Another extremist carried out a terrorist attack by knife today. According to reports, a former student from Transylvania University in Lexington sought out female victims, stabbing two before being captured.
Despite the media’s love for terrorism-based stories, this one is getting little coverage. And despite law enforcement’s love of terror-related arrests, this one has yet to be (and may never be) charged as an act of terrorism at all. Some people might call you jaded if you believe this is related to the fact that the suspect, teenage Mitchell W. Adkins, is a white Christian conservative. Others might call you realistic.
As of this writing, Adkins has been charged with assault and endangerment. Law enforcement released a statement that they are still investigating motive.
To a large extent we may already know the motive from witness accounts. Adkins went from potential victim to victim, all women, asking them if they were Republicans or Democrats. He only attacked the Democrats:
The attacker walked into a coffee shop inside the Glenn Building on Friday morning, asked people their political affiliation, then went on the attack, one witness said. Adkins appears to have a history of publicly protesting what he considered the mistreatment of conservatives on college campuses.
“A guy came in, banged something, a hatchet or an ax, on the table and said, ‘The day of reckoning has come,’” Reynolds said. “He asked somebody what their political affiliation was, they said ‘Republican,’ and the guy said, ‘You are safe.’ And then I realized what was going on and started getting people out.”
This is an act of terrorism by all conventional definitions. Moreover, it is yet another terrorist attack committed by the extreme right. Keep in mind that right-wing domestic terrorist attacks still represent the greatest number of attacks in the United States. (Warning: FBI Link) This statistic does not include Islamic religious extremism, despite Islamic extremism also being a form of far right ideology.
Two years ago, Adkins posted an article on Buzzfeed titled Discrimination of Conservatives in the Liberal Arts. Here are a few excerpts from that article. They should shed light on the kind of person that views anyone left of them as a potential target:
“Earlier this year, the media became flooded with an article from an African-American student from Transylvania University who talked about how she faced discrimination on a daily basis due to her race. She mainly referenced the Fraternity Kappa Alpha for their representation on southern pride (this all happened in the early 2000’s when people were still proud to display a confederate flag).”
“Transylvania is also a Liberal Arts college, which isn’t related to Liberal politics, but does tend to draw in a Democratic majority. This is obvious in every single aspect of school here. And, as a strict Republican, it does tend to cause more problems then you may expect. I’m a full supporter of freedom of speech. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone should be free to share it. I’m even willing to listen to people discuss their beliefs, and I’m even in a class about feminism and gender, which is quite a liberal class if I may be honest. I’m always happy to hear what people think, but what I don’t respond well to is aggression and belittling me due to my political beliefs.”
“I’m no expert, but i’m fairly certain that the whole reason everybody doesn’t fly gay pride flags is because many people find it offensive. I know for a fact that if I walked around wearing a Confederate flag (also known as southern pride flag), I would’ve faced so much backlash that it would’ve resulted in some serious punishment for me.”
“Sweet, I get a fresh new start with fresh new people. I get to make my reputation however I’d like it. But within a week, I had already made several enemies with a single fact; I am a proud Republican. It’s amazing to me that when I listen to someone’s political opinion and then give my own, I’m the one who’s lashed out at for being a “racist” or “bigot”, some even go as far as saying “bane of society” or “fascist Nazi”.”
“When it came out that I wasn’t a whole fan of the whole gay marriage Supreme Court ruling or that my ideas of a former Bruce Jenner were that he was in no way whatsoever brave or respectable, that’s when things started to get out of hand. I lost friends left and right. People even went out of their way to not talk to me, to make me a social Pariah because I had different beliefs.”
“What confuses me, though, is the discrimination I’m faced with directly from those against discriminating.”
“You know, we’re kind of doing that thing Transy espouses of promoting “inclusion”? But no, you’re not inclusive at all.”
“Transy put out a special newsletter in the campus newspaper, “The Rambler” about how upcoming Halloween celebrations should be treated (this came out the week before Halloween). I figured, no big deal, don’t wear something too racist and you’re fine. It turns out, people were expecting quite a bit more than that. They demanded that members of organizations “not wear racially, ethnically, or culturally offensive costumes while representing their organizations.””
Let’s pause and reflect for a moment. This is a person who believes (or who claimed to believe) that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism or chattel slavery, but “southern pride.” That the offense people take to the Confederate flag, typically based on the historical association of the flag with slavery, is similar in some way to his own offense at a Pride flag.
This is also someone who echoed the “tolerant liberal” meme two years ago before it became popular. A broad intolerance of intolerance is treated the same in his worldview as an intolerance toward people for the color of their skin or their sexuality. In other words, all intolerance is equal. It’s the same, to these people, to be intolerant of a racist as it is to be intolerant of someone because of their race. Wait, I take that back. They’re fine with intolerance toward people based on race and sexuality.
A uniquely far-right spin on “free speech” is also at play. Despite being free to speak, even given a platform on his campus and through Buzzfeed, he felt that his free speech had been infringed upon. Why? Because the responses toward that speech were overwhelmingly negative. To some on the far-right this is actually what free speech means. If others don’t want to entertain and respect your belief, not merely your right to express it, then it somehow this violates your freedom of speech. Alternately, there are many on the far-right who know that this is not a free speech issue. Nonetheless, they’re also aware that using “free speech” in a victim context is an effective propaganda tactic. This is why far-right rallies are being billed as “free speech” events. Any negative responses to the far-right content itself can be spun as a negative response to speech itself.
More from his article:
“Listen to what your opponent has to say instead of drowning them out in a sea of voices like you did last year.”
“Nobody tried to understand my point of view.”
“Constructive criticism would have been a responding letter to the editor in which we could exchange ideas like civilized people. Honestly, it’s why I haven’t even written anything into the newspaper for a while because I’m scared of the repercussions from the student body. It shouldn’t be that way, and as it stands, it’s not even close to diverse and inclusive like you claim it to be.”
“If you’re automatically going to label everything that’s different from your opinion insulting, you are, indeed, a coward for wanting to cop out and exempt yourself from constructive debate.”
This drives home the previous point, that many on the right confuse freedom of speech with acceptance of what they say. They don’t seem to realize that hate has consequences. That while you can say whatever you wish, the First Amendment or the broader concept of “free speech” does not shield you from an overwhelmingly negative response from your peers. Free speech does not mean that what you say won’t make the entire campus hate you. It also does not mean that people are required to continue being your friend long after you’ve expressed hateful extremist political positions:
“Despite the face [sic] I left my past behind me, my present was too much for a friend to handle. I was very recently assaulted and literally thrown from his property after the mention of my support for Trump.”
There’s also a telling comment in his essay that the media and casual readers may overlook:
“All these people can reply with are words like “Bigot, hateful, intolerant, ignorant, etc.” So go ahead and enjoy your helicopter rides, I’m sticking to my beliefs.”
If you don’t know, “helicopter rides” is a meme popularized by the alt-right. From KnowYourMeme:
“Free Helicopter Rides” refers to extrajudicial killings known as “death flights,” in which military forces throw people from aircraft into large bodies of water. Online, the phrase is often used by members of the alt-right in jokes about executing their political opponents.
During the Argentine Dirty War from 1976 to 1983, the military reportedly executed an estimated 10,000 people, many of which were thrown out of aircraft into the Rio de la Plata or Atlantic Ocean. Additionally, the practice was also reportedly employed by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who ruled the country from 1973 to 1990.
The “helicopter rides” meme emerged in 2015, close to the same time Adkins wrote this article. This indicates that Adkins had been active enough on far-right political forums or image boards to digest and regurgitate the meme before it became popular. While Adkins is being reported as a “Republican,” which is likely true given the effective existence of only two political parties, he in fact represents the reemergence of an extreme political ideology much further to the right than mainstream conservative and Republican politics.
Adkins was apparently still active on far-right forums online up to the point of carrying out a terrorist attack. His Facebook contains current content by alt-right media figures and has links to extremist content, such as the pro-Pinochet fan page “Pinochet Helicopter Rides and Tours.”
A final point, there is no shortage of absurdity in the fact that someone calling for the extra-judicial killings of everyone left of him had trouble making friends. This is someone who was, by his own account, an outcast in every sense. Despite being a racist and homophobic bully himself, Adkins devoted an inordinate amount of space to voicing his own feelings of being bullied, being an outcast, not being accepted nor being popular. This is a recurring trend with the American far-right, one seen repeating itself nearly every time we look into the backgrounds of right-wing terrorists.