Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrates a truth that most know to be real: racism is alive and well in America. Terrorism has no singular face nor identity, whether the government labels it terrorism or not.
Just days after the rally in Charlottesville, 23-year-old Jerry Drake Varnell was arrested for attempting to “detonate what he thought was an explosives-laden van next to an Oklahoma City bank.” This, surprisingly, was treated as a domestic terrorism investigation. White men are generally not subject to these charges.
Varnell had been monitored by the FBI since December, as he had communicated with a confidential informant about planning an attack on the Federal Reserve Building, not unlike the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. He was contacted by an undercover agent after the tip-off, who worked under the pretense of providing him with the supplies to conduct his intended attack.
Varnell aligns himself with the “Three-Percenter” ideology: a largely anti-government group that seeks to uphold their constitutional rights. Some believe that only three percent of the colonists participated in the American Revolution and that they are descendants of that percentage. Reportedly, Varnell’s intent was not to "kill a bunch of people," but to "take down a government facility or other structures."
Since Varnell’s arrest, the Three Percenters have condemned his intentions and actions. A spokesperson for the group Dylan Hunter has said, “We don’t want anything to do with him. We condemn any acts of terrorism. We condemn Timothy McVeigh, we condemn what happened in Charlottesville. What we want to do is support the Constitution of the United States of America.”
However, according to the Daily Mail, Mrs. Varnell, his mother, "said her 'sweet-hearted' son had suffered 'countless' full-blown schizophrenic delusional episodes and had been in and out of mental health hospitals since he was 16--and was not a bomber." His family blames the FBI for leading their impressionable son on, and aiding and abetting him in committing a crime. Confirmation has yet to be made of their claims to his mental health, but the fact still stands that Varnell planned to attack prior to FBI interference.
It isn’t the first time that a white man has attempted or committed a violent crime and been written off as “sweet-hearted,” or immediately labeled mentally ill. Dylann Roof and Jared Loughner met similar circumstances; countless reports of troubled pasts and quiet demeanors surround these men in attempts to dull the impact of their actions and to hush reactions to them.
They have undeniable privilege in their cases: “While a terrorist may be white, his violence is never based in his whiteness... He can be a disturbed loner or a monster... Either he is humanized to the point of sympathy or he is so monstrous that he almost becomes mythological.”Whether claims of Varnell’s schizophrenia are valid or not, we cannot continue to let white men go excused for what is, by definition, terrorism, whether motivated by racism or not. Headlines should not refer to him as "Oklahoma man" or "Man, 23." It is a step forward, and a remarkable one at that, to see this treated as a domestic terrorism investigation. Do not let it lose that status.