Biggest U.S. terror threats from right wing, not Islam

People like Dylann Roof are part of a growing right-wing terror threat.

People like Dylann Roof are part of a growing right-wing terror threat.

A new study confirms what many U.S. police officers already know: There are more killings in this country by white supremacists and other right-wing extremists than by Muslim terrorists.

According to the latest data in the study from the New America Foundation, right-wing extremists have killed 48 people in the United States since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, compared with 26 fatalities by Islamic terrorists in the U.S. over the same period. The killing of nine people while they were at prayer in a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., is just the latest incident. Don’t forget that admitted shooter and admitted white supremacist Dylann Roof said he wanted to start a race war.

The largest attack tied to Islamic terrorism was the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people, mostly troops, were killed by a Muslim Army psychiatrist. The killings by home-grown terrorists, on the other hand, span the nation, from Las Vegas in 2014 (three killed by two white supremacists, including two policemen) to Milwaukee in 2012 (six killed at a Sikh Temple by a neo-Nazi) to Knoxville, Tenn., in 2008 (two killed in a church service by a man who admitted that he hated “liberals and gays” and who got the idea for this shooting from a right-wing author’s book, 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America).

Too many Americans — especially those on the right — imagine an attack by Islamic jihadists or a “lone-wolf” attack by a member of the Islamic State when they think of a terrorist attack. Yet the nation’s police know better.

Two professors, Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University, conducted a survey with 382 law enforcement agencies through the Police Executive Research Forum to measure what police saw as the greatest threats. While their study is about to be published officially, the two wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times that gave a clear picture.

According to the survey, law enforcement agencies reported that they were more concerned about the activities of right-wing extremist groups (74 percent) than Islamic extremists (39 percent) in their jurisdictions. This concern comes from the “menacing” rhetoric used by some of these domestic groups. Police are training officers to take caution when they see signs of potentially violent people and to recognize signs of anti-government extremism.

“An officer from a large metropolitan area said that ‘militias, neo-Nazis and sovereign citizens’ are the biggest threat we face in regard to extremism,” the op-ed says.

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the same thing when he reminded people — correctly — that the shooting of nine people in the South Carolina church was a “wake-up call” about domestic terrorism.

In a story in The Hill, Holder said the U.S. has not focused enough on terrorism “in our midst to the degree we need.”

“What happened in Charleston has really touched the nerve of this nation in a way that few other incidents have,” he said in the Hill story. “Things large and small — everything from the questioning about the Confederate flag, the focus on these domestic hate groups — all of this stuff is going to be something that is going to have an impact long term on the nation.”

The Justice Dept.’s Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, first started after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, went dormant after the 9/11 attacks, when the focus turned to al Qaeda and other Muslim extremists. Republicans in Congress were critical when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issued a threat assessment report about right-wing radicals in 2009, and she was forced to backtrack. Holder finally resurrected the Justice Domestic Terrorism group in 2014.

But there’s no need to pick and choose; threats can come from all corners. This is not meant to downplay terrorist threats, no matter where they come from. “It should not be seen as an either/or,” Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project and an expert on extremism, told NBC News in 2014.

Yet the domestic numbers are much higher. The SPLC website lists “more than 100 domestic terror plots, conspiracies, and rampages” since Oklahoma City, the NBC news story says. The SPLC publishes what it calls a hate map with groups across the country — 784 in all.

Other research shows even higher numbers of fatalities tied to terrorism. But whatever the current definitions, it’s nothing new to people of color in the U.S.

In a story on Huffington Post, David Pilgrim, the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan, said the actions of ISIS and other extremist groups are “familiar — no better, no worse — than the historic stateside violence against African-Americans.”

“There’s nothing you’re going to see today that’s not going to have already occurred in the U.S.,” he said, speaking of people in the United States “who were lynched in this country; who had their homes bombed in this country; who were victims of race riots.”

Remember that next time you see a “Muslim terrorist” headline.


1 Comments on “Biggest U.S. terror threats from right wing, not Islam”

  1. Excellent analysis and effective context. The most serious threats, whether from terrorism or to our civil liberties, are internally based, not externally. Unfortunately, this point is repeatedly missed by the mainstream media.

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