HIGHTSTOWN – Hightstown High School social studies teacher Stuart Wexler has published his third book, and first solo book, on domestic terrorism in the U.S. and held a discussion on his research and writing methods, and what it takes to become a published author last Thursday night at the school library.
“I’m super proud tonight to see all these familiar and unfamiliar faces in the audience,” said Hightstown High School librarian Amy Gazaleh. “This is our first community event in quite some time since I’ve been here and we are so excited to be celebrating one of our own tonight.”
She said that Mr. Wexler would talk for a little bit, then it would be opened up to questions. “This becomes a little bit more of a discussion and less of a lecture,” she said.
Mr. Wexler’s newest book, “America’s Secret Jihad: The Hidden History of Religious Terrorism in the United States,” was released this August.
On Amazon it states that the book, is a “conventional narrative concerning religious terrorism inside the United States says that the first salvo occurred in 1993, with the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. This narrative has motivated more than a decade of wars, and re-prioritized America’s domestic security and law enforcement agenda. But the conventional narrative is wrong.”
According to the Amazon synopsis, a different group of jihadists exists within U.S. borders. This group has a long but hidden history, is outside the purview of public officials and has an agenda as apocalyptic as anything Al Qaeda has to offer
Radical sects of Christianity have inspired some of the most grotesque acts of violence in American history: the 1963 Birmingham Church bombing that killed four young girls; the “Mississippi Burning” murders of three civil rights workers in 1964; the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968; the Atlanta Child Murders in the late 1970s; and the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.
“America’s Secret Jihad” uses these crimes to tell a story that has not been told before, according to the website.
Expanding upon the author’s groundbreaking work on the Martin Luther King, Jr. murder, and through the use of extensive documentation, never-before-released interviews, and a re-interpretation of major events, “America’s Secret Jihad” paints a picture of Christian extremism and domestic terrorism as it has never before been portrayed, according to the website.
Hightstown High School Principal Dennis Vinson took a few minutes to provide a biography and some of Mr. Wexler’s accomplishments. Mr. Wexler graduated from Tulane University with a degree in history and earned a master’s degree in political science from Rutgers University. In 2010, Mr. Wexler won the James Madison Teachers’ Fellowship.
Mr. Wexler is also the author of “Shadow Warfare,” “The Awful Grace of God,” and available exclusively as an ebook, “Killing King.”
“Stu is considered one of the top investigative researchers in domestic terrorism and radical religious activity,” said Mr. Vinson.
“America’s Secret Jihad” is Mr. Wexler’s third book and the first one as a solo author, said Mr. Vinson, adding his most recent book is included in 310 libraries around the world after only three months in publication.
Mr. Vinson added the school district is fortunate to have Mr. Wexler as part of its teaching staff and as a role model for students.
“The one last thing that I think I am most proud of about Stu is he is a Hightstown grad,” said Mr. Vinson.
Mr. Wexler said he very much appreciated the kind words.
“I probably wouldn’t be writing this book or any book if it wasn’t not just for Hightstown, but the district,” he said. “The historical nerdiness, that’s my parents, they noursished that from a very young age.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group (his department staff) to work with,” he said. “As a department we are almost like a team, a sports team. We all reinforce what each other does and they all very much encourage what I do.”
Mr. Wexler said that he has had the English Department teachers look at everything from the cover to the jacket blurbs.
“This summer Katie Cubano edited just on the fly two articles I wrote for Newsweek and for Daily Beast,” he said.
He said he divided up the chapters among the students on the bus during a field trip to Washington, D.C. to help in during the final edit.
“I said to each of them if you get it back to me I will acknowledge you in my book,” he said. “They actually caught some things that the copy editor missed.”
Mr. Wexler said he didn’t start out as a teacher, he started out as a history major that went into something completely unrelated to history.
“After 9/11, it became really important for me to try and do something and I felt that teaching was about a noble of a profession that you could go into,” he said. “I very much wanted to do it here as a way of trying to give back everything that they gave to me.”
He talked about how the title of the book came about.
“You just throw like eight titles at the publisher and they just try and figure out which one is the one that’s going to sell the best,” he said. “But if I had to do it again I might not choose that same title, only because it’s not really about Islamic terrorism. It’s about domestic, I want to say perversions, of Christianity terrorism.”
He said some call it “Christian Identity.”
“The argument is that people who really know about domestic terrorism know that there was religious terrorism in the United States, again the Christian Identity version, in the 1980s,” he said.
He said the current book that he did on his own was an outgrowth of his first book.
“There is a history of terrorism in the United States that nobody really knows about and that’s very important for us to actually engage and try and understand,” he said.
Mr. Wexler talked about Kathy Ainsworth, who was a teacher by day and a member of the KKK by night.
“She is a religious terrorist,” he said. “She is one of the first, I would argue, that the country has ever had that nobody knows about.”
He said Wesley Swift is sort of the godfather of the movement called “Christian Identity Movement.”
“He was at a seminary with three or four other guys who were studying theology,” he said. “They rewrote the Bible in a way the justified very dangerous acts of terrorism and the principal way they did that by rewriting the book of Genesis.”
He said they rewrote the entire rest of the Bible and the most important part, the Book of Revelations.
“Where the end times, the end of the world, the judgment, isn’t the kind of thing you would see in books, like the idea that there would be a big cosmic war of Armageddon of Palestine and that Jesus would come and there would be paradise on earth,” he said. “In their version, with the Book of Genesis rewritten, the end of times is a race war and in this case Jesus will come and ethically cleanse the world of Jews and the world of color leaving it for the white Europeans to live in paradise.”
He said where that connects to terrorism in the 1950s and really in the1960s onwards is you get a group of people who are determined to make that happen.
“They are still determined to make that happen to this day and they do it by inflaming people against each other,” he said.
Mr. Wexler said his book is essentially a case study of a lot of events that people would be familiar with.
“Many different instances where groups like this who didn’t make their agenda known we’re trying to put fuel on the fire over and over again to try and create that race war,” he said. “So that’s sort of where my book is. If you are interested in how groups like this entangled themselves in some of the events that you would know a lot about, many of you may not know the full story. That’s where I go. At the end, my basic point is any religion can be perverted.” He said if you want to understand ISIS, understand that its interpretation of the Koran is that we are in the end times now.
“That changes the entire dynamic of what they are willing to do and why they are doing it,” he said. “I’m pretty scared about the present moment in history.”
The floor was opened up to the audience and Mr. Wexler took questions for about 50 minutes.
An audience member asked how would he respond to someone who calls his work conspiracy theory.
“I take this in a few ways,” Mr. Wexler said. “My first thought is to say that the book doesn’t argue for any kind of institutional conspiracy. It’s not arguing that the United States government for instance killed Martin Luther King. It’s actually quite the opposite it, it is arguing against that.”
He said it is two or more people collaborating on crime.
“Paris was a conspiracy,” he said. “Terrorism by its nature encourages conspiracies. They’re conspiratorial acts. Organized crime in a different way.”
Another audience member asked if he thinks the FBI infiltrates or tries to monitor these groups they way did the Ku Klux Klan.
“Infiltration is absolutely the key to why we haven’t had more attacks by these folks,” he said.
Principal Vinson asked Mr. Wexler about his research methods. “Do you go to a library or do actually go to the locations?” he said.
Mr. Wexler said he does a lot of both.
“The availability of documents online in full searchable format is unbelievable,” he said. “Online I start searching through documents and that’s a big part of it. In many cases, I have a co-author and we are research partners, so one of us might start looking at secondary sources.
Mr. Wexler said he oftentimes tries to find witnesses to corroborate and newspaper articles to corroborate his research findings. He said you always want to try and get at least two sources to corroborate something.
An audience member asked him what inspired him to write this book.
“My co-author and I became good friends because we both researched the Kennedy assassination,” he said. “He wanted to do some research into the Robert Kennedy assassination and we found a website that offers a theory that Kathy Ainsworth and Tommy Tarrants killed Bobby Kennedy.”
But they could find no proof for that, he said.
“We started digging into Tommy Tarrants and that’s when I fouond a quote where he says he got a rifle to kill Martin Luther King, Jr. two weeks before Martin Luther King is assassinated and suddenly our antenna goes up,” he said.
He said that became the focus of the research from that point forward.
“That’s what got us interested in King and then King opened me up to Kathy Ainsworth to all of these other events that connect to the Christian Identity Movement and I take it to America’s Secret Jihad,” he said.
The same audience member asked what Mr. Wexler hoped to achieve in writing this book.
“A lot of things,” he said. “My AP government class right now is trying to get a law passed and the law would create an independent review board that would look at the FBI’s files and decide whether or not it could release more documents than the FBI says they can release.”