By Thomas J. Whitley
Robert Doggart is a white, 63-year-old male who is an ordained minister in the Christian National Church. For all of these reasons, he doesn’t fit the terrorist mold. Terrorists, in the popular imagination, are dark-skinned, young, and Muslim. Yet, Doggart was stopped by the FBI from carrying out a planned attack on a Muslim-American community center in Islamberg, New York, an attack which would have included “an M-4 military assault rifle, armor-piercing ammunition, explosives, pistols, and a machete, because ‘If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.’” (This quote from Doggart is from the Criminal Complain filed against him by U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tennessee, which can be seen here.)
The Daily Beast’s Dean Obeidallah points out what he sees as the hypocrisy of our government in dealing with Doggart’s case.
Doggart was charged with violating a federal statute that makes it a crime to damage or destroy any religious property (or attempt to do so) and to use interstate communication to plan to injure persons. Astoundingly, however, he was not charged with any terrorism-related crimes.
It goes without saying that if Doggart had been Muslim and had planned to kill Christians in America, we would have seen wall-to-wall media coverage. Fox News would have cut into its already-daily coverage of demonizing Muslims to do a special report really demonizing Muslims. And few can doubt that a Muslim would’ve been charged with terrorism-related crimes.
Obeidallah may well be right here. He is certainly right when he notes that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office often put out press releases for arrests, but failed to do so in this instance. The FBI issued the type of press release Obeidallah would like to see here in February, for instance, when three Brooklyn residents were charged with “attempt and conspiracy to provide material support to ISIL” and “were prepared to commit acts of terrorism in the United States.”
Indeed, the definition that the FBI provides for domestic terrorism appears to cover Doggart’s planned attack.
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
Obeidallah’s critique of our use of “terrorism” in this country is spot on in this regard. There is a reason that the “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim” meme has become so popular and is paraded about on Facebook and Twitter after any “terrorist” attack by a Muslim. But it seems to me that Obeidallah is not calling for a full reconsideration of the term “terrorist.” Rather, he knows the power that this term holds and wants this term applied to Doggart. Appropriately, his article is titled, “America Snores When Christian Terrorist Threatens to Massacre Muslims,” and his opening line asks, “Have you heard about the Christian terrorist Robert Doggart?”
Instead of calling for a deeper, critical examination of the ways in which “terrorist” is employed by our news media and our law enforcement agencies, Obeidallah is content to allow the term to remain as an important identificatory marker that tells viewers and readers how they should think of Doggart, which category they can place him so that they can go ahead and dismiss him and his concerns.
By labeling Doggart a “Christian Terrorist,” Obeidallah is only playing even more into the hegemony of “terrorist” language that casts the causes, concerns, and complaints of these actors as really being religious in nature and illegitimate. If we want our citizenry, our news media, and our law enforcement agencies to engage in a more thoughtful application of the term “terrorist” that is cognizant of the power struggles and issues of legitimation at play any time the term is deployed, then this should start with us. Obeidallah can lambast Fox News for its lack of outrage and panic over Doggart, but his desire to uncritically apply the term to Doggart is only exacerbating the problem.