The Paradox of the War on Terror: Domestic Terrorism and White Supremacist Extremism

Marie-Amélie Morange, Union College - Schenectady, NY


“It is the false shame of fools to try to conceal wounds that have not healed”- Roman poet Horace said. The scar of white supremacy has never fully healed on the body of the United States. White supremacy is the belief that white people are genetically superior, should dominate over others, and live in a “whites-only” society. While the presence of white supremacy dates back the nation’s founding, as of 2019, there were 199 identified white supremacist groups in the United States, just as the Department of Homeland Security, reported domestic violent extremism as the most “persistent and lethal threat” in the nation. In the first eight months of 2020 alone, white supremacists were responsible for 41 out of 62 terrorist attacks. My presentation outlines the ideological basis for far-right extremists and the lack of an effective legal framework for prosecuting white supremacist terrorism in the U.S.

With the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act (2001), surveillance and counter extremism strategies were ramped up. For almost two decades, the U.S. spearheaded a global War on Terror with militarized counterterrorism efforts around the world, which appropriated $6.4 trillion between 2001 and 2020. Meanwhile, the nation, remained vulnerable to its own domestic white supremacist terrorism, strengthened with the rise of militia movements and domestic extremists in the 1990s and 2008.

The historical and contemporary premises for white nationalism lie in an assortment of economic, social, and political anxieties. James Waterman Wise, lecturer and author who warned against Nazism, described the potential rise of American fascism as “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.” The constitutional limitations for preventing another attack are not synonymous with inaction. Existing barriers are the starting point for understanding how to meet individuals halfway before they can commit to extremist groups. My presentation analyzes the literature and legal ramifications of domestic terrorism. The reactionary nature of many of these laws and resolutions are compelling in and of themselves. When technology outruns the law, and counter extremism measures do not acknowledge citizens, preventing homegrown terrorism becomes arduous.


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