The speculation that Craig Hicks, who killed three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on 10 February 2015, may have done so out of anti-religious motivation highlights the dangerous but under-examined threat of domestic terrorism.
While statements by police indicate that Hicks' killing of Deah Shabby Barkat, Yusor Mohmammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha may have resulted from a parking dispute, reactions by white nationalists to the event are nonetheless disturbing and dangerous to all Americans.
Don't take my word for it. Read some the statements for yourself.
Members of the US-based "Stormfront," the most prominent white supremacist forum in the world with hundreds of thousands of accounts from across the globe, used the Chapel Hill killing as a springboard to spout hate and Islamophobic ideas.
While participants commenting on Hicks (including users from Germany, America, the UK, and Australia) appeared to be split about his attack, the thread contained a disquieting presence of violence incitements.
A user writing under the handle 'Freedom lover,' for example, characterised Hicks as a hero for killing Muslims, saying: "This guy is one of the few prepared to meet these muslim bastards head on. Honestly, do they think they can act with impunity? Looks like they don't like it up em."
Another Stormfront user wrote: "Let this be a lesson to all invaders. You risk your life coming to America."
A user attempting to defend Hicks' actions justified the death of the three innocent young Americans by saying: "This would not have happened had they stayed in their country. Let this be a lesson to all invaders. You risk your life coming to America."
Celebrating the shooting, other members posted "Three down, one Billion to go"; "Muslims are murderers and terrorists. White Nationalists are soldiers"; and "Gotta defend yourself from invaders!"
In response to condemnation of Hicks (only for the reason that he might damage the white supremacist movement), one user angrily replied: "How has he worked against our cause? Stop blabbering nonsense. I suppose just letting them do what the hell they want without any consequenses is better?
"If he was a muslim, they'd call him a martyr. That's why they are winning the ideological war against us, because too many people like you don't show support for the hardliners out there.
"Grow a pair or join a knitting club. We don't need passive spectators chirping from the side lines."
Not only are these statements common, but they aim far beyond Muslims. Jews, African Americans, Asians... almost every sizable minority of the American society is viewed by this community as a legitimate target.
Users on these forums have even implied the US government itself as a target. Just today, Stormfront member 'prncssnahema,' a self-proclaimed Texan, commented on Hicks' killing of the three students by stating that if it were indeed racially motivated, his choice of targets wasn't ambitious enough.
"Why do people who do this aim so low on the food chain? Haven't anybody ever heard that if you cut off the head off the snake, you kill the snake? It seems like no one wants to pick a big target.
"That is what went wrong in Ferguson. Gas stations, small businesses, and cars were burned and looted, and to my knowledge the federal buildings were left alone."
The user even referenced the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh:
"After Waco, McVeigh didn't hit a bakery or a gas station. He hit a federal target because it is the feds who were responsible for the turn of events in Waco. Don't waste your life on bottom feeders. Think big."
Statements like these usually prompt a go-to response along the lines of: 'This small minority of nut-jobs doesn't represent the majority of any sizable population.' While this is true, we have also been painfully reminded many times that it takes only one zealot to cause harm in the name of a larger community.
In tracking this kind of rhetoric over the years, I've had the displeasure of seeing such threats from domestic terrorists come to life with little to no preparation or attention from US officials. I didn't—and still do not—see the same sense of domestic priority from the US government regarding non-Islamic extremists as I do to regarding the Islamic State (Isis) or al-Qaeda.
Michael Page, for instance, posted incitements for violent actions against minorities on a white supremacist forum. Such commentary stated that "Passive submission is indirect support to the oppressors" and that whites must "make a stand [against African Americans], regardless of the outcome."
Yet, Page's blunt calls for violence would be ignored until he killed six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple in August 2012.
Glenn Cross, who murdered three people in two Jewish community centers in Overland Park, Kansas in 2014, never hid his desire for minorities to be killed. His equally alarming posts included praise of Anders Breivik's killing of 77 people in Norway in 2011, and an expressed desire for similar attacks inside America:
"I mean, if some enterprising American fellow, went to a youth camp in the Catskills, Camp David, or Martha's Vineyard, and 'sprayed' some young'uns belonging to our immigrant-loving JOG [Jewish Occupational Government], I dare say I might not lose a whole lot of sleep on account of it. In fact, as much as it 'pains' me to say it, I just might sleep even better than my norm, possibly with a wide grin on my face" Cross wrote.
If these statements by white nationalists were posted on jihadi forums, the government would have reacted very differently: investigating the post, the poster, uncovering his identity, introducing charges, etc. However, while numerous white nationalists have stated their desire to kill minorities, the US government and law enforcement agencies continue to ignore the problem.
So, while we hear that Hicks' action was not motivated by hate for Muslims, I refuse to wait around for another confirmed hate crime in the West to start the conversation we need to be having right now.
The reactions of these white nationalists to the death of three innocent young victims in Chapel Hill cannot and must not be ignored. Violence is violence, and extremism is extremism—regardless of what banner the attacker waves. Let's set an equal standard that reflects that.
Rita Katz is executive director of the SITE intelligence group (www.siteintelgroup.com). She has been monitoring terrorist activity and Jihad for more than a decade.
You can find her on Twitter @rita_katz.