After white nationalists, inspired by former President Donald Trump, stormed the U.S. Capitol on 6th January 2021, it has become fashionable in liberal circles to denounce this insurrection as ‘domestic terrorism’ and compare it with foreign terrorism, inspired by groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS). From a distance, the comparisons might seem obvious: political violence, agonistic ideologies, false realities, heroism, alienation and social media addiction. These comparisons have sparked a demand in the United States to criminalise ‘domestic terrorism’ as it does with foreign terrorism and escalate controversial Obama-Biden counterterrorism programs under the new Biden-Harris administration. The Star Tribune editorial team in Minnesota, for example, recently expressed support for Andrew Luger to return as U.S. District Attorney since ‘the skills he developed [combating ISIS recruiting] are now needed against whites supremacists.’ Radicalisation is colour blind, so it appears, and with Obama-era liberalism back in power, the Terrorism Industry  smells fresh meat.
The problem, however, is that these comparisons create misrepresentations and presume wrongly that the structural racism in the Terrorism Industry will disappear if it turns its attention to white nationalism. Take, for example, the National Public Radio (NPR) story on 15th March 2021 called ‘A Tale of Two Radicalizations’. The story compares Bruno Cua, a white 18-year-old from Georgia who was ‘misinformed’ by far-right conspiracies, and Abdullahi Yusuf, a black Somali 17-year-old from Minnesota who was ‘seduced’ by ISIS propaganda. Cua stormed the Capitol, assaulted a police officer and sat in the Vice President’s chair; he was charged with assault and civil disorder and recently posted bail. Yusuf talked with his friends, bought a plane ticket to Turkey and pled guilty to terrorism charges of conspiracy. He received a reduced sentence for his cooperation and testimony, served three years and is currently on probation. In this NPR tale, both are typologies: Cua represents the ‘domestic terrorism’ of white nationalism on 6th January, while Yusuf represents the ‘foreign terrorism’ of nine Somali and Oromo men incarcerated for up to 35 years and life probation. The NPR author argues that both are ‘living in a post-truth world’ and experience the same process of radicalisation, despite their differing ideologies – patriotism to Donald Trump, bayah (allegiance) to the Islamic State. The story summarises:
What they saw and consumed and internalized online gave them a false vision of the world. There was a stolen election to overturn in one case, and innocent Syrians to save in the other.
If these comparisons are an attempt to get at truth, they are doing the opposite. Equating ‘a stolen election’ and ‘innocent Syrians’ as both ‘false visions of the world’ blurs the sacred line between real Syrian victims and manufactured white victimhood. The term ‘misinformed’ can reinforce manufactured white victimhood and excuse racism as nothing more than ignorance; Yusuf and his friends, on the other hand, were treated as malicious agents and not misinformed young men. If misinformation is the culprit generated by social media, as the NPR story argues, there is a difference between being misinformed about facts and about a particular group. Those convicted of conspiracy to join ISIS were not misinformed about the real victims in Iraq and Syria but rather about who ISIS was – and so were the creators of the New York Times podcast ‘Caliphate’. White insurrectionists, on the other hand, were perhaps misinformed about a stolen election but not about who Donald Trump was. The difference is between propaganda (I don’t know) and historical negationism (I deny the facts). Ignorance is not the same as denial.
If we want a more accurate comparison between the ISIS case in Minnesota and the Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we must move beyond truisms (young people are addicted to social media) and false analogies (all terrorism is the same). In my own experience with the Somali and Oromo men, their experiences and aspirations have nothing in common with white nationalism. Let me give a few examples.
First, the Somali and Oromo men committed no actual violence. While some talked privately about joining ISIS (before it was declared a terrorist organisation) to fight against Bashar al-Assad, most gave up on the idea before their arrest. White insurrectionists, on the other hand, spoke publicly about their plans and committed actual violence. The former is talk; the latter is action. Second, the Somali and Oromo men are part of a Black Muslim immigrant community that has been targeted by FBI mass surveillance since 1998, which increased after the United States invaded Somalia in 2002 and again after Ethiopia invaded in 2006. While the CIA lured paid informants in Somalia, the FBI did so at home, including one Somali man who encouraged, recorded and facilitated the conspiracy related to Yusuf and his friends. White insurrectionists, on the other hand, acted entirely on their own without the aiding and abetting of paid informants. Third, the Somali and Oromo men were victims of racist counterterrorism laws in the United States, many of which originate in the infamous 1994 Violent Crime Act and the 2001 Patriot Act. These laws give license to mass surveillance, pre-emptive prosecution, overcharging, and excessive sentencing for drug and terrorism charges – often the sine qua non of plea bargains. They also de jure create guilt-by-association, whereby an individual is a suspect because of their race or religion and a criminal for someone else’s behaviour. Is it no wonder that most drug and terrorist crimes are conspiracies that end up in plea bargains? As a result of these laws, the Somali and Oromo men were guilty not for what they did but for what ISIS and al-Qaeda did. The all-white jury saw more ISIS videos than of the young men themselves. Yet in the white insurrectionists case, while many had associations with extremist groups like the Proud Boys, Qanon, Oath Keepers, Boogaloo and Three Percenters, they are not charged under these racist laws nor criminalised for all of the violence committed by white nationalism. If Yusuf and his friends had been subjected to these same laws rather than counterterrorism laws, they would have never been charged with a crime. Finally, the Somali and Oromo men were motivated out of a strong empathy and desire to help victims of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, which is why their discourse of jihad (a struggle against oppression) was relevant. White insurrectionists, on the other hand, seemed to be motivated out of a sense of personal loss and privilege – a stolen election, losing my country; etc… The former is other-oriented; the latter is self-interest.
The problem of these comparisons is that they subtly reinforce the false idea that there is a ‘mind of the terrorist’ that exists within all terrorists in any context for any issue – racism, nationalism, environmentalism, religious fundamentalism, etc… Same mind, different bodies. This might create thrilling histories of extremist ideologies and consumable radicalisation charts, but methodologically, it generates a closed echo chamber wherein the voices and experiences of marginalised people are replaced with abstract typologies and plot lines. These plot lines are drawn up by terrorist experts or journalists who often know very little about Black and Muslim people imprisoned or killed as a result of their profiles. In the ISIS case, the radicalisation profile used to target and incarcerate Somali youth identified 37 ‘risk factors,’ including ‘having a nomadic heritage,’ ‘being passionate about Somalia,’ lacking knowledge about Islam and Somalia and viewing Somalia as a ‘failed state’. Isn’t this profile itself another ‘false vision of the world’? Radicalisation profiles do not tell us anything about real people, only what the Terrorism Industry wants us to hear.
White nationalism has long been the dominant culture within U.S. colonial projects at home and imperial projects abroad, and the Terrorism Industry is its hired gun. Why is it a surprise when some storm the Capitol or groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS emerge from our foreign interventions? It is easy to pathologize it all or blame social media. It is dangerous to call on its white saviours to stop white nationalism, which will further entrench its institutional racism against Black and Muslim communities – this time, with a few white scapegoats. Defunding the Terrorism Industry doesn’t imply abolishing laws against political violence or war crimes, yet it is not militarisation that will stop white nationalism. We need Black power and prophetic faith traditions, so that young white men do not grow up in a world where they believe that they own this country; and young Muslim men who express a desire to help victims in Syria are not turned over for de-radicalisation. The Terrorism Industry offers no answers.
 This term was coined by Edward Herman in his 1982 book The Real Terror Network and developed further in Manufacturing Consent (1988) (coauthored with Noam Chomsky) and The Terrorism Industry (1990) (coauthored with Gerry O’Sulllivan). Herman defines the Terrorism Industry as that which: ‘comprises government officials and bodies, governmental and quasi-private think tanks and analysts, and private security firms. The “private sector” of the industry is heavily interlocked with government intelligence, military and foreign policy agencies, and is funded by and serves both governments and corporate establishments. The analysts supplied by the private sector of industry, along with those working in government, constitute the “experts” who establish and expound the terms and agenda demanded by the state. In accord with state agenda, these experts invariably see the West as the victim of terrorism, and most of them also identify national liberation movements, seeking escape from colonial and neocolonial rule, either as terrorists or as a threat to the “democracies” by virtue of their being “manipulated” by the Soviet Union and its proxies. The mass media contribute experts as well, but more important, serve as conduits for government and corporate-sponsored opinion.’ The Real Terror Network, page 8.
 The first academic paper was titled ‘Community and Family Approaches to Combating the Radicalization and Recruitment of Somali-American Youth and Young Adults: A Psychosocial Perspective’ and published in Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways Toward Terrorism and Genocide. Vol 2, No. 3, November 2009, 181-200. Authors include Steven Weine, John Horgan, Cheryl Robertson, Sana Loue, Amin Mohamed and Sahra Noor. This paper became the foundation for a second study in 2012, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, entitled ‘Building Resilience to Violent Extremism Among Somali‐Americans in Minneapolis‐St. Paul’. These two studies provided the psychological foundation for President Obama’s August 2011 ‘National Strategy for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States’ as well as the December 2011 ‘Strategic Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States’. These are known as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and initiated in three cities: Minneapolis, Boston and Los Angeles.
Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol#/media/File:2021_storming_of_the_United_States_Capitol_DSC09156_(50826223403).jpg