Given our supremacist past, the Colorado connection to the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6 is very worrisome. Watching the arrest of fellow citizens for trying to breach the Capitol reminds me of Gore Vidal’s United States of Amnesia. We may forget our past, but it keeps revisiting our present.
In 1995, Coloradoan Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killing 168 people, 20 of them children. The media and community’s outcry were muted, as it has been following other domestic atrocities committed by white perpetrators. It must be psychologically difficult to acknowledge that nice white youth like McVeigh can commit heinous acts. It’s easier to imagine him Black.
White amnesia allows not to remember; not to find origins of problems and not to bring to bear all the force of authority. This dereliction of duty has resulted in an ever-expanding supremacist terrorist infrastructure. The results are no less devastating than that caused by Arab terrorists.
But white amnesia is not impartial. Our reaction to the 9/11 attacks was to bring the hammer down, in a violence that has, after 19 years, led to global chaos; 800,000 people have died, and a cost of $6.4 trillion to our Treasury. Compared to homegrown white terrorist attacks, their Arab counterparts evoked a more swift, violent and sustained American response.
Terrorism has touched my life. The 1998 Dar es Salaam and Nairobi U.S. Embassies’ attack by Al Qaeda killed over 200 Africans and 11 Americans. One of the victims was my relative. Africans have not forgotten the attacks and whenever I hear of a terrorist attack anywhere, memory of the Nairobi attack rings a jarring note in my mind.
We must track down all terrorist activity to the ends of the earth. But to do so, our view towards homegrown white terrorists and their sympathizers must change. Trump’s “there were fine people on both sides” after Charlottesville supremacists’ marches won’t do. It only served to foster the decade-long propitious soil and climate for growth of white nationalism and supremacist groups.
Where they were once underground and limited in numbers, they now proliferate. They openly flaunt their flags, hatred and threats.
As a Black immigrant I am always keenly aware of the possibility of white violence against Black people. I track white supremacist outrages around the country — from the murder of nine worshippers in a South Carolina church, the murder of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh and Sikh murders in a Wisconsin Sikh temple. In each instance, the response of authorities has been tepid at most. It is as if white terrorist violence is viewed as benign youthful manifestation of growing up.
Police and federal authorities’ reaction towards any Black manifestation of disagreement or protest was demonstrated in last year’s BLM demonstrations, as compared to the reaction during the recent U.S. Capitol insurrection. The profligate violence and the numbers of cops used to quell Black demonstrations show U.S. authorities’ split personality in reacting to black-against-white crowds.
Why do whites who have everything harbor grievances? I ask myself. David Brooks of the NY Times describes a “homegrown feudalism. On the right, we have white supremacy, an effort to perpetuate America’s caste system, and Christian nationalism, an effort to define America in a way that erases the pluralism that actually exists.” And as young Amanda Gorman’s poem at the inauguration says: “We have seen a force…that would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.” Then she adds, “Democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated in this truth.”
I believe the majority of Coloradans — people of all colors and creeds — look up to the Constitution that guarantees us those rights white supremacists would deny us. It is self-evident that white supremacists’ potential for great harm is a fact. Americans must insist on defining truth and logic; in addition to as vigorously and relentlessly pursuing white terrorism as we did Al Qaeda’s.
Terrorism, be it Arab or Caucasian, disrupts the functioning of a civilized society.
It must be eradicated.
Pius Kamau, M.D., general surgery, is president of the Aurora-based Africa America Higher Education Partnerships; co-founder of the Africa Enterprise Group and president of the Consortium of African Diasporas in the U.S.A. He has been a National Public Radio commentator and a blogger, and is author of “The Doctor’s Date with Death.”