Skip to main content

Deranged white dudes with guns are Trump's problem, not Ilhan Omar's

In deflecting blame for the San Diego synagogue attack on a pair of Muslim congresswomen, the GOP is only exacerbating a white nationalist terrorism crisis
A masked demonstrator in a Donald Trump "Make America Great Again" hat carries a US flag June, 2017 (AFP)

On 24 March, James T Earnest, an avowed white nationalist, set fire to a mosque in Escondido, California, before leaving note at the scene of his hate crime that referred to Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist who carried out an attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, a week earlier.

Last Saturday, Earnest struck again but only this time with far deadlier consequences, after entering a synagogue near the Southern Californian city of San Diego, armed with an assault rifle and shouting, “All Jews must die” - before killing one and injuring three others.

Domestic terrorism

Seeking to emulate the white nationalist terrorist who slaughtered 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch during Friday prayers on 15 March, Earnest posted a letter on the far-right website 8chan, which included his confession to carrying out the arson attack on the mosque, and praise for Tarrant and Adolf Hitler, along with a diatribe of anti-Semitic tropes.

The US has now come face-to-face with a white nationalist domestic terrorism crisis

Clearly, the United States has now come face-to-face with a white nationalist domestic terrorism crisis, one that counterterrorism practitioners and academics have been forewarning for more than a decade.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


An analysis of the Global Terrorism Database by researchers at the University of Maryland published in 2017 shows a "sharp increase" in the share of attacks by right-wing extremists, from 6 percent in the 2000s to 35 percent in the 2010s.

In 2017, during Trump's first year in office, out of 65 incidents that took place, 37 were tied to racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, anti-government, or xenophobic motivations. In the same period, seven attacks were linked to Islamic extremists, and 11 attacks were inspired by left-leaning ideologies.

In the more than two years he has occupied the White House, Trump has praised neo-Nazis who chanted "Jews will not replace us" as "very fine people," while proudly boasting of being a "nationalist".

He has shared anti-Semitic memes on social media, dispersed anti-Semitic tropes during rally speeches; and at various times during his presidency has surrounded himself with white nationalists in the Oval Office.

Awful realities

More significantly, however, white nationalists view the current president of the United States as one of their own, with Trump identified as a source of inspiration for an array of white nationalist terrorists.

The Christchurch mosque terrorist who lauded Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose".

  A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway on 27 April (Reuters)
A candlelight vigil is held at Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church for victims of a shooting incident at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway on 27 April (Reuters)

These awful realities have done nothing to stop the Republican Party and right-wing pundits from pinning blame for both the synagogue shooting and rise of anti-Semitism more generally on the country's first two Muslim congresswomen - Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

"The anti-Semitic Left – whether @IlhanMN repeated anti-Israel slurs or @NYTimes apologizing for Hamas terrorists (eg, on 3/14/18) & running racist cartoons – is getting even worse. And the House can't even pass an anti-Semitism resolution. Responsible Dems need to say Enough is Enough," tweeted Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

"When we're having conversations about anti-Semitism, we should be looking at the most extreme on both sides," Megan McCain, daughter of the late John McCain (R-AZ), told ABC’s George Stephan said. "I would bring up Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and some of her comments that got so much attention."

"Our hearts go out to the families & to the Jewish people having to endure another Synagogue shooting. ZOA urges Congressional leaders to condemn this and Omar/Tlaib anti-Semitic remarks now," tweeted Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America.

Coordinated effort

These are but a small sample of what is clearly an orchestrated and coordinated effort to not only divert attention away from Trump and the Republican Party's enthusiastic dalliance with white nationalism, but also to drive a wedge between the older and pro-Israel stalwarts within the Democratic Party and those who support equal rights for Palestinians among younger and more progressive voters within the party. 

"The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel," Trump told reporters last month. "There's no question about that. And it's a disgrace. I mean, I don't know what's happened to them. But they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish."

The Republican Party should explain why it is so willing to turn a blind eye to Trump's history of overt anti-Semitism while attacking both Omar and Tlaib

It should go without saying that this line of attack is entirely bogus, and founded in no truth of evidence whatsoever, but this is Trump's Republican Party, and if its voters have demonstrated anything in the past few years, it's that they'll pretty much believe anything, even if it's an easily proven lie.

For there to be even a kernel of truth to their claim that the synagogue shooter was inspired by Omar and Tlaib's criticisms of Israel's policies, then Trump and the GOP now have to explain why it is right-wing groups and individuals who are responsible for 100 percent of all extremist murders on US soil since the end of 2018. Clearly, they can't!

Hate crimes spike

Consider also the fact anti-Semitic hate crimes spiked 37 percent in the first year of Trump's presidency.

Trump and the GOP will also have to explain how Omar and Tlaib, both of whom are Muslim, were a source of inspiration for the attack on the synagogue, given the attacker tried to harm Muslims at a mosque, too. Obviously, they can't!

US Representative Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (AFP)
US Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (AFP)

The Republican Party should also be asked to explain why it is so willing to turn a blind eye to Trump's history of overt anti-Semitism while attacking both Omar and Tlaib, who have strictly confined their political attacks to Israel’s human rights violations and the inordinate influence the Israel lobby has over US foreign policy.

Number one terrorist threat

These white nationalist terrorists are certainly not attacking Jews because they support the rights of Palestinian Muslims. They are attacking them because they’re radicalised by a conspiracy theory that posits rich and powerful Jewish elites to be part of a secret cabal to flood Western countries with non-white immigrants, particularly Muslims.

Jewish-American activists stand in solidarity with Ilhan Omar
Read More »

It's why Robert Bowers, the Trump-supporting terrorist who killed 11 Jewish worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, blamed a Jewish refugee organisation ("Evil Jews") for "bringing in the (sic) Filthy EVIL Muslims into the country".

Clearly, the United States is confronted with a domestic white nationalist terrorism crisis, one inspired by deeds and the rhetoric of the current occupant of the White House, and in deflecting blame to a pair of Muslim congresswomen, Trump and the GOP are only further exacerbating what has become the country's number one terrorist threat: deranged conspiracy consuming white dudes with guns.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

CJ Werleman is a journalist, columnist and analyst on conflict and terrorism.
Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.