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NMSU criminal justice professor predicts more small-scale terrorism in U.S

Lost souls searching for direction in a confusing world can easily be swayed by the rhetoric of charismatic, persuasive preachers and churches. This becomes a problem when teachings and preachings lead to beatings and bombings, said Keith Akins, an assistant professor of criminal justice at New Mexico State University.

Dr. Keith Akins, assistant professor, criminal justice. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"If the basis of the church's message is that everyone who is not a member of our group is evil, then somebody will eventually try to purify that evil," he said.

Akins will expound upon these thoughts when he discusses "Religious Justification for Violence in America" at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, in Room 107 of the Science Hall. It's the sixth and final discussion in the College of Arts and Sciences' semester-long colloquia on "Rethinking Terrorism."

He said terrorist acts in the U.S. by such groups as the Aryan Nation and White Aryan Resistance will decline, but terrorism on a smaller scale will increase, partly because of the rise of religious nationalism. This resurgence can be traced partially to the upheaval of community roots and social support networks over the last several decades as the nation's economy changed. Uncertainty over national and individual economic futures, corporate greed, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and long, drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are only a few of many events or trends that have left Americans confused, suffering, fearful, anxious or lost. When people feel this way, many of them reach out for established traditional values, finding them in religion, Akins said.

"People are turning away from huge megachurches and heading toward small, comfortable churches where they know people and have a sense of belonging and friendship," Akins said. "But some small churches can become extremist because they don't have the historic structure or hierarchical control over them that can be found in more established churches."

Without oversight, rhetoric espoused by such groups as the Christian Identity Movement, Creativity Movement and Odinist religions, whose members worship Odin, Thor and other Viking gods, is not controlled. These groups and others give their followers a sense of direction while simultaneously and subtly striking out against historic civil rights advancements, Akins said.

"The white, Protestant male has had a very privileged place in this society for a long time and nobody likes to give up privilege," he said. "A lot of people see society as a zero-sum situation where if somebody else is getting opportunity, they're taking opportunity away from me or my children. As people fail to understand history and the way government works, it's very easy to fall prey to a conspiracy theory outlook, one that gives simple, clear and easy to understand answers to very complex, scary questions."

Furthermore, today's technology makes it easy to spread and receive the gospel of hatred.

"You don't have to go to a camp in Pakistan or live in a compound in Idaho; you just have to get online," he said. "With the Internet and breakdown of faith in government and government structures, anybody with access to a computer can make up a shopping list, buy the ingredients, and go home and make a bomb."

So is there a point at which religious freedom crosses a line?

"Freud argued eloquently that insanity and religious belief are the same thing, but I don't think it's our place to draw a line between the two," Akins said. "In this country, what sets us apart from the Taliban or Iran is that, if you want to worship a goat here, you're free to worship a goat. To me, the issue is how far should you be able to take your belief into action?"