Saturday, February 25, 2012

Study Lists U.S. Hot Spots for Ethnonationalist Terrorism—New York, L.A., and ... Cairo, Illinois??

A recent study on “terrorist hot spots” in the United States lists seven counties where “ethno-nationalist/separatist” terrorism has been concentrated.  Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States, 1970 to 2008a report released Jan. 31st by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, and provided to the Department of Homeland Security, counts 267 such incidents in the 1970s, focused on the nation’s three largest cities, with 170 in ManhattanQueens, and Bronx counties (i.e. New York City); 44 in Los Angeles County; and 36 in Cook County, Illinois (which includes Chicago).  But there were also nine in Alexander County, Illinois (county seat: Cairo—that’s pronounced kay-ro), a rural patch of land in the state’s “Little Egypt” region near the Missouri and Kentucky borders, and eight in Alameda County, in the San Francisco Bay area (see table below).

Though the study does not list the exact incidents, the Alameda incidents probably relate to, or at least include, the 1974 kidnapping in Berkeley of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst by the fringe black-revolutionary Symbionese Liberation Army.

Patty Hearst in 1974, in front of the
Symbionese Liberation Army banner

In the 1980s, there were 38 incidents in Manhattan and sixteen in L.A. County.  In the ’90s there were two in Manhattan—that’s all—and none at all in the U.S. in the 2000s.

I am as yet unable to figure out what the heck was going on in and around Cairo, Illinois, in the ’70s that got counted as ethnonationalist or separatist terrorism.  There is not much to distinguish the area.  It is in an area of southern Illinois that is culturally rather Southern and is referred to locally as Little Egypt, partly because of a profusion of Egyptian place names in that part of the Mississippi River (extending as far south as, most famously, Memphis, Tennessee)—a toponymic pattern that is the product of nineteenth-century pioneers’ notion of classical erudition.

In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), Huck and Jim originally set out for Cairo on their raft, since Illinois was a free state, but they overshoot and end up in Arkansas, a slave state, by mistake—grimly ironic considering the town’s later reputation as a lynching capital, hardly a “safe haven” for African-Americans.  (It is not anything lynching-related that seems to be referred to in the terrorism study.  Right-wing (and left-wing) and religiously motivated and single-issue incidents are tabulated separately, and if racially motivated killings were counted as ethnonationalist terrorism in the study then the statistics would look a lot different.)

The screenwriter and humorist H. Allen Smith (author of Rhubarb), in 1947 published Lo, the Former Egyptian!, a memoir of his childhood in  McLeansburg, Illinois, in Little Egypt, and his main point seemed to be that hilariously little ever happened there.

Perhaps there was a Little Egyptian separatist movement.  If so, someone please tell me more about it.

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