The year 2015 was remarkable for the proliferation of radical-right and jihadist conspiracies, terrorism and related violence in America — a situation so bad, in fact, that the Anti-Defamation League reported in December that more people were killed by political extremists last year than in any year since 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 people dead. What follows is a timeline of key events.
The year has hardly begun when two Islamist gunmen burst into the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris that published what were deemed blasphemous cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. The pair murder 12 people, and five more are killed in related assaults in the next days, provoking an anti-terror march by 2 million people and 40 world leaders. Although the attack by Al Qaeda occurs in France, it stokes fears in America of Islamist violence.
On Valentine’s Day, FBI agents arrest Jonathan Leo Schrader, a West Virginia man who officials say regularly espoused “venomous antigovernment, anti-law enforcement rhetoric.” They find C-4, dynamite and other weapons he allegedly intended to use to attack a federal courthouse, a bank, and the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins. Schrader also allegedly planned to use a sniper rifle to shoot at first responders to the scenes of the explosions he plotted.
David Joseph Lenio is arrested in Montana after allegedly tweeting repeatedly about shooting up a school — “I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks” — and a rabbi. After being released from jail pending trial, Lenio, an anti-Semite who also accuses Jews of being behind 9/11, sends out a series of similar tweets, apparently violating the terms of his release. Lenio is vocally supported by Karl Gharst, a former leader of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations.
A longtime racist skinhead named Steven Snyder robs a bank in Wausaukee, Wis., murders a man as he hijacks a car a half hour later, and shoots to death a pursuing state trooper even as the trooper fatally shoots him. It is unclear what Snyder, who has a 20-year history of violence and onetime ties to the neo-Nazi National Alliance, may have been planning.
Authorities in St. Louis, Mo., arrest David Michael Hagler, seizing a stockpile of 20 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. They cite informants who describe Hagler as a “Rambo” character who was living “off the grid” and plotting “mass attacks on [police] officers at funerals or fundraisers.” Four months later, they accuse Hagler of a bizarre plot to kill police, then glue a gun to a black man’s hand and shout “gun,” leading officers to kill the man. The informants describe Hagler as filled with hate for the government, law enforcement, Muslims and African Americans, whose protests in nearby Ferguson infuriated him.
Three alleged members of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who are current or former employees of the Florida Department of Corrections are arrested in a plot to murder a black former inmate. Thomas Jordan Driver, David Elliot Moran and Charles Thomas Newcomb, who all worked at one time at the department’s Lake Butler intake facility, are charged with conspiracy.
Robert Doggart, who in 2014 came in third in a race to represent the 4th Congressional District in Tennessee, is accused of plotting to use guns and fire to destroy a community of black Muslims in upstate New York. Officials say Doggart tried to recruit “patriots” to join him in the attack on Islamberg, near Hancock, N.Y., and also said he would use machetes to “cut them to shreds.” Doggart pleads guilty to communicating threats shortly after his arrest, but is indicted later on additional federal charges that could bring him 10 years in prison.
Militiamen and fellow travelers gather at the Bunkerville, Nev., ranch of Cliven Bundy. They are there to celebrate the fact that a year after their armed standoff with law enforcement, no one has been arrested or charged despite the promises of authorities and the fact that several of Bundy’s entourage pointed firearms at officials, a felony. The Bundys’ apparent imperviousness to arrest clearly fosters their willingness to engage in further antigovernment actions.
In Garland, Texas, anti-Muslim propagandist Pamela Geller holds a Muhammad cartoon contest, an obvious provocation that she bills as a “free speech” event. Two Arizona roommates, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, attempt to attack the gathering in the name of radical Islam, but are almost immediately killed by a police officer with a pistol despite their body armor and semi-automatic weapons.
In an attempt to start a “race war,” Dylann Roof murders nine black churchgoers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., after accusing African Americans of raping white women and trying to “take over.” The massacre provokes a major backlash against the Confederate battle flag, which Roof venerated, and that in turn fuels enormous rage and pro-flag rallies on the radical right.
Four U.S. Marines are killed by Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a naturalized U.S. citizen, in an Islamist attack on a military recruiting office and a naval facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. Abdulazeez is also killed. Members of the III Percenters, an antigovernment group, later insist on guarding a number of other recruiting centers with guns despite officials’ requests that they not do so.
Officials in Arizona arrest Parris Frazier, Robert Deatherage and Erik Foster, border vigilantes with the Arizona Special Operations Group, and charge them in an alleged plot to rip off drug cartels. The men allegedly planned to steal and sell cocaine. Frazier also is accused of agreeing to murder a rival.
John Russell Houser walks into a movie theater in Lafayette, La., shoots two people dead and wounds nine others before killing himself as police close in. Earlier, in posts to neo-Nazi and racist websites, Houser praised Adolf Hitler, Timothy McVeigh, David Duke and lone wolf attacks, although his motives in the shooting are not clear. He also showed a keen interest in anti-Semitism.
Three men in Gaston County, N.C., are arrested and accused of stockpiling weapons and making bombs in order to resist a military occupation. Walter Eugene Litteral, Christopher James Barker and Christopher Todd Campbell allegedly fear that a U.S. military exercise known as Jade Helm 15 is actually a plot to impose martial law, a widespread conspiracy theory on the far right.
Charles Smith of Baldwin Borough, Pa., pleads guilty to possessing an illegal destructive device. Police who raided his home in 2014 found 20 bombs and a podium and business cards that indicated he ran a “White Church” that met there regularly. An array of white supremacist literature was also found. A federal judge later sentences Smith to 7½ years in prison.
FBI agents arrest Shane Robert Smith of Whitehall, N.Y., for allegedly collecting an arsenal, including illegal machine guns and a silencer, to murder Jews and African Americans. Smith created the Facebook page NYND, which is said to stand for New York Nazi Division, and his interests, as listed on a Russian social media site, include “preserving my race … and destroying the government.”
Three Georgia militia members — Terry Eugene Peace, Brian Edward Cannon and Cory Robert Williamson — are sentenced to 12 years apiece for conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction. They hoped to attack power grids and water treatment facilities in a bid to start a war with the government, force it to impose martial law, and then bring in other militias to win the struggle.
In Olathe, Kan., long-time neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller is convicted of the murder of three people he mistakenly thought were Jewish at two Jewish institutions in Overland Park, Kan. Miller, who sieg-heiled the jury after he was convicted, is later sentenced to death, as he said he expected.
A Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Wash., is firebombed, the first major attack on such a facility since the Center for Medical Progress’ deceptive videos about the organization were released two months earlier. There were smaller arsons at abortion clinics in Aurora, Ill., and New Orleans on July 19 and Aug. 1.
Police in West Virginia arrest an antigovernment “sovereign citizen,” part of a movement of people who don’t believe most laws apply to them, and charge him with plotting to overthrow the state government and execute officials. Thomas David Deegan, who allegedly tried to recruit like-minded radicals to join him in a series of conference calls, thought rebellions in other states would soon follow.
The FBI arrests Robert C. Doyle and Ronald Beasley Chaney III in Virginia for attempting to buy guns and explosives from undercover agents that they allegedly intended to use to attack black churches and synagogues. The men, who investigators say are planning for “the coming race war,” are described as adherents of the Asatru neo-Pagan theology, which is popular among white supremacists.
Members of the Islamic State launch a series of coordinated attacks in Paris and its suburb Saint-Denis, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds more. While the massacre does not occur in the United States, it again raises the specter of mass-casualty terrorism against the West. Less than a month later, Donald Trump will falsely claim that a quarter of American Muslims support violent jihad.
An apparent white supremacist, one of several who have been infiltrating and filming protests of police shootings by Black Lives Matter members in Minneapolis, shoots and wounds five protesters after being chased into an alley. Police later charge Allen “Lance” Scarsella with five counts of second-degree assault and three of his associates with armed second-degree riot. A local prosecutor says there is “no doubt” that the shootings were “racially motivated.”
In Colorado Springs, Colo., Robert Lewis Dear Jr. allegedly rampages through a local Planned Parenthood clinic, using a semiautomatic gun to kill three people and wound nine others. Dear, who is described by an ex-wife as a longtime opponent of abortion, reportedly tells an arresting officer “no more baby parts,” making it clear he saw or knew about July’s anti-abortion videos.
An Islamist couple in San Bernardino, Calif., apparently inspired by the Islamic State, massacres 14 people at a work party before being shot to death themselves by police. In the weeks that follow, a frightening spate of anti-Muslim hate crimes, including attacks on mosques, sweeps the country in response to the killings.