Saturday, May 27, 2017


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THROUGHOUT THE PRESIDENTIAL campaign, Donald Trump blasted his rival for taking money from Saudi Arabia, which, he regularly charged, has a horrific human rights record and was behind the attack on September 11.
“You talk about women and women’s rights? So these are people that push gays off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly. And yet you take their money,” he complained.
Trump, of course, has never been married to anything he has said in the past. But even by Trumpian standards, a recent series of deals he struck with Saudi Arabia stand out.
The two that made the news — a $110 billion arms deal and a $100 million gift to an Ivanka Trump-inspired endowment — are remarkable in their own right.
But the third, which was rolled out much more quietly, is no less stunning: The Saudi kingdom joined forces with a top outside adviser to Trump to build a $40 billion war chest to privatize U.S. infrastructure.
The vehicle would employ the same kind of public-private partnerships, known as P3s, the Trump administration has endorsed for its trillion dollar infrastructure plan. The deal hands over control of projects to rebuild American roads and bridges to the private sector and a foreign country.
The Saudi Public Investment Fund announced its $20 billion investment with Blackstone, the private equity giant whose CEO, Stephen Schwarzman, chairs the Strategic and Policy Forum, a key group of private-sector advisers to President Trump. In recent months Schwarzman has become a key adviser to the president, speaking to him “several times a week,” according to Politico. Schwarzman, who has an estate near Mar-a-Lago and has known Trump for years, is a Republican megadonor, giving over $4 million to Super PACs that support conservative candidates in the last election cycle.
The Saudi investment was announced when Trump was in Saudi Arabia and was touted by the White House as part of Trump’s commitment to render deals for outside investment in America. Blackstone described the deal as “the culmination of a year’s discussions” and insisted the White House was not involved.
But the managing director of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Yasir Al Rumayyan, explicitly said that the deal “reflects our positive views around the ambitious infrastructure initiatives being undertaken in the United States as announced by President Trump.”
The timing was also notable, coming just after Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner negotiated a $110 billion arms sale to the Saudis. Kushner and Blackstone have a long history; Blackstone is one of the largest lenders to Kushner’s business, with over $400 million in financing since 2013.
Schwarzman, of course, is not a disinterested adviser to the president. He and his firm stands to gain massively from public policy decisions, whether Trump’s reversal on Chinese currency manipulation (Blackstone is heavily invested in China and even warned investors that labeling China a currency manipulator would harm the company financially) or the administration’s reticence on closing the carried interest loophole (which not only benefits Blackstone but Schwarzman himself). The loophole generates billions of dollars for Blackstone.
“Donald Trump brokering a deal between Saudi royalty and private equity magnates associated with both the Republican and Democratic Party is about as much corruption and self-dealing as can be squeezed into a single sentence,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project. “This deal essentially constitutes the singularity of corruption and represents all that is broken with our global politics.”

This conflict carries over to infrastructure, a business Blackstone has been focused on since last year. They’re looking to capitalize on Trump’s victory, and his long-promised plan to use private money to leverage around $200 billion in public funds over ten years for building projects. The infrastructure plan surprisingly got slipped into Trump’s budget proposal.
“There is broad agreement that the United States urgently needs to invest in its rapidly aging infrastructure,” said Blackstone president Tony James this week. James is a donor to Democratic presidential candidates.
Most Democrats have dismissed Trump’s infrastructure plan as “sleight-of-hand,” because his budget actually cuts transportation spending, more than offsetting the $200 billion investment. The cuts include zeroing out a popular state grant program called TIGER, along with slashes to Amtrak and other transit projects.
In addition to P3s, Trump’s advisers talk of using a model popular in Australia, where proceeds from sales of public assets get funneled into new projects. So under the Trump plan, direct federal investments in infrastructure would be lowered, while private control of projects would ramp up. This benefits Blackstone and Saudi Arabia.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, in a puzzling statement, characterized the Trump budget as not a cut in infrastructure spending, but a “dropoff.”
State and local governments don’t lack private capital for infrastructure; municipal bonds are a $3.7 trillion market. Advocates are concerned that companies like Blackstone want an equity stake in infrastructure that will prove more costly than muni bond funding. P3s could generate high tolls and user fees, as the private sector expects a greater return on investment.
In addition, critics charge that P3s narrow where infrastructure projects happen; replacing water systems for the poor in Flint won’t make back the kind of money that a bridge or toll road connecting an affluent suburb might. P3s more generally have been criticized for limiting democratic control of public assets.
“Why would we take some of the resources we have and hand them away to Wall Street?” asked Donald Cohen of the anti-privatization group In the Public Interest. “And give them control over the asset for 20, 30, 40, 50 years?”
Saudi Arabia put up half of Blackstone total investment in their infrastructure fund. A single investor putting that big a commitment into one private equity fund is atypical, and would essentially have a foreign government profit from fees like toll roads.
When the United Arab Emirates attempted to use the state-owned company Dubai Ports World to buy six U.S. seaports in 2006, it generated significant controversy, stoked by right-wing media figures like Lou Dobbs and Democrats such as Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, was saw an opportunity to damage then-President Bush. The deal eventually fell apart, as Dubai Ports World sold off its stake. By contrast, the Blackstone-Saudi deal has not registered much comment.
But Saudi Arabia’s money will get funneled through a close Trump adviser in a grab for state and local infrastructure, with the expectation of billions of dollars in profits off the roads, bridges, and transit systems the public uses every day. Blackstone expects to use the $40 billion in the infrastructure fund to leverage the purchase of $100 billion in projects, fully 10 percent of Trump’s total commitment.
James told The New York Times that Blackstone could “establish overnight a leadership position” in infrastructure with the Saudi investment. Blackstone’s stock has surged since the Trump election and went up over 7 percent when the Saudi deal was announced.
Schwarzman, whose most recent birthday party featured trapeze artists, live camels, and Gwen Stefani, was in Riyadh last week for a whirlwind of dealmaking known as the U.S.-Saudi CEO Forum.
The private equity titan is hardly the only financier personally benefiting from an advisory position with the Trump administration. For example, legendary trader Carl Icahn, another adviser, has been using his influence to get the administration to change ethanol rules that would save companies he owns hundreds of millions of dollars. Icahn has also been personally speculating on financial instruments related to his push for changes in ethanol rules.

The White House has a credibility crisis — and it's started to engulf one of its most independent voices

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By Sonam Sheth

The White House's credibility crisis continues to deepen, and experts say it may now reach one of the few remaining independent voices in the Trump administration: national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
After former national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign in February when it emerged that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about contacts he'd had with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign, McMaster arrived to right the ship.
His selection was especially notable because many saw him as the antithesis to Flynn.
He was brought in as someone who was beyond reproach.
"He was brought in as someone who was beyond reproach, who wasn't in [President Donald] Trump's inner circle, had a stellar reputation, and was supposed to be distanced from Trump," said Jon Michaels, a professor and expert on national security at UCLA Law.
Like Secretary of Defense James Mattis, McMaster was revered by his troops while serving in the army and earned a great deal of respect from soldiers. He is an expert on military strategy, counterinsurgency, and history, and is not known for being a 'yes' man. "Put simply: McMaster isn't a political guy, unlike other officers who are trying to jockey for position and move up their careers," Business Insider's Paul Szoldra wrote after Trump chose him.
McMaster has historically "been willing to risk an awful lot to speak truth to power," said Claire Finkelstein, a professor and Director at the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
But the former Army Lieutenant General has come under fire in recent days, as the White House was hit with a flurry of news stories that raised more questions about the Trump camp's ties to Russia.
Now, experts are beginning to question if McMaster's role has become dangerously politicized, and whether that could pose a threat to the US' national security.

Typically an apolitical position

When The Washington Post broke an explosive report in which intelligence officials alleged that Trump shared highly-classified information with Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting, McMaster went in front of cameras to call the story false as reported and to defend the president's actions as "wholly appropriate."
His defense came as intelligence officials expressed deep concerns about Trump's handling of sensitive information, as well as the risks it posed to Israel, the source of the intel and a key US ally.
Though the national security adviser is a political appointee — in that he is chosen by the president — the role has historically been relatively apolitical when compared to that of other White House staff. This is because the national security adviser has "enormous influence" over issues of war and peace, and presidents of both parties have tried to keep political concerns away from that area, according to Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer for the National Security Agency and the CIA.
Experts say there is some justification for McMaster speaking out in this case, because he was brought out to address a national security concern.
"The Trump-Russia controversy touches international politics in a way that others do not. ... If you're talking about whether Russia influenced the US elections, if you're talking about the US president meeting with Russian officials and giving them classified information — that is hardcore foreign policy stuff, and McMaster has, or at least had, very high credibility in that area," Deitz said. "So it seems logical that he would be pushed out to lead that parade."
Did it assuage concerns our allies may have had about sharing intelligence? Probably not.
But choosing him as a spokesperson may have done more harm than good.
In this case, McMaster's "going before the press didn't do anything to limit" fallout from revelations that Trump disclosed code-word information to the Russians, Michaels said.
"At the end of the day, are we now all saying, 'Oh, OK, everything's all hunky-dory because McMaster stood up there'? Did it assuage concerns our allies may have had about sharing intelligence? Probably not."
Deitz concluded that Trump doesn't have many alternatives to McMaster.
"If you look at people in this White House and compare them to people in the Obama or Bush White House," he said, "there are not that many people who have terribly high credibility."
Michaels echoed that assessment and highlighted the unique circumstances the Trump administration faces.
"Almost everything right now feels new and different," he said. "The fact that McMaster has to go out and talk about what the president may or may not have said about [former FBI director] Comey ... all of this stuff feels weird and unusual, and I doubt many national security advisers have been called in to do this particular type of rebuttal or contextualization."

"There are only so many people in the White House who are taken credibly at this point, and McMaster is one of them," he added. "So it's a trade off."
If anything, experts say McMaster's selection as the White House's point man following the Post's report likely diminished his credibility and the credibility of the US in the process, and it also appeared to politicize a national security issue.
Glenn Carle, a former CIA operative and national security expert, compared McMaster's selection to former President Bill Clinton's decision to have female Cabinet members speak out on his behalf during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
"A lot of the women involved resented that and thought it was inappropriate, and Clinton was widely criticized for politicizing them because they were females," Carle said. "Here, McMaster was politicized because he's a general."
And while the credibility of White House operatives like Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer has taken a hit since Trump assumed office, the risks of McMaster losing credibility are significantly greater given his position as the chief national security consultant.

'Not McMaster's finest moment'

Experts say that McMaster is likely aware of the delicate situation he's in.
McMaster's loyalties are "naturally divided," Finkelstein said. "He probably feels like he owes the president, as commander-in-chief, the greatest loyalty he can summon up under the circumstances. But I'm also guessing that standing in that room with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, he felt that he himself was in a fairly compromised position."

There have been other instances where that internal discrepancy may have been evident. Shortly after news broke that Trump had reportedly called Comey a "real nut job," and said firing him had taken "great pressure" off during the Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, McMaster appeared on ABC's "This Week" on May 21. The White House has not disputed the report.
When host George Stephanopoulos asked McMaster about why Trump made comments about the FBI's Russia probe to Kremlin officials, McMaster said Trump "feels as if he is hamstrung in his ability to work with Russia" because of media coverage around the topic.
"It's very difficult to take a few lines, to take a paragraph out of what appear to be notes of that meeting, and to be able to see the full context of the conversation," he added.
That interview was "not McMaster's finest moment," Finkelstein said, adding that it likely reflected his need "to act within the military chain of command, while also being aware that these actions and remarks by the president are extremely dangerous for the country."

'If the national security adviser is seen as a stooge or lackey ...'

McMaster is still the most independent voice in the White House, experts say, but if he continues ceding ground to the political wing, it may affect the relationship between the administration and the military.
"The go-between on military matters are the joint chiefs and the national security adviser," Michaels said. "If the national security adviser is seen as a stooge or lackey of an administration that the military may be wary of, it's going to diminish [McMaster's] capacity to be seen as a reliable person to call in the White House for critical issues."
And that logic applies to foreign affairs, too.
"It's not surprising when a politician or statesman presents a favorable interpretation of an issue for the administration," Carle said. But when the national security adviser goes in front of cameras and says something that is "just not true, that harms the US' ability to interact successfully and win the support of our foreign interlocutors."

"Truly, your word is very important" when dealing with national security, Carle said, adding that credibility is among the chief concerns allies consider when deciding which and how much intelligence to share with another country.
The US' national security apparatus relies not just on heads of state calling each other, Michaels said, but on networks of high-ranking bureaucrats like McMaster whose credibility is crucial to keeping things running.
"There's no more critical moment for that than now," he said, "given the lack of credibility and expertise of the commander-in-chief."
And in the event that the US is thrust into a genuine national security crisis and McMaster comes out to talk to the public or to the US' allies about it, Deitz said, "the question people are going to have in the back of their minds is, 'Are we getting this straight or is this just a political job?'"
McMaster is still a very respected figure, Finkelstein said.
"But he will lose all efficacy as a protector of national security if he simultaneously loses that independent voice he was known to have."

Former Bush Speechwriter Lashes Fellow Conservatives For Pushing Seth Rich Conspiracy

“The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased.”

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By Mollie Reilly

A former speechwriter for George W. Bush and current Washington Post columnist is criticizing conservative media figures for promoting a conspiracy theory about the death of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot and killed last summer. 
Michael Gerson, who served as Bush’s top speechwriter from 2001 through 2006, argues in a column published by the Post on Thursday that the “failure of decency” by popular right-wing personalities like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh indicates deeper problems within the conservative movement. 
“This is a concrete example of the mainstreaming of destructive craziness,” Gerson writes.
Rich was lethally shot near his home in Washington, D.C., in what police believe was a botched robbery. But because he was killed shortly before WikiLeaks published thousands of internal DNC emails, some conspiracy theorists (including Reddit users and right-wing bloggers) have claimed, with no evidence, that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party had Rich killed in retaliation for leaking the emails. 
The claim picked up steam again after Fox News and its Washington affiliate published a thinly sourced story tying Rich to WikiLeaks. (The network later retracted the story.) Both Hannity and Limbaugh promoted the conspiracy following the Fox report, despite pleas from Rich’s family to stop. 
Gerson argues that the movement of the story from fringe websites to cable news illustrates the way conservatism has morphed in the era of President Donald Trump ― himself a noted pusher of conspiracy theories.  
“The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” Gerson writes. “The movement has been seized by a kind of discrediting madness, in which conspiracy delusions figure prominently. Institutions and individuals that once served an important ideological role, providing a balance to media bias, are discrediting themselves in crucial ways. With the blessings of a president, they have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion.” 
This abandonment, he argues, inevitably leads conspiracy theorists to ignore the tragedy at the center of these stories — in this case, Rich and his family — and instead focus solely on the political machinations they believe are at hand. 
“In Trump’s political world, this project of dehumanization is far along,” he concludes. “The future of conservatism now depends on its capacity for revulsion. And it is not at all clear whether this capacity still exists.”
Hannity, by far the most prominent proponent of the Rich theory, has faced intense backlash for pushing the story on his Fox News show, radio program and Twitter account. Multiple advertisers have pulled their ads from his Fox show, and #FireHannity has become a popular rallying cry on Twitter. Some Fox staffers also expressed their disappointment in the host to CNN, saying they were “disgusted” by his coverage of the story.
Aaron Rich, the brother of the slain DNC staffer, pleaded with Hannity in an emotional letter to drop the story.
“Nobody wants to solve Seth’s murder more than we do,” Aaron Rich wrote. “However, providing a platform to spread potentially false, damaging information will cause us additional pain, suffering and sorrow. By airing this information, you will continue to emotionally hurt us.”

This Is Our Best Defense Against Trump's Immigration Policies

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By Mary Turck

Under the Trump administration's new executive orders, these are the scenes repeated in many cities: Immigration agents swoop in and take away a domestic abuse victim leaving a court building. They roust a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status from his bed. They arrest people showing up at immigration offices for routine appointments. In this atmosphere of anger, fear, and confusion, local governments, as well as churches, schools, and hospitals, are declaring themselves "sanctuaries" for undocumented immigrants.
But what does that really mean?
States, cities, school districts, and universities are all defying federal orders with sanctuary declarations. And in response to threats from the Trump administration, Seattle is now one of at least six local governments to sue the federal government, alleging state's rights violations among other constitutional issues. These sanctuary policies are varied, as each local government defines its own sanctuary work. And there's another kind of sanctuary too, declared by a church, synagogue, or mosque.
The bottom line is that no local policy can actually prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from conducting raids, making arrests, or deporting undocumented immigrants. But the sanctuary movement is not without power. Importantly, it serves as a public statement, and this public commitment has powerful political and moral impact.
Jeanette Vizguerra has lived in the United States for about 20 years and has lived with a deportation order hanging over her head for years. She was required to check in with ICE each year to ask for a stay of deportation. But this year, instead of going to ICE for her check-in, Vizguerra asked for sanctuary in the First Unitarian church in Denver.
First Unitarian is among the growing number of religious congregations pledging sanctuary, a number that more than doubled in the months immediately following the 2016 presidential election. Many more have pledged material support and volunteer help to the 800-plus congregations offering physical shelter. Along with Christian and Jewish congregations, a Cincinnati mosque became the first mosque to declare itself a sanctuary in January.
When a religious congregation offers sanctuary, it often provides a place to live and a hope of protection from arrest. So far, that works. But the law does allow police or ICE officials to go into a place of worship (or a school or a hospital) and arrest undocumented immigrants. Though it would be legal, it wouldn't look pretty.
Under the Obama administration, ICE was directed not to enter "sensitive locations." While it's tough to tell rumors and leaks from memos and orders, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is clearly playing by the new president's tough-guy rulebook on immigration. According to leaked memos, Kelly plans to rescind all Obama-era guidelines, including the one on sensitive locations. Would ICE officials actually invade churches, schools, and hospitals to drag people out and deport them? We don't know yet.
Refusing to Cooperate With ICE
When cities declare sanctuary status, they're mostly invoking a separation ordinance. Despite heated rhetoric, sanctuary ordinances can only affect the way in which city employees -- from police to librarians -- carry out their jobs.
A city separation ordinance directs city employees, including police, not to inquire about the immigration status of anyone who has not been convicted of a crime. St. Paul, Minnesota, passed a separation ordinance in 2004, and after the election of Trump, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman issued a strong statement explaining the city's stance:
"The City of Saint Paul wants all its residents to feel comfortable seeking out City services -- including law enforcement -- when they are in need. We want everyone to call the police when they are the victim of or witness to a crime without fear they will be asked about their immigration status. We want everyone to call the paramedics in a medical emergency, enroll their children in after-school programs or use our library services. Our staff -- including our police officers -- will not ask for proof of immigration status. Period."
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek is one of about 60 high-ranking law enforcement officials who sent a letter to U.S. senators explaining that this practice makes law enforcement work better. But, Stanek told a local newspaper, "there is no sanctuary once you go to jail." Going to jail means fingerprints, which go to the FBI and into a database that ICE regularly checks.
A city's non-collaboration also might include refusing to hold people on ICE detainers, an instruction from ICE to hold a prisoner past a legal release date until ICE decides whether to pick them up for deportation proceedings. Several courts have held that these detainers are unconstitutional, but ICE continues to use them. As a practical matter, even in jurisdictions that refuse to hold people on ICE detainers, ICE agents can still wait at the door of the jail when someone is released.
States Jump In on Both Sides
Each jurisdiction's laws come at sanctuary in different ways. Oregon has a strong statewide separation law, which dates back to 1987. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature have wrangled over ways to strengthen the state's "Trust Act," a law passed four years ago that limits police collaboration with ICE.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has given a broad set of protections to the undocumented immigrants living in his state. His February executive order says state agencies may not discriminate against immigrants or deny public benefits, "except as required by international, federal, or state law." In addition, the order forbids inquiries into immigration status, registering people on the basis of religious affiliation, and "targeting or apprehending" people for violation of federal civil immigration laws.
Several other states are considering similar laws. In Massachusetts and Maryland, Democratic legislatures have expressed support for sanctuary laws -- however, Republican governors in both states are likely to veto.
On the other side, there are conservative states supporting the Trump crackdown by going after their rogue cities. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott canceled $15 million in state funding for law enforcement in Travis County for refusal to honor ICE detainers and asked the Legislature to give him authority to fire elected officials in sanctuary jurisdictions.
In Colorado, the political complexity of the issue is apparent. There, the Legislature is considering both a bill declaring sanctuary status and a bill that would punish public officials in sanctuary jurisdictions, creating a felony offense of "rendering assistance to an illegal alien." With a divided legislature, neither proposal is likely to pass.
Welcome and Solidarity
Regardless of city sanctuary policies, communities are finding creative ways to offer support to undocumented immigrants.
Chicago Public Schools, for example, will not allow immigration authorities to enter a school unless they have a warrant. Other districts offer training for teachers and support groups for immigrant students, and distribute cards telling students (and their parents) what their rights are if ICE agents knock on their doors.
Concrete financial and physical support can come in the form of funding for legal assistance for immigrants facing deportation or offering social services. Immigration and asylum status is considered by the courts to be a civil matter, so attorneys are usually not provided. But, in 2013, New York City began funding public defenders for immigrants in deportation proceedings, and now New York state plans to expand the program to cover immigration courts in the rest of the state. The state of California is considering a similar plan, and Los Angeles and San Francisco also have programs or plans to fund legal representation.
The Good That Sanctuary Can Do
While no kind of sanctuary policy can stop an ICE raid, sanctuary declarations can have a powerful impact -- perhaps most importantly in strengthening the moral and political muscle of resistance.
By naming their houses of worship as sanctuaries, individuals are making a defiant stand. Even those whose congregations cannot offer actual shelter can still contribute time, money, and solidarity.
The sanctuary movement offers a route to converting hearts and minds. When a church, synagogue, or mosque offers sanctuary, each member of the congregation is introduced to an immigrant and their story. Immigration policy then changes from a distant political debate to an intensely personal question.
Coming together around sanctuary strengthens the identity of a community. The political process of declaring sanctuary in a city, county, or state includes building alliances, public hearings, and public commitments by individuals, civic groups, and political figures. As the community makes a commitment, they stand in opposition to the broken immigration system and national anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Participation in the process strengthens the muscle of resistance.
Here we stand, together, a sanctuary decision declares. We stand with immigrants. We stand with the oppressed.

Pathway to extremism: what neo-Nazis and jihadis have in common

The case of Devon Arthurs, a former neo-Nazi who allegedly killed his friends for disrespecting Islam, sheds light on the roots of extremism

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By  and 

After Tampa police officers talked him into releasing his hostages and got him in handcuffs, Arthurs made references to “Allah Mohammed” and told the officers: “This wouldn’t have had to happen if your country didn’t bomb my country.”
He said he had already killed several people.
Arthurs directed police to an apartment, where two men he described as his friends were found dead, both of them shot multiple times in the head and upper body. A third friend, Brandon Russell, was standing outside the apartment in army camouflage, weeping, according to court documents.
The path to radicalisation Arthurs described to the police after his arrest last Friday was an unexpected one. Originally, he said, he and his three friends had all been neo-Nazis.
But at some stage, Arthurs had converted to Islam. According to police and court documents, he told officers that he killed his friends for disrespecting his new religion.
His behavior had a dual motivation, Arthurs explained, according to an affidavit from Tampa police: to raise awareness about anti-Muslim sentiment and “to take some of the neo-Nazis with him”.
Terrorists motivated by far-right extremism and by Islamist extremism share similar tactics, a similar brutality, and a similar desire to remake the global democratic order.

But they are usually considered enemies at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Far right terror attacks in Europe have been motivated by opposition to Muslim immigration.
But Arthur’s switch in allegiance raises a key question for analysts looking at the process of radicalisation: to what extent the factors that attract people to extremism are specific to a particular ideology at all.
At least two neo-Nazi sites denounced the murders, mourned the victims, and described Arthurs as a former commenter who had eventually been banned for his comments about Islam and terrorism. Both sites described the murders as “a Muslim terror plot” against a neo-Nazi group.
However, officials at the FBI and at the UK’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, say little distinguishes the “pathways to violence” taken by extremists following different ideologies. One UK official said “the mechanics of radicalisation” were broadly similar in all cases.
“Our studies on both jihadis and rightwingers, and also school shooters and such like, found very little difference in terms of … pathways. It’s like when your immune system is down. You can guess you’ll get sick, but what sickness you contract depends on what you are exposed to,” said Paul Gill, an expert in extremism at the University College London.
Though it is almost impossible to create a typical terrorist profile, some research shows that “seekers” who are looking for a particular form of “brotherhood” or cause that can give their lives meaning are particularly prone to radicalisation.
There is also evidence that a sudden destabilising event – or even a minor incident that has a powerful emotional impact – can make an individual vulnerable.
But ideology can be secondary to a “propensity for violence”.
“This guy [Arthur] has only changed the T-shirt [of] what his violence is about,” Gill said.
Arthurs also accused Russell, his surviving friend and a member of the army national guard, of visiting online neo-Nazi chat rooms, where he discussed killing people and bombing infrastructure, according to an FBI complaint.
Russell confirmed to police that he had neo-Nazi beliefs and said he was part of a group called AtomWaffen, according to the FBI complaint against him. But he said the explosive materials in his apartment been used for a university engineering club, according to the complaint.
AtomWaffen, according to a thread on the online fascist forum Iron March, claimed about 40 members across the country, and had gained publicity in the past year for posting racist and neo-Nazi recruitment posters on university campuses – a tactic common in recent months among several American extremist youth groups, including Identity Evropa and Vanguard America.
On Tuesday, Iron March posted a statement mourning Arthurs’ alleged victims, Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18, and offering support for Russell, who they said was being unfairly targeted by law enforcement and the media.
They described the attack as a “Muslim terror plot” and said Arthurs’ three friends were “completely innocent of any accusation that the group conducted or advocated, or planned for terrorist acts”.
Alyssa Himmelman, the sister of Jeremy, told the Associated Press her brother had been staying with a neo-Nazi because he needed a cheap place to live, not because he shared those beliefs.
Russell’s lawyer Ian Goldstein declined to answer specific questions about the case, but in an email said: “There is a large amount of misinformation being circulated about my client right now.”
Although neo-Nazis and Islamist militants may follow similar paths to extremism, studies have revealed significant differences in their behavior once radicalised.
Recent research has showed Islamic militant attackers are more likely to tell friends or family or other associates about their plans of violence: 71% of jihadis “leak” such information, compared with 53% of rightwing extremists.
Experts said that while there were obvious ideological elements that both neo-Nazi and radical Islamic extremism shared – such as a virulent antisemitism – there were also clear differences.
“If you are looking at racist extremists and religious extremists, one thing that is striking is that religions allow entry and exit from the group – through conversion or apostasy – but you can’t change what the extremists consider as your ‘race’. They offer competing absolute visions,” said JM Berger, author of Jihad Joe, a study of Islamic extremists in America. Berger has also studied rightwing militancy.
“If someone has a profound identity crisis, you can see how they might not find the certainty they are looking for with neo-Nazism and look to the Islamic State for something even more absolute,” Berger said.
Such cases are rare, but they do occur. Joseph Jeffrey Brice once idolized Timothy McVeigh – who killed 168 people with a truck bomb in Oklahoma City in 1995 and was “a self-declared, conservative, rightwing Christian”– but became interested in radical Islamic extremism after a homemade bomb nearly killed him in 2010.
He was later jailed for terrorist offences including sending detailed instructions for “open source” bombmaking to an undercover FBI agent who he thought was an Islamic militant.
In February, a 26-year-old suspected Islamic militant was arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning a terrorist act, storing “items and chemicals” for manufacturing explosives and spreading Isis propaganda online.
Local media reported that “Sascha L” supported a neo-Nazi group, called Muslims “cockroaches” and posted videos calling for attacks on immigrants in Germany before his conversion to Islam some time in 2014.
A disproportionately high number of militants involved in plots in the west have been converts. In the UK between 2001 and 2013, 12% of “homegrown jihadis” were converts, but less than 4% of the overall Muslim population were. Meanwhile, as many as 41% of US-born alleged militants are converts, while just 23% of the Muslim population as a whole are converts.
“With lone actors, they tend to jump around,” said Gill. “They are often looking for something to give their lives meaning. Many are converts [who are] looking for identity and answers.”