US Arrests Suspected War Criminal

Last month, the United States quietly arrested a man accused of war crimes during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Robert Kovačić, 66, is accused of raping a civilian in Jajce, Bosnia and Hercegovina in September 1995, after the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) recaptured the town. According to court documents, Kovačić is accused of taking the Bosniak (i.e. Muslim) woman from her apartment to his own, forcing her to drink brandy, insulting her nationality, forcibly removing her clothes, and raping her. The victim also told police Kovačić threatened to kill her, and dump her in the garbage.  Shortly after the end of the war, Kovačić fled Bosnia, settling in Roanoke, Virginia. Before leaving the country, he is said to have threatened the victim again.

Bosnian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Kovačić in June 2014, which was followed six months later by a formal extradition request. The initial complaint was sealed by Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou of the US District Court, District of Western Virginia, but upon Kovačić’s arrest on May 16 of this year, the documents were unsealed. An arrest warrant had been issued that same day.

During the Bosnian war, Kovačić, a Croat born in Jajce, served with the HVO, which was the military of the Croatian para-state in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The United States and NATO supported the Croatian Army and the HVO during their victory offensives against the Serbs in the summer and fall of 1995. What makes the Kovačić case interesting is that the US arrested a Croat, a de facto ally, and someone who could be considered a “small fish.” While 161 suspected war criminals were indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which wrapped up in 2017, only 29 were Croats, of which 18 were convicted. Many of the Croats indicted were involved in the Lašva Valley massacres. The majority of war criminals indicted have been Bosnian Serbs.

Kovačić appeared before a judge in District Court in Roanoke, Virginia, on June 13, 2019. A final hearing is set for July 11, 2019.


Note: thank you to Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, for discovering the court documents.


Christchurch and New Zealand’s Far Right: Unanswered Questions.

During Friday Prayer on March 15, 2019, a gunman opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 43. He then drove to a second mosque, where he killed 7 before driving off, ultimately apprehended by local police. Adding to the horror of that day, the gunman wore a GoPro camera, live-streaming the attack. He also left a disjointed 74-page manifesto, purported explaining who he was, and why he did what he did.

Even after details emerged about the gunman, and his initial day in court, we are left with more questions than answers. Brenton Tarrant, a 28 year old from New South Wales, Australia, had been living in the Andersons Bay area of Dunedin, New Zealand, since at least October 2017. He worked at a Dunedin gym, and otherwise mostly kept to himself. It is not yet know if he had any accomplices, co-conspirators, or contacts in New Zealand.

Tarrant’s manifesto was riddled with internet memes, inside jokes, and general white supremacist talking points. There are so many that it can be be hard to separate the trolling from the genuine beliefs. There is little doubt he is a white supremacist. He spoke highly of Norwegian right wing terrorist Anders Breivik, even claiming to have gotten his blessing. He spoke of Europeans being replaced by “invaders,” and low birth rates of Europeans. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were mentioned specifically to be held accountable for, and calling for their deaths. Throughout Tarrant’s manifesto, written on the guns he used in the attack, and in the music playing in his car, are many anti-Muslim references. He had a particular affinity for Serbian anti-Muslim history that included military figuresbattles against the Ottomans, and music praising war criminal Radovan Karadzic.

As of now, there is nothing inherently “New Zealand” about this attack. New Zealand hasn’t been named as a specific oppressor or aggressor. In his manifesto, Tarrant claimed to have chosen New Zealand to show that nowhere in the world was safe. He also mentioned that Christchurch was not his first choice – that was Dunedin – but changed his mind after seeing a video on Facebook.

There are more questions to be answered. Why was Tarrant in New Zealand to start? Did he really move to Dunedin in 2017 specifically to carry out a terror attack on the city’s mosque? If he really wanted to attack a major Muslim population, why didn’t he choose Auckland, where the majority of new Zealand’s Muslims live? Did Tarrant have any contact with any members of New Zealand’s white supremacist groups?

There is no indication so far that Tarrant had any contact with anyone from these groups. But not from lack of availability. He was a member of the Bruce Rifle Club outside Dunedin. One former member described some members walking around in camouflage fatigues, possessing Confederate flag stickers, and talking about Muslims as terrorists. He also heard them talking fondly of Australia’s Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were killed, discussing ways in which they could have increased casualties.

New Zealand does have its share of white supremacist/nationalist groups. The most well known is New Zealand National Front (NZNF). It was formed in 1968, and modeled after the British National Front. Right Wing Resistance (RWR) was founded in Christchurch in 2009 by former NZNF leader Kyle Chapman. Both groups have affiliations with groups in Australia. Chapman reportedly offered survival training courses for a time. In 2009, Chapman proposed a plan to have a European-only community in North Canterbury, to protect the dying European culture. RWR once distributed flyers around Christchurch warning of an immigrant invasion, words echoed in Tarrant’s manifesto. Dominion Movement is another New Zealand nationalist group promoting the “revitalization” of white New Zealanders. Though not as documented as white supremacist groups in Australia, America, and Europe, active groups do exist in New Zealand.

One New Zealand academic, who has been researching white supremacist groups in New Zealand since the 1980s, says he had found at least 70 such groups in New Zealand. Paul Spoonley, of Massey University, also estimates there are between 200-250 hardcore white supremacists in New Zealand, and approximately 300-400 on the fringes. The problem, according to Spoonley and others, is that the New Zealand government hasn’t made a priority of monitoring these groups. One news article from March 3, 2019, twelve days before the attack in Christchurch, begins by asking “Are we missing the rise of the far right?Another reporter found that right-wing extremist groups didn’t even garner a mention in any public documents from either the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Security Bureau, the agency that monitors electronic communications.

New Zealand – and the rest of the world – need to take these groups seriously, before another Christchurch happens again. Or Pittsburgh. Or Charlottesville. Or Finsbury Park. Or Quebec. Or Charleston. Or Oslo/Utøya. Or…

Right-wing Extremism in Europe: A Snapshot

In recent years, populist and nationalist ideologies have gained popularity in parts of Europe. Along with wins by right-wing political parties, extremist groups and indidivuals have increased their activities, up to and including violence. This article focuses on but a few of the areas in which right-wing extremism is popular, and why it should not be ignored.

Who are the groups?

In Germany, the events in Chemnitz were just another example of violence by right-wing groups. In late August 2018, neo-Nazis and hooligans took to the streets of Chemnitz for a right-wing rally that turned into two days of rioting and violence. On 14 September, right-wing extremists attacked people on the island park of Schlossteichinsel, a popular hangout in Chemnitz for young people, including refugees. Following that attack, German police arrested several people who were part of a neo-Nazi terror cell. Officials believe the group behind the riots, Revolution Chemnitz, was using the riots as a trial run for a later terror attack. The alleged leader, Christian K., has named as their enemies “Merkel zombies” and the “media dictatorship and its slaves.” He has also described notorious neo-Nazi group National Socialist Underground (NSU) as a “kindergarten nursery-school group.” The socio-economic stagnation in Saxony has made the region an ideal breeding ground for far right groups. But it’s not just economics. Oldschool Society and Gruppe Freital are other groups in the region, both of which have carried out attacks on refugee housing. Sturm 34, another group, is named after a Weimar-era paramilitary group once led by Hermann Göring.

Germany is not the only country in Europe to see a rise in far-right groups. Sweden is home to the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR), who according to the Swdish Security Service, want to establish a totalitarian regime through revolution. NMR members have been linked to the bombing of a refugee center in Gothenburg, and to the plot to murder journalists. They are considered one of the most violent groups in Sweden.

Austria is another country which is dealing with a rising popularity of the far right. The Identitarian movement, an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant group branded by some as “hipster right,” has been known to use tactics of intimidation previously seen by the far left. Members have scaled buildings, spraying fake blood, scattered leaflets, stormed migrant gatherings, and even organized a ship to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean to “defend Europe.” In May 2018, the movement was dealt a blow after 17 members and sympathizers were arrested.

To the east, the Hungarian National Front is a paramilitary group led by neo-Nazi István Györkös. Slovakia is home to Róbert Švec’s fascist-leaning Slovak Revival Movement. But far right ideology and violence is not consigned only to organizations. Lone actors and small groups are just a susceptible to right-wing ideology, and capable of violence. June 2017 saw a “self-radicalized” man attack people attending a mosque in Finsbury Park, north of London. The following month, a French nationalist and admirer of Anders Breivik was arrested for plotting to kill French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron was again the target of a small far right group arrested in early November 2018.

Why have they gained popularity?

Far right groups are not new to Europe. Old prejudices have been reignited. Policies and actions by certain countries over the last several years have allowed these groups gain popularity, even among “regular” Europeans. The surge in immigrants, economic migrants, and asylum seekers – caused in part by the war in Syria – has stirred animosity. The narrative is that the immigrants and asylum seekers are taking jobs, and bringing in crime, and failing to assimilate into European society. A string of terror attacks and a general Islamophobia have also contributed to the rise in right-wing groups. Resentment and racism have re-emerged in the name of security. The groups’ messages of xenophobia, failed multiculturalism, overzealous political correctness, and loss of “European culture” have resonated with people resentful of European leaders’ policies of welcoming migrants, especially those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Why is this important?

While violence from the far right makes up a small percentage of overall crime in Europe it has shown an increase since 2014. For example in 2017, Germany recorded 5,761,984 crimes, of which 312 were attacks on asylum shelters, and 1,504 were anti-Semetic offenses.

The threat of right-wing extremism remains fluid. Individuals and groups do not always adhere to the same ideology, and this is reflected in their crimes. The right-wing extremism is not a grave threat to Europe, but it is one that can be highly dangerous. The nature of their crimes is such to be indistinguishable from other forms of crime, but have included acts of terrorism.

As the right-wing groups and political parties gain popularity, it can move beyond domestic threat. Reports of Russian support and financial backing is worrying from a national security point of view. Russia backs Germany’s far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The two Swedish neo-Nazis who bombed an asylum center had previously taken a paramilitary training course in St. Petersburg. Russian GRU officers attended training sessions at the Hungarian home of Györkös. Russia’s support and influence goes beyond right-wing and neo-Nazi organizations; their support extends to football hooligans (also called “ultras”), biker gangs, and even fight clubs.

By supporting these groups and political parties, Russia is working to accomplish its goal of destabilizing the West, and establishing influence in Western countries through proxies. Through willing participants or not, Russia is taking advantage of the resentment and anger.

What has or is being done?

Germany has in place laws against denying the Holocaust, and against displaying swastikas and Nazi symbols. It has also banned some neo-Nazi and extremist groups, as well as online platforms. Their effort to combat right-wing extremism comes late for some, especially in the wake of a string of right-wing violence since the reunification of Germany. In 2001, Germany’s domestic security Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) created an exit program to encourage young people to leave right-wing extremism. More recently, German courts have been stricter with its sentencing of perpetrators of right-wing crimes, and the rate of right-wing extremism violent crime has decreased 34% from 2016 to 2016. However, the overall rate of right-wing crime is up 17% since 2014.

Sweden has set up a successful exit program. The Nordic Resistance Movement was recently banned in Finland. The move, praised by scholar Magnus Ranstorp, shows what some authorities are willing – or not- to tolerate.

In 2018, Austria’s Federal Ministry of the Interior released their “Austrian Strategy for the Prevention and Countering of Violent Extremism and Deradicalisation”. In it they lay out their objectives for prevention violent extremism through education, societal and media roles, as well as government cooperation.


A combination of counter-extremism methods need to be utilized in effort to combat right-wing extremism in Europe. Traditional security methods may not effective detect and counter right-wing activities. The groups and individuals use tactics to blend in to society. This, along with foreign influence, makes them potentially dangerous threat to Europe.

Rudy Giuliani and Romania: A Pattern of Foreign Work

In August it was revealed the Rudy Giuliani had written a letter to Romanian president Klaus Iohannis regarding the country’s anti-corruption practices. The circumstances surrounding that letter, along with several other actions by Giuliani since February 2017, have raised quite a few eyebrows. Should Giuliani’s foreign work cause concern?

In the letter to President Iohannis, Giuliani – former U.S. Attorney, former mayor of New York, and current attorney for President Trump – voiced concern that the ongoing anti-corruption measures by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) are overreaching their authority, especially the harassing of judges and witnesses, and what he calls secret protocols. Giuliani also said that while he applauds the efforts of anti-corruption in the country, they should be done in a lawful manner, and DNA’s methods were beyond law and order. Also included in Giuliani’s letter was his specific concern about DNA’s anti-corruption methods damaging foreign investment in Romania.

Days after news of the letter surfaced, Giuliani confessed he had been paid by the Freeh Group, and wrote the letter as an acting contractor for the group. The Freeh Group is a private consultancy firm founded by former F.B.I. director Louis Freeh. According to the group’s website, the Freeh Group is a “global risk management firm serving in the areas of business integrity and compliance, safety and security, and investigations and due diligence.” A week before Giuliani’s letter, Freeh, in an interview with Forbes, outlined a five point plan to restore rule of law in Romania. In August 2017, Louis Freeh was hired to represent Gabriel “Puiu” Popoviciu, a Romanian real estate investor convicted of fraud and corruption in Romania under the anti-corruption laws.

Romania established the National Anti-Corruption Directorate in 2002 to combat the widespread corruption in an attempt at “reducing corruption in support of a democratic society close to European values.” Since its inception, DNA has prosecuted thousands of cases, and has been praised by both the European Union and the United States in its efforts to fight corruption in Romania, one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. There have been those critical of DNA, accusing them of extrajudicial methods. One person who has publicly criticized the courts is Louis Freeh, on behalf of Gabriel Popoviciu.

So, why then, would the Freeh Group contract Rudy Giuliani to write a letter to the Romanian president regarding DNA’s practices, as well as expressing concern about foreign investment in Romania? One possibility is as simple as money. Giuliani was paid to write a letter, just as Giuliani – through his security firm – has been paid by other groups to lobby on their behalf. What is emerging is a pattern of Giuliani working for foreign groups or individuals.

Prior to the Romanian letter, Giuliani gave a speech in Paris to Iranian resistance group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) in June, during which he told the crowd “[w]e are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran.” This incident was under scrutiny for possibly violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) because Giuliani had been paid for his speech. MeK, which had been on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations until 2012, also has an advocate in current National Security Advisor John Bolton. The group is supportive of regime change in Iran, a move Bolton supports as well.

In February 2017, Giuliani met with Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan concerning a case of Giuliani’s. At the time, Giuliani, and attorney Michael Mukasey, were representing a Turkish businessman who was charged with violating U.S. sanctions. Giuliani and Mukasey had hoped to secure the release of Reza Zarreb in exchange for Turkey helping further U.S. interests in the region.

Most recently, Giuliani’s company has reportedly been retained by Hennadiy Kernes, mayor of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and member of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. During a November 2017 meeting in Kharkiv, Giuliani and Kernes spoke about crime and security solutions for the city, such as a DNA database, and a 911-type emergency service. It should be noted that Kernes was a supporter of Putin-surrogate and former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, openly backing the violent crackdowns on protestors in early 2014, and briefly fled to Russia after the fall of the Yanukovych regime. Kernes is also reportedly involved with organized crime in Kharkiv, although he has thus far escaped all criminal charges.

Another reason Freeh may have tapped Giuliani the write the letter is because he is President Trump’s attorney, and that fact may carry weigh in influencing the Romania government even though he is not acting on behalf of the president or the United States. Giuliani had been acting as a surrogate for Trump since the 2016 presidential campaign. Giuliani may have only begun representing President Trump legally since April 2018, but he has had his ear for some time. If he is working on behalf of himself and his company, it can be perfectly legal, provided all appropriate FARA paperwork is in order. Ethical and legal problems arise if he is using his status as advisor and counsel to gain access to information for personal gain, or if he is acting as an unofficial diplomat, lobbying the U.S. government on behalf of his clients. The letter to the Romanian president is just the latest incident under scrutiny, and one that has now caught the eye of a group of Senators, led by Tammy Duckworth, demanding the Department of Justice look into Giuliani’s foreign ties.

Chinese Espionage in New Zealand

There has been much reporting over the last several years about China expanding its influence in the Pacific. Most of the reporting centers around the disputed territories of the South China Sea. One area of Chinese influence that is not getting the attention it deserves is the increase of Chinese activities in New Zealand.

In October 2016, the Yuan Wang 5 pulled into Auckland Harbor. While it is classified as a research and survey vessel, it is, basically, a spy ship. While some citizens were alarmed at the ship’s presence, New Zealand authorities saw no cause for concern.

Last year, in September 2017, serious questions were raised about a New Zealand MP who was found to have studied and taught at universities tied to Chinese intelligence. Although he denies being a spy, Yang Jian was being investigated by New Zealand Security Intelligence Services (NZSIS) for his ties to Chinese intelligence services. The investigations began due to Yang’s time at the Air Force Engineering Academy of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and the Luoyang Foreign Language Institute. The Luoyang Foreign Language Institute is known to be an “intake into the military intelligence services.” Yang both attended the institute, and later returned to teach several English language classes. He admitted to having been a member of the Communist party, and still supported the party even after emigrating to New Zealand and becoming a Member of Parliament. For a time, Yang was a member of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, which deals with matters such as immigration and arms control, as well as those in its title. Yang Jian is still a Member of Parliament.

Most recently, a Chinese national studying at the Auckland University of Technology was under investigation by NZSIS over concerns that his research could become a possible security threat if it was used for military purposes. The student, Hu Bin, is researching targeted transmission involving mobile devices. Commercially, Hu’s research could be used to reduce the amount of battery a device uses. However, the research could also be used to pinpoint an exact location of a mobile device, something that could be a security problem is used incorrectly, especially as a military technology.

As China continues to expand its power, it looks for areas to increase its influence. One area of interest is economic. China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner; the country reported a $3.6 billion goods and services trade surplus as of December 2017. China is looking to use its political influence to achieve unfair trade advantages. New Zealand also has untapped natural resources – specifically oil and gas – that is of interest to China.

Another area in which China might want influence with New Zealand is in the area of defense. Currently, New Zealand helps provide defense around the South Pacific region. While debate over China’s expansion into the South China Sea makes headlines, China is quietly expanding its reach beyond, most recently with a military base in Djibouti, home to the United States’s only base in Africa. There is evidence that China wants to include the South Pacific in its sphere of influence, using economic aid and investment, as well as their continuation of military build up on islands, both man-made and existing.

Possibly just as important as economics is intelligence. New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes agreement, a signals intelligence sharing alliance along with Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. Earlier this year, the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) released a report warning of Chinese influence in New Zealand. The report, put together during an Academic Outreach workshop by experts from North America, Europe, and Asia, called New Zealand “a soft underbelly, through which to access Five Eyes intelligence.”

In the CSIS report, it says “China has openly embarked upon a worldwide ideological war against the West to weaken and delegitimise liberal democracy.” By recruiting Chinese nationals living in New Zealand (and elsewhere), China looks to expand its influence through ideology, but the country is also using some of these individuals to gather intelligence. China is not just using covert methods in New Zealand; it is, as the report further says, using “[m]assive efforts to bring the New Zealand ethnic Chinese language media, Chinese community groups, and New Zealand’s ethnic Chinese politicians under CCP control, and efforts to influence their voting preferences.” It is not impossible to think China is also using its activities in New Zealand as practice for operations in other countries, including the United States. New Zealand currently needs China as a trade partner, but it needs to protect itself politically and economically, for the sake of its future. And New Zealand must defend itself against attacks on its political process and strategic partnerships. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she sees no problems with the Five Eyes partnership, and that “I take my steer on these matters from official channels, not opinions expressed at a workshop.” New Zealand remains vulnerable, and the other Five Eyes nations, as well as any of New Zealand’s allies, would do well to pay attention to Chinese activities there.

Learning History Through Food: a very short essay.

I like to learn. I find myself reading something about a place in passing, a side note in a larger passage, and that thing, that place, gets stuck in my brain. I seek out more information, be it books, novels, movies, and even food. Often, when learning about a place or a people, I try to recreate some sort of food as a way to connect. How much can one really understand a place never before visited by learning about the food? As it turns out, a lot. Here are just two examples:

Bánh Mì, the classic Vietnamese sandwich that has gained quite a bit of popularity in recent years, is a wonderful example of learning through food. Pork, pâté, pickled vegetables, a smear of mayonnaise, and a healthy dose of Vietnamese history fill the bánh mì’s crusty baguette. Baguettes, mayonnaise, and cold cuts are not historically Vietnamese cuisine; they were introduced to the country by the French during their colonization of the country. Initially, any imported goods were only affordable to the French. Around the outbreak of the First World War, there was an increase in European goods in Vietnam, and they became affordable to the Vietnamese. It wasn’t until after the defeat of the French that the Vietnamese modified traditionally French ingredients, and added what was available to them locally. Baguettes remained a constant, thanks to American wheat shipments. The bánh mì made it’s way out into the world following the end of the Vietnam war, after millions of refugees fled the country. There is a lot of history packed into that baguette.

Come Taco Tuesday, you will find any number of people tucking into Tacos al Pastor, a popular Mexican food this side of the border. But it is another dish that tells a bit of the history of its country. In the late 1800s, Lebanese immigrants, fleeing the oppressive Ottoman regime, arrived on Mexico’s shores. More Lebanese immigrated in the 1920s and 1930s, this time for more economic reasons. Like immigrants everywhere, they brought with them their food customs. Like all immigrants before them, they had to make do with what was available to them. Tacos al Pastor evolved from shawarma, layers of highly seasoned lamb, spit-roasted, then shaved into a pita. Once in Mexico, the Lebanese immigrants used the more readily available pork, shaved into a thick tortilla along with a little pineapple. Salsas and limes replaced yogurt, and Tacos al Pastor were born.

The world is filled with examples of food as a means to learn about a people. It doesn’t always have to do with colonization or migration (but often does). Why does that group of people have a certain diet? Because they are isolated mountain people, or surrounded by water. People do move, though. They move in search of food (see: spice routes), and they want food after they move (British curry houses). Volumes could be written about the histories behind the dishes. Learn about the food from a place, and learn about the people. And eat!

Changing Roles? Women as Terror Threat.

There have been several moments in the past year that have made me think about the future of terror attacks in Europe (and elsewhere), and the agency of women. In early February, a video was released showing women fighting for Islamic State. The accompanying narrations says “The chaste mujahid woman journeying to her lord with garments of purity and faith, seeking revenge for her religion and for the honor of her sisters imprisoned by the apostate Kurds.” This “Inside the Caliphate” video caused some commotion, as it showed for the first time women in combat for Islamic State.

Around the same time, SITE Intel Group released a letter written by two French women to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, asking his permission to be able to fight and “die in the cause of Allah.” If they get their way, they would join women like those already active in France. Last September, a group of women were arrested following a failed attempt to set off a car bomb near Notre Dame Cathederal in Paris. The three women, said to have been guided by Islamic State, were planning another attack on Gare de Lyon.

And in January, a French woman from Brittany was arrested by the Kurds in Syria. Emilie König was living with Islamic State for five years before her arrest, and is said to be a propagandist and recruiter for the terror group. After her capture, she expressed a desire to return to France. Despite her mother insisting König has shown remorse for her actions, others, including the French state, aren’t so sure.

None of these moments seem to be related, but taken together, are they telling us something?

Previously, Islamic State had forbid women from participating in combat, instead assigning them to roles as propagandists, recruiters, enforcers, and of course, homemakers. As the caliphate shrinks, and members are leaving, there is the concern that attacks will be carried out at home. So far, there hasn’t been much evidence that that is the case, with most attacks in Europe coming from homegrown terrorists. Could it be we see an increase in women as homegrown terrorists in France, and elsewhere in Europe?

Islamic State has long encouraged its supporters to attack at home if they were unable to make it to the caliphate. There have been several who have heeded that call, both inspired by the Islamic State, and attacking in the name of the terror group. The 2015 attacks in Paris seem to have been directed by the group.

The video, the women in Paris, and the letter to al Baghdadi might mean some future attacks might not come from who we think.

Admittedly, it may be a bit of a stretch to say that French or other European women are going to ramp up attacks in Paris or Berlin or London. At the same time, there was a cell of Islamic State-inspired women who attempting one attack in Paris, and were planning another. In her book, ‘I Was Told to Come Alone,’ Souad Mekhennet meets with disillusioned Muslim girls in Germany who had hoped to get away from what they perceived as anti-Muslim attitudes. Emilie König, a recruiter, is hoping to make it back to France. Islamic State seemed to have given permission for women to fight “in every way possible.” Along with the French women who wrote the letter of permission, these are just a sample of the women who believe in the cause. There are, presumably, countless others willing to join the fight. Despite examples to the contrary, women are still thought of as victims of terror groups, lured in by false promises, sexually exploited, or brainwashed. They are still overlooked as active participants in extremist organizations. This is something that could be used to their advantage. We just don’t think a woman could willingly die for a cause such as that of Islamic State.

Women have fought for terrorist groups for ages; Islamic State had forbid it except in very specific circumstances. Now the Islamic State caliphate is collapsing, and there appears to be a change of heart with regards to women in combat. And there are women who are willing to fight and die for the cause. France, with a long history of perceived hostility, is a major target for jihadists. While terror attacks are fairly rare, and an nearly all-boys club, they still do occur, and we must not dismiss that some of the future attacks may just be carried out by women.

An Unrefined Rant: Thoughts on Mil-Civ Relations

I am not a member of the military, nor am I a member of academia. I do not have a formal relationship with the military. I was, however, a military spouse for nearly 14 years, and many family members and friends have served. None of this qualifies me to speak of the civilian-military relationship in this country. What does allow me to speak my mind on military-civilian issues is that I am a citizen, and it is my right.

I frequently hear about the need to bridge the gap in the relationship. I am not sure I would say the relationship is broken, but it is in need of some sort of therapy. If it were a couple, one would be almost slavishly devoted to the point of obsession, while the other can be narcissistic. A broad over-generalization, but there are more than enough examples to show there is some truth.

As a whole, civilians tend to speak of military members as a singular entity: The Troops™. Members of the military are not the Borg, they have not assimilated. They are Soldiers and Airmen, Marines and Sailors. And they all are individuals (despite the persistent stereotype of having been brainwashed). Their reasons for joining are as varied as the individuals who join, be it as a career or as a stepping stone between school and the rest of their lives, or the lauded service to one’s country.

Members of the military are thought to be Conservative or Republican-leaning from working class backgrounds. In reality, they come from all economic backgrounds, and made up of everyone from “bleeding heart liberals” to “right-wing nut jobs.” Most of the time it’s somewhere in the middle. The Right does not have a monopoly on the military. Unfortunately, it’s become more of a stranglehold. It doesn’t allow for all voices to be heard. More liberal members are sometimes shunned as not being a real patriot (whatever that means).

Support for The Troops™ has somehow turned in to a commodity. Military Appreciation Nights are regular occurrences at sporting events, often in conjunction with Department of Defense-funded promotions. The Troops™ and their likeness is used in advertisements, enticement for business, and as political pawns. “My candidate supports The Troops™ more than your candidate!” as if support has turned into a patriotic litmus test. We must support The Troops™ unconditionally or be deemed un-American. We have been conditioned to be unquestioning of anything regarding them. “Why do we have to give them a discount at Home Depot?” turns into “Why do you hate The Troops™? They are fighting for your freedom!” In another twist, people will tell you that the military deserves the discount because they are paid a pittance, and have to rely on food stamps. It is true that there are members who rely on SNAP and other programs, it is not true of the military as a whole. Some of the reasons for the reliance of assistance are the same for people not in the military. The argument can be made that they, too, need a discount at Home Depot, or even a Teachers Appreciation Night at the baseball game.

The flip side of the same coin has a group of military worshipers who may agree with some of the points I bring up, yet they still put the military members on a pedestal, treating them with a sort of adoration usually reserved for movie stars. They are like a modern version of camp followers. They fawn over all things military, these adoring fans. They support all the military causes, promote the products, and share in the commiserating. Talking the lingo and celebrating the diversity of the military doesn’t necessarily bridge the gap. In their purported support for the military, they are contributing to the divide. Elevating even their friends in the military reinforces the thought that one group of people are better than another for merely doing their job.

Then there are the members of the military who act like they should be worshiped and adored. They are “defending your freedom” and the rest of us are lesser people/Americans for not having served. We cannot be as patriotic as them. They refused to be questioned or criticized, personally or professionally. Any attempt to do so is shut down with “but our sacrifice!” “respect!” “you have no right, you’re not one of us!” and of course “defending your freedoms.” They say their personal sacrifices and deaths mean more than those of other Americans. This cheapens the deaths of other Americans, regardless of the circumstance of death. The man who lost his wife early due to illness does not hurt less than the woman who lost her husband in Iraq. His life did not mean more than hers. The divide remains as long as they refuse to help civilians understand their sacrifices, to help civilians understand how their actions are defending our freedoms, or refuse to acknowledge the sacrifice of others.

Both civilians and military members alike need to stop treating the military, and the people who make it up, as a higher class. Closing the divide starts small. Military and civilians academics and lay people have devoted countless hours to the subject. The answer may lie with the every day person. A member of the military – as the military is an all-volunteer force – is just another member of society with a job. Their job, like many others, carries a risk of injury or death. They have the same personal struggles as anyone.  The constant idolization of the military keeps people from looking to close, such as questioning conflicts or leadership, or exposing problems that military members face within their community. How is it beneficial that we are so in awe of a general that we refuse to wonder if his policies are doing more harm than good? How are we a better nation if we elevate one group of people to the point of blinding ourselves to the good that “everyday” people are doing in their own communities?

The national culture of Us vs Them will take a long time to change – and let’s be honest, some minds will never change – but we can narrow the divide.

Of course, how to convince anyone to change…

“Patriots,” Antifa, & Black Bloc*

Now, what do these things have in common? It seems a lot of folks are getting some of them confused with the others. And actions.

Recently, a group of “patriots” heard a rumor that a local antifa group was going to take down a statue of Sam Houston. Openly armed and dressed in makeshift body armor like cosplayers from a never-to-be-made superhero movie, these Texas “patriots” went to Houston’s Hermann Park to confront “Texas Antifa.” Problem was, “Texas Antifa” turned out to be an alt-right troll group, created to discredit the growing number of legitimate (?) antifa groups in the U.S.

I saw pictures on Twitter, and asked what was wrong with those people (the “patriots,” not the antifa). I got a response from one follower who posted an article about possible disruptions by Black Bloc to the then-upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg. He asked if it was unreasonable to think that the “patriots” were afraid of Black Bloc. My reply then, as it was when he repeated the question after the summit, was yes, it is unreasonable. Why? I will answer below. First, who is Black Bloc? Black Bloc is a loosely affiliated group of anarchists whose main goal tends to be property damage and violence during protests. They became known in the U.S. after the Seattle WTO meeting in 1999. They have been more recently been labeled anti-fascists (antifa), and lumped into the growing antifa movement in the U.S.

The antifa movement in the U.S. has largely sprung up in the wake of Donald Trump being elected president. His campaign rhetoric has fueled a rise in hate, and has led many to declare him and his followers as fascists. Granted, there are actual Nazis and white supremacists who openly support the president, but there has been much debate about whether his actions fit the definition of fascism.

That hasn’t stopped people from action, and “antifa” became part of American political dialogue. The antifa movement’s tendency to dress in all black, with their faces covered, has of course led to comparisons and associations with Black Bloc. Their propensity for violent protest has not helped with the associations. There are many degrees of antifa; not all engage in violence. But as the violence increases, the comparisons to the anarchist group will continue.

Where do the “patriots” fit in? It’s a not-so-complicated love triangle. The “patriots” protest at any hint of a removal of statues honoring Confederate figures, or gun restrictions; the antifas protest right-wing figures like Milo Yiannopoulos; and Black Bloc joins in, taking advantage of the chaos. But the “patriots” aren’t dressed for clashes with antifa, despite the Houston protest. They feel it is their duty to fight for what they see as their heritage and Constitutionally protected rights that they think are being taken away by the progressive Left. Although the Houston protest was a result of an antifa rumor, these “patriots” have been protesting long before. The Tea Party movement, a precursor to today’s “patriots,” was conceived early in the Obama years.

So, what do these three groups have in common? Unfortunately, it looks as though the willingness to use violence will tie them together for the foreseeable future. To be honest, the willingness by a group to use violence for political gain is going down the road to terrorism. I still maintain that one group being afraid of another, and the inclination to use violence to counter another movement is unreasonable. Violence begets violence, and to allow it to happen because the other group goes against your political beliefs is irresponsible. Punching Nazis is okay right up until a Nazi punches you in return.

*I put patriot in quotes because I don’t feel they fit the spirit of the whole of the word.

New wave of terror, or just hate crime?

In 2004, David C. Rapoport wrote The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism, a report of terror trends since the birth of modern terrorism in the 1880s. The four waves, according to Rapoport, are:  Anarchist (1878–1919), Anti-Colonial (1920s–early 1960s), New Left (mid 1960s–1990s), and Religious wave (1979–?). Based on the estimated dates of each trend, a new trend is set to emerge soon. The question is what will that trend be?

Looking at some crimes in recent years that people have been calling terrorism, one could think that hate crimes as terrorism might be one such trend. Hate crimes might fit into the loosest of terrorism definitions. The FBI defines hate crimes as “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” If that crime is used as a way to advance an (political) ideology, might it be considered terrorism?

Here are some recent examples that some have been describing as terrorism:

Charleston church shooting. Dylann Roof shot nine parishioners of the historically all-black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. After the attack, it was discovered that Roof ran a white supremacist website called The Last Rhodesian.

Orlando nightclub shooting. Oman Mateen killed 49 at Pulse, a gay nightclub. In a call to police during the shooting, he claimed allegiance to Islamic State, and that the attack was in response to the killing of IS commander Abu Wahib. Prior to committing the attack, Mateen had been vocal about his disgust of homosexuality.

Virginia GOP baseball practice shooting. Shot Congressman Steve Scalise (a Republican), wounding him and four others during a practice for a baseball game. James T. Hodgkinson filled his Facebook page with lots of anti-Trump, and pro-Bernie Sanders posts.

London mosque van attack. Darren Osborne ran a van into Muslims leaving Finsbury Park mosque after a Ramadan service. He is quoted as saying he wanted to kill Muslims. The 47-year-old has been described as both a friendly fellow, and as someone who had anger issues, possibly due to drink.

None of these attacks were perpetrated by the same kind of person. They were not all Christian, nor Muslim. What they did have in common was a hatred for a group of people. The Orlando case stands out a little because it has overlapping ideologies. During the call to police, Mateen claimed he was doing the attack for Islamic State, but he had previous voiced a hatred for, and then attacked, gays.

Is this a new wave of hate-crime-as-terror?

Likely not.

The more probable explanation is that the rise in hateful political rhetoric in recent years has emboldened those who previously hid their hatred. The election of Donald Trump, the popularity of Front National, and the seemingly successful campaign of anti-immigration Brexiters has somewhat normalized open hate. The attacks mentioned above certainly appear to fulfill the criteria of hate crimes. Fitting the description(s) of terrorism is another story, however. Other than Mateen, none of these men claimed to be part of an organization. And it’s questionable that their actions were being used for purposes of political persuasion. Alex Schmid, in his Revised Academic Consensus Definition of Terrorism, lays out several points to define terrorism. Each alone could be applied to a variety of crimes, but taken together give a concise definition to the crime. Two points stand out. One, “the direct victims are not the ultimate target but serve as message generators.”  The second point is that “Acts of terrorism rarely stand alone but form part of a campaign of violence.” The attacks mentioned above (with the exception of Mateen) targeted specific people, and they were stand alone attacks.

Hate crimes may be on the rise, but they shouldn’t be misconstrued as terror attacks. A form of right wing terror could very well be the next wave of terrorism, but it is too soon to determine.