On 28 November 2014, a white, allegedly right-wing terrorist fired over 100 bullets at government buildings in the heart of Austin, Texas, before trying to burn down the Mexican consulate. USA Today indicates that the shooter, 49-year-old Larry Steven McQuilliams, likely had anti-government motives. According to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo:
Between about 2:20 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. CT, McQuilliams fired at several buildings in downtown Austin, including police headquarters and the federal courthouse. He also tried to torch the Mexican consulate using several small propane cylinders, but the fires were put out before the flames could spread.
Fortunately, no one was injured. There appears to be little information about the shooter. From what news sources have been able to deduce, primarily through the man’s Facebook page, he was very involved in Renaissance reenactment. He posted several videos of him performing knife routines.
Frequenting and participating in Renaissance fairs does not automatically mean one is a far-right zealot, of course. That said, ignoring the links between white nationalist movements and Renaissance reenactment would be foolish. Many participants see Renaissance reenactment as a way of embracing their “white heritage” and expressing “white pride.” Paul Kersey, a virulent white supremacist and writer for the overtly racist blogs Stuff Black People Don’t Like and Angry White Dude, speaks glowingly of Renaissance fairs. In an ahistorical bout of awe-inspiring ignorance, Kersey pens a bit of white supremacist historiography:
White people dressing up as… white people from the 10th – 15th centuries, in celebration of the culture and traditions that were found in England during this time period. For Black people, a renaissance fair is just another reminder that even white people 500 – 700 years ago were far more advanced and lived in safer communities than Black people in Africa do now. … And so Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes Renaissance Fairs, which serve to remind Black people that without the integration of white society now, they’d be less well off than your average medieval Englishmen from centuries ago. It’s just another reminder of how poorly developed “developing” nations really are, and at the same time it reveals how errant the term “dark ages” really is.
Much more revealing is that, on 21 November, McQuilliams changed his profile to a picture reading “If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun,” attributed to the Dalai Lama, “Famous Gun Nut.” The meme is originally from FlashBunny.org, a far-right, self-described “pro-gun,” “pro-freedom” website that has since been taken down. In the afternoon of 26 November, McQuilliams posted a video of the song “Set It Off,” by the band Audioslave, accompanied by the words “xkute order 1616.” It is unclear what exactly he is referring to with “order 1616.”
The lyrics of the song read:
And there he found the spark,
to set this f*cker off.
Set it off,
set it off now children;
set it awry.
Set it off,
set it off now children.
Suddenly a shot,
ripped into his heart,
and he lay in need of some attention.
And there he played his card.
Going into shock,
the last thing that he said was,
set this f*cker off.
Some of McQuilliams’ friends and acquaintances reported being surprised at his attack. After looking through public records, however, Austin-based journalists discovered that McQuilliams had a violent criminal record and had, in 1992, attempted to rob an armored car.
The terrorist did not leave much of an internet footprint. There is a somewhat active profile on ViceGamers.com of a 49-year-old male from Bethany, Oklahoma named Steve McQuilliams. McQuilliams had been a citizen of Oklahoma.
There is additionally a profile on BikersPost.com with the same name and location and pictures of what appears to be the man. These suggest that McQuilliams was an avid motorcyclist. Again, this alone does not necessarily mean that the shooter was a ring-wing extremist, but it is yet another suspicious factor. Numerous civil rights organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the leader in documenting hate groups in the US, have reported on the close ties between white supremacist organizations and bikers.
All of these factors, in conjunction with the fact that McQuilliams targeted government buildings and tried to burn down the Mexican consulate, suggest that it is incredibly probable that Larry Steven McQuilliams was a far-right extremist engaging in anti-government and anti-immigrant terrorist attacks. In the words of police chief Acevedo, “If you look at the targets, it doesn’t take a genius” to draw this conclusion. He added, “I would venture that [anti-immigrant] political rhetoric might have fed into some of this, but that is speculation on my part.”
The “Terrorist” Double Standard
It is most telling that the word “terrorist” is conspicuously absent from virtually every news report on the story. Such an absence serves as a reminder that, in the post-9/11 world, dominated by the perpetual “War on Terror,” the slur “terrorist” is reserved exclusively for acts of political violence committed by people of color – especially Muslims.
Many reactionary US politicians have explicitly defended this linguistic double standard. In August 2012, white supremacist Army veteran Wade Michael Page went on a shooting rampage in a Sikh temple, killing six people and wounding four. The terrorist thought he was killing Muslims, demonstrating how Islamophobia is not just irrational fear of a religion; it is a form of racism, in and of itself, based on the racialization of Islam. House Minority Leader at the time, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), was outraged that the Department of Homeland Security would refer to the murderer as a “domestic terrorist,” claiming:
[T]he Secretary of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why she has abandoned using the term ‘terrorist’ to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.
While influential figures in Washington are bloviating about exaggerated threats, there are more right-wing extremist groups in the US than there have ever been. The SPLC has reported an “explosive growth” of far-right terrorism in recent years.
The number of violent anti-government “Patriot” groups is higher today than it was when they first emerged in the 1990s.
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of hate groups in the US increased by 167%.
Right-wing terrorism is, by leaps and bounds, a much more serious threat than is the Islamic terrorism the US has spent literally trillions of dollars fighting for over a decade. Yet the Daily Beast’s Dean Obeidallah argues that “Republicans won’t investigate right-wing extremists because it would not only anger their base, it would actually indict some parts of it.”
The corporate media, like the politicians it so often echoes, is hopelessly fixated on the microscopic threat of Islamic extremism. In the US, it is estimated Muslim terrorists kill an average of three people per year. To put this into perspective, bee, wasp, and hornet stings lead to the deaths of roughly 40 Americans every year. Were statistical, scientific approaches adopted to analyzing present affairs, police, who kill circa 400 Americans per year, and abusive men, who annually murder approximately 1,100 female romantic partners, would be much more salient concerns.
Right-wing terrorism in the US is absolutely out of control, and Larry Steven McQuilliams’ Black Friday attack is likely yet another instance of it. As luck would have it, no one was harmed – but this is not usually the case in far-right terrorist attacks.
And, while an allegedly racist, anti-government white terrorist was going on a shooting spree in the downtown area of one of the nation’s largest cities, the corporate media was spending its time obsessively condemning civil rights protests in Ferguson and around the country. One can see where its priorities really lie.
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