According to criminal complaints, the three were affiliated with Asatru, a neo-pagan religious movement. One branch, Odinism, has gained a white supremacist following in the United States, in part due to its growing popularity in prison gangs.

Followers "claim they are opposed to racism," Joshua Rood, a religion professor at the University of Iceland, told Vice last spring. "But they define racism very differently from the average person. They say, 'We're not racist. We just believe in keeping ethnicity separate.'"

In the wake of Dylann Roof's allegedly race-inspired massacre of church-goers in Charleston, South Carolina last June, more Americans are aware of the ongoing threat posed by white supremacists willing to commit murder for their beliefs.

But groups that monitor hate crimes, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), have been sounding the alarm for years over a threat that they say is more dangerous than Islamic extremism.

As policy institute New America has documented, 26 Americans have died in jihadist attacks since September 11, 2001. Meanwhile, 48 have been killed by homegrown, white extremists, in a decided uptick in anti-government and supremacist views after the election of Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008. 

One group who has stayed well aware? Law enforcement.

According to Mark Pitcavage, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism & Investigative Research Department, the Chesterfield County arrests are a good reminder of regional and local police's ongoing attention, at least after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 focused the nation's attentions on the threat of domestic terrorism.

In June, Professors Charles Kurzman, of the University of North Carolina, and David Schanzer of Duke released a survey of law enforcement's main worries. Nearly 74 percent of agencies reported that anti-government extremism was among their top three concerns, compared to the nearly 40 percent who said the same about Al Qaeda-inspired attacks. 

But Mr. Pitcavage says that, after 20 years in the field, "I still don't understand" why mainstream media, and its audiences, overlook so many horrific acts of violence committed by a wide array of conservative extremists, who range from white supremacists and Neo-Nazis, who think they're already "victims of genocide" in an increasingly diverse society, to Christian Identity adherents and anti-government militias. 

"We ignore them at our peril," he says. 

Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at the SPLC, agrees that "there's a certain blindness" on the part of many white Americans to acknowledge homegrown violence, particularly when inspired by non-Muslim religious views. "It's like the pattern doesn't exist," she says, citing examples such as Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph.

There's "reluctance to think that people who look like the majority here" can commit such crimes, she believes; the reality of violence is easier to swallow when the suspect seems foreign. 

Yet awareness may be climbing.

"We had a massive cultural reckoning this summer about white supremacy in American culture," she says, referencing the Confederate flag debates that have rocked Southern states after the Charleston massacre. “That was a sea change," Ms. Beirich reflects. "It was almost like the American people got ahead of the government." 

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