Terrorism has become acceptable in the United States, if it is in service of the right cause and against the right people.
Unfortunately for American Jewry, they’ve once again become acceptable targets of political violence. Recent terrorist attacks, in which Jews were the targets or enemies in the terrorist’s ideology, have been played down by activists as being the result of mental illness. The dissociation between violence and radical ideological elements will only lead to more violence, especially against Jews.
A Jewish Louisville mayoral candidate was nearly killed in an assassination attempt last Monday. The assassin, Quintez Brown, is not an unknown person, he was running for Louisville city council. Brown was a contributor at a Louisville paper and had his Black Lives Matter movement activism platformed by former president Barack Obama and MSNBC television personality Joy Reid. Brown was not only an advocate for BLM. His social media is rife with radical black nationalist and Black Hebrew Israelite rhetoric, the latter being a movement that has been highly antagonistic to Jews.
Brown’s motives have not yet been publicized, but given the target and his ideology, they are in all likelihood terroristic. The Louisville Metro Police Department stated that Brown’s attack could have been because of Greenberg’s Jewish identity, his mayoral candidacy or Brown’s mental issues. It is the last one that many activists and organizations, including Black Lives Matter Louisville (BLM-L), have focused on, in what has become another point in a disturbing pattern in which mental health has been used as a shield for some political violence. Instead of denouncing the attempted assassination of an American politician, Louisville Community Bail, which is a BLM-L affiliate, proudly paid Brown’s $100,000 bail. BLM-L gave a vague statement that they found no joy in violence in general, and cited PTSD caused by recent civil unrest and COVID-19 restrictions in America as the reason for Brown’s actions.
BLM-L’s support and excusing of Brown is just the latest symptom of dangerous principles that engender terrorist activity.
Malik Faisal Akram held Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel synagogue hostage at gunpoint in mid-January.
Despite targeting a Jewish institution, the FBI was reluctant to confirm antisemitic motives. Like Brown, Akram’s motives were dismissed as a mental health issue. This is in contradiction with his stated aim of releasing an Al-Qaeda terrorist and the Islamic supremacism he expressed in a phone call with his brother.
Darrell Brooks Jr. rammed his SUV into a Christmas parade in Wisconsin in November 2021, killing 6 and injuring 60, including children. One of the more horrific terrorist actions of the year was downplayed in initial reports as a car accident. Later, it was attributed to mental illness. On social media, Brooks had shared violent anti-white content, and pro-Hitler and anti-Jewish memes. Much of the offending material and rhetoric again aligned with the tenets of the Black Hebrew Israelites.
Attributing terrorism to mental illness excuses the radical components of ideologies. It is a balm for the uncomfortable truth of the situation, that doesn’t treat the affliction.
Mental illness is not used in the same capacity to downplay the connection between the radicalizing elements of other ideologies and terrorist action. It is easy to attribute derangement to actions beyond the frameworks of our experiences, but that doesn’t mean there is no logic or competent reasoning to them. Just because you didn’t understand why Brown would shoot at Greenberg, doesn’t mean that Brown didn’t understand as well. Perhaps Brown does have PTSD, but there are many high functioning members of society with mental illness. Any degree of mental illness, however slight, does not mean a person lacks mental competence.
Even if Brown, Akram, Brooks and others were significantly mentally unwell, this still doesn’t absolve an ideology of its radicalizing elements. The ideologies that are being cynically dissociated with these attacks have conspiratorial narratives that focus on an enemy that is the source of all evils. They promote puritanical adherence in which acolytes must prove their virtue. For those who are vulnerable, such as the mentally ill who are more limited in ability to see nuance, these ideological features prime them to commit acts of violence. Mental health is not a motivation, but it may remove inhibition to use any means to reach the end of one’s motivations.
American society is increasingly ascribing moral character to individuals based on their ethnic and religious groups. Some are seen as oppressed peoples that can do no evil and others oppressors that can do no good. The connections between radical ideological elements and terrorism are being dismissed because the groups that tend to favor the core ideology are from oppressed peoples and the targets the oppressors. In the US, Jews are considered part of the oppressor class. This is why there is no great outrage over attacks on Jews in the streets of New York City, many of which in the past three years have been done by Black Hebrew Israelite radicals. When a Jew is punched, it is considered punching up.
The dismissal of violence against Jewish, Asian or any other Americans as being caused by mental illness or any other excuse because the violence comes from a morally favored group will lead to more tragedy. Ethnic violence will become more commonplace in a sort of broken Overton window effect, in that when terrorism of such a caliber is downplayed, lesser political attacks will seem as acceptable actions.
Black Lives Matter, Black Hebrew Israelites and other ideological movements can no longer downplay and thereby support the actions of their radicals as mentally ill. They must come out against these radical elements and treat the afflictions within their movements, otherwise they will incubate an outbreak of violence.
The writer is a desk manager at The Jerusalem Post. An IDF veteran with experience in the security and public diplomacy fields, he has a BA in government, and an MA in counter-terrorism and national security from IDC Herzliya. On Twitter: @Starrlord89