A week after the shooting of nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church, revulsion to the act remains strong throughout the country.
The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, has been called everything from racist to a right-wing extremist to mentally ill to a white-supremacist.
He has also been called a “domestic terrorist.”
And Las Vegas has more than a tangential tie to domestic terrorism than many would like to admit.
A year ago, Las Vegas Metro Police officers Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck were shot to death while having lunch by Jared and Amanda Miller. The Millers then killed another man, Joseph Wilcox.
The Millers left a swastika, a Gadsden flag with the “Don’t Tread On Me” Revolutionary War slogan, and a note, stating: “This is the start of the revolution.”
The shooting came just two months after a standoff between self-ascribed militiamen at the ranch of Cliven Bundy, 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and federal authorities.
A new report by the New American Foundation shows that the number of people killed by right-wing extremist over the past 10 years greatly outnumber the people killed by the jihadist attacks in the U.S.
According to the foundation, 26 people were killed in attacks linked to jihadist beliefs while 48 were killed by people with extreme right-wing and anti-government views.
David Sterman with the New America Foundation told KNPR’s State of Nevada that the recent attack in South Carolina falls within that category.
“I think the latest shooting in Charleston is clearly an act of terrorism,” Sterman said.
According to the foundation and Sterman, terrorism is defined as non-state violence targeting non-combatants with a political edge.
He said labeling is important in these kinds of cases because it helps people know what they are talking about and group like events together.
He believes there is more focus both by law enforcement and the general public on jihadist terror than on home-grown terror.
“There does appear to be a lack of focus on the extreme right-wing violence, anti-government violence,” Sterman explained. “The recent shooting in Charleston is a good example. Where most scholars would categorize this as domestic terrorist incident but it’s not clear it will be charged that way.”
The belief is obviously tied to the attacks of September 11th, where Al Qaida killed more than 3,000 Americans in just a few hours. But, Sterman said things have changed.
“The threat from Al Qaida and similar jihadist groups has largely decentralized and changed over that decade,” he said.
Lt. Nichole Splinter from Las Vegas Metropolitan Police is tasked with fighting terrorism in Southern Nevada as part of the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center.
While the center works to stop terrorism, they are always mindful of not interfering with people’s right to free speech.
“When it comes to extremism, America has no shortage,” she explained, “Our goal is we focus on the violent extremism, when it crosses that line into the criminal realm is when we take notice.”
She said finding so-called lone wolves is made more difficult by the Internet. People can now find other like-mined people in chat rooms and “self-radicalize in the privacy of their own bedrooms.”
“They’re harder for us to identify and locate because of the fact that it is done so privately. That is why we really rely on the community and the family members,” Splinter said.
She said speech that bothers us doesn’t cross the line. Law enforcement must look beyond that for patterns of behavior that show someone is looking to stop talking and start doing something about their beliefs.
“We don’t focus on the individual, we focus on the behavior,” Splinter said. “We don’t place those titles, well this person is right wing or this person is left wing we look at the threat in general.”
Julia Watson is an intelligence analyst with the Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center. She agrees and said people have to cross a line before they will investigate.
“I would say that first we don’t necessarily monitor individuals, everybody has their constitutionally protected rights, and we’re not going infringe upon those unless we have a criminal predicate or a reason to go look,” Watson explained.
David Sterman, program associate, New American Foundation; Las Vegas Metro Police Lt. Nichole Splinter, Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center; Julia Watson, intelligence analyst, Southern Nevada Counter Terrorism Center