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Black, White, and Blue: A Conversation about Racialized Police Violence, White Nationalism, and the Roots of Domestic Terror

Most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 were comprised by two key justice issues: police violence and domestic terrorism, both of which have been roundly characterized through racial frames. Peaceful protests and riots raged on in many of America’s major cities in response to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks, who were killed by police in 2020. Thousands of people took to the streets of major American cities. These demonstrations served as stark reminders of America’s racial history and the work that still needs to be done in the present to ensure equality in policing.

Not all Americans support the calls for racial justice or find the proposed changes to policing necessary. Public opinion polls show stark political and racial divisions in support for racial justice movements, like Black Lives Matter. As with most movements for racial justice, a diffuse and insidious form of resistance to change also reemerged in the form of White nationalism. Historically, populist movements have developed in response to calls for changing the status quo and have typically appealed to the fears and social precarity of working-class White Americans. This time is no different. America has experienced a surge in white nationalism in recent years, amid its changing racial and ethnic demographics. Collectively, these factors have set the stage for domestic terrorism. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation identified white national extremism as a grave threat to national security. Despite this fact, no real efforts were made to address the looming threat. So, what happened?

Over the summer, America witnessed violent confrontations between racial justice protesters, rioters, members of several White nationalist organizations, and local militia groups. Clashes between protesters and counter-protesters in Portland and DC ended with people stabbed, shot, or battered. One incident, involving Kyle Rittenhouse a 17-year old militia member from Antioch, Illinois, resulted in him killing two people and seriously injuring a third in protests about the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Political pundits on both sides of the aisle offered commentary on the causes and appropriate responses to the protests and the violence. At the local level, police had arrested upward of 15,000 people in connection to protesting in as many as 49 US cities by the middle of 2020. At the federal level, President Trump re-enacted the Statues and Monuments Act which mandates a minimum 10-year sentence for people who vandalize or damage federal property. What happened next?

On January 6, 2021 thousands of people stormed the U.S. capitol to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the 2020 election. The group beat and maimed police officers, destroyed property, and threatened violence against Congress people and the Vice President of the United States. The Capitol Police were severely underprepared to quell the insurrection and some officers reacted with deliberate indifference to the insurrectionists, most of whom were White. Investigations into the incident revealed that several of the people involved have ties to White nationalist organizations and extremist groups. Another important and alarming fact is how many police officers from various U.S. cities also took part in the insurrection. Where do we go from here?

Together, the incidents indicate and demonstrate the interconnectedness of police violence and domestic terrorism as important issues facing America. We aim to discuss this complex interconnectedness and brainstorm possible routes forward.

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