The Media Has a Huge Blind Spot on Terrorism
Corporate media outlets just aren't that interested in reporting on the violent far right — even when their crimes are international news.
Shortly before the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote, the shocking murder of Jo Cox — a member of parliament and a vocal Remain supporter — exposed the racist roots of elements in the victorious Leave campaign.
That much you may have heard.
What you might not have heard about were the suspect’s ties to a neo-Nazi organization based here in the United States. Accused shooter Thomas Mair, The Washington Post reported, “was a longtime supporter of the National Alliance, a once-prominent white supremacist group.”
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Post explained, “Mair bought a manual from the organization that included instructions on how to build a pistol.” Cox, it adds, “was shot by a weapon that witnesses described as either homemade or antique.”
The National Alliance was founded in 1974 by William Pierce. The group was a reorganization of the National Youth Alliance, which was itself an outgrowth of an organization that supported the 1968 presidential campaign of segregationist George Wallace.
Pierce turned the group, in the words of the SPLC, into “the most dangerous and best organized neo-Nazi formation in America.”
While head of the National Alliance, Pierce published The Turner Diaries, a novel that gleefully imagines a guerrilla race war and the mass murder of Jews, gays, and interracial couples. A chapter that depicts the bombing of an FBI building helped inspire Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.
When he was arrested, McVeigh had photocopied pages of the novel with him in his car. And phone records revealed that McVeigh had called a National Alliance number seven times the day before the bombing.
In the days after, feverish speculation abounded that the attack might’ve been the work of international Islamic terrorists. Yet once it became clear that domestic right-wing extremists were responsible, journalists seemed to lose interest. Few spent any time examining the National Alliance connection.
Yet the group turned up in another more recent terrorism story, when Kevin Harpham planted a bomb filled with shrapnel and rat poison at the 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane. Harpham, a one-time National Alliance member, is currently serving a 32-year prison sentence for the attempted bombing.
If you don’t remember this story, that’s probably because it got very little coverage. It was mentioned only three times on the nightly news in the 10 weeks that followed.
By comparison, the much less sophisticated “Times Square bomb,” which failed to go off a year earlier, got 49 mentions in the same time frame. It’s a classic example of how the U.S. corporate media treats acts of political violence by Muslims as inherently more newsworthy than others.
In fact, some corporate media outlets have allowed their personalities to promote the National Alliance directly. Bob Grant, a popular and influential radio talk show host who broadcasts on WABC in New York — the flagship of the ABC radio network — frequently let callers promote the group on his show, saying he didn’t “have any problem” with it.
Grant was eventually fired by Disney, which was then WABC‘s owner, for gloating over the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who was African-American. But even then, his connection to the neo-Nazi National Alliance didn’t become an issue.
This lack of curiosity about the influence of the violent far right is a long tradition in U.S. corporate media. Even the murder of Jo Cox, a member of parliament campaigning in a closely watched vote, seems unlikely to change that.