U.S. Attorney Bob Brewer and other law enforcement officials announce federal charges against the alleged Chabad of Poway shooter. / Photo by Megan Wood

In the hours after Steven Paddock shot and killed 58 people and injured scores more in Las Vegas, ISIS claimed him as one of its warriors. Police decided later that was a lie. Paddock was a 64-year-old wealthy white man. He did not fit the profile of a radicalized Islamic terrorist.

That also, though, is what made the claim from ISIS especially terrifying.

People like Paddock have no trouble strolling through American life. He could collect automatic firearms. He could load them, bag by bag, into his fancy hotel room. We were at his mercy. The only hope you could have was that you would not be the unfortunate one in his way when he started firing.

Were a man like that loyal to a terrorist network, it would have redefined American terror for many people. We would have had to confront a reality where terrorists don’t have to build traditional organizations in a faraway land and then smuggle fighters in. Instead, terror was like a zombie virus they could set loose from afar. With carefully engineered, modern propaganda, these networks could poison minds remotely. Everything after that for the new terrorist is easy, including procuring weapons.

Police could never establish Paddock’s motives. And that allowed us to avoid these implications.

Unfortunately, we now know how unsettling it would be if a terrorist network, with a coherent ideology, radicalized men like Paddock who have easy access to firearms.

It has happened here.

On April 27, John T. Earnest opened fire at the Chabad Synagogue in Poway, killing one. A combination of bravery and faulty weaponry seems to have thwarted him from the “high score” of dead Jews he wanted. Our instincts were still to cast him as a lone madman seeking sick fame.

“There is only one villain in this case, but there are many heroes,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan, in her press conference announcing the many charges she was bringing against him.

But that’s not true. He drove his car alone. He pulled the trigger alone. But he was part of an increasingly organized terrorist network that is refining its techniques and ideology as it pursues an armed fascistic insurgency.

“I do not seek fame. I do not seek power. I only wish to inspire others and be a soldier that has the honor and privilege of defending his race in its greatest hour of need,” he wrote. He cited two people who inspired him. Brenton Tarrant, who massacred 50 Muslims in New Zealand and Robert D. Bowers, who walked into a Jewish Temple in Pittsburgh and murdered 11.

Hate is not the right word for this network of terrorists. Their ideology is as coherent as ISIS’s. Like ISIS, they have a goal, they desire a totalitarian ethno-state. Like many radicalized zealots before them, they often disagree intensely with people who share similar aims.

Overall, though, they are united in believing that the white race is superior to others and under grave threat. They are frightened it is losing hegemony in North America. They want to start a war to separate the races here and to do that, they must destroy the enemy of this whole plan: Jewish people, “who use mass immigration to displace the European race,” as the Poway terrorist wrote.

He wrote there were several fronts to this battle: The terrorists need some people to educate others on this point of view, some were needed to act politically and others, like him, were called to start the war. This is not a crazy rant, we can see it happening.

When the white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, what did they chant? “Jews will not replace us!”

They did not mean that Jews themselves, a rather small population of Americans, were replacing their “white” race. They believed Jews were running a conspiracy to import and welcome immigrants and help continue to evolve our society into one that accepts multicultural differences. In its most distilled form, it’s an allegation that specific, powerful Jews are paying refugees to come here. Many conservative politicians have themselves distributed this view.

This is a hideous warping of a truth: No faith is more tightly connected to stories of exodus and support for the immigrant and stranger than Judaism. The Poway attack came at the end of Passover, the celebration of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

In the first five books of the Bible, the most stated commandment is to care for the immigrant – the person who was born somewhere else but now lives with you. The Jews fled Egypt and lived as strangers and have been purged violently from every country where they settled since.

“We lived as immigrants and suffered as immigrants for the rest of our history we remembered that, and we’re obligated to make sure that doesn’t happen to anybody again,” said Rabbi Scott Meltzer, from OHR Shalom Synagogue.

It is no coincidence that Jewish Family Services is working to provide so much support to asylum-seekers being dropped off in our streets.

We have been talking about what happened in Poway as just some type of animalistic plague of the human condition. Like this cartoon that ran in the Union-Tribune, it’s a beast ripping through our multicultural consensus.

But it is not a beast or an animalistic part of our society we have not yet been able to suppress. It is an active network of men refining a coherent ideology. They are using the internet to distribute it. Just like ISIS, this network of terrorists does not need to train and radicalize its adherents in foreign lands and smuggle them to countries they target.

Unlike ISIS, though, these men march in our streets. Their fears about what immigrants are doing to this country are openly embraced at the highest levels.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who leads the Chabad of Poway synagogue that was the subject of the terrorist, attack, wrote a chilling first-hand account of what he saw in the New York Times.

“I do not know why I had to witness scenes of a pogrom in San Diego County like the ones my grandparents experienced in Poland,” he wrote.

I know what the rabbi was saying. He didn’t know why his God did this to him or what the larger purpose of the experience was. But we do know why the synagogue was attacked. They are telling us their plans, and we should listen.

Correction: The article has been updated to clarify OHR Shalom Synagogue is not part of SDSU.

Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently...

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