The Numbers Don’t Lie: White Far-Right Terrorists Pose a Clear Danger to Us All
O SEAN DUFFY, where art thou?
Back in February, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin told CNN’s Alysyn Camerota that white terrorists of the far-right variety did not pose the same level of danger to Americans as so-called “Islamist” or “jihadist” terrorists. Why? “I don’t know, but I would just tell you there’s a difference,” proclaimed Duffy, who went on to dismiss as a “one-off” the attack on a mosque in Quebec by a Trump-supporting white nationalist, in which six Muslim worshippers were killed.
One-off? Seriously? Has Duffy been reading the news in recent days? On May 20, Richard Collins III, a black, 23-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant, was murdered while visiting the University of Maryland by a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” According to University of Maryland police chief David Mitchell, the group promotes “despicable” prejudice against minorities “and especially African-Americans.”
Canadian security forces patrol after a fatal shooting in the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec in Quebec City on Jan. 29, 2017.vvPhoto: Renaud Philippe/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
On May 26, 53-year-old U.S. Army veteran Rick Best and 23-year-old recent university graduate Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were murdered, while 21-year-old poet Micah David-Cole Fletcher was severely injured, by a knife-wielding white supremacist when the three of them tried to prevent him from harassing a Muslim woman in a headscarf on their commuter train in Portland, Oregon.
Why isn’t Duffy back on CNN decrying the threat posed by such vile domestic terrorists? Why aren’t the Republican political and media establishments loudly alerting voters to the white-skinned far-right menace in their midst?
Can you imagine the tweetstorm from President Donald Trump if two U.S. soldiers — one serving, one a veteran — had been killed on U.S. soil by Islamist terrorists in the space of a single week? Can you imagine the rolling coverage on Fox News if it had been a ranting Muslim man who had slashed the throats of three Good Samaritans trying to protect two women on a train in Portland?
For far too long, those of us who have warned of the threat from far-right, white supremacist terrorists have been accused of trying to shift attention away from the threat of ISIS and Al Qaeda — of acting as Muslim apologists.
For far too long, a veritable industry of politicians, pundits, and self-styled security “experts” have strived to minimize the domestic terror threat from far-right groups while inflating the threat from foreign jihadists.
Compare and contrast: Islamist terrorists are depicted as wild-eyed fanatics driven to kill by their religious faith or ideology, while far-right terrorists — be it the shooter of two Hindus in a bar in Kansas in February, or the killer of nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, or the murderer of six Sikh worshippers in a temple in Duffy’s own state of Wisconsin in 2012 — are almost always “mentally ill.” After the recent double murder in Oregon, it didn’t take long for Portland police spokesperson Pete Simpson to announce: “We don’t know if [the suspect] has mental health issues.” (Isn’t it weird how we Muslims seem somehow immune to “mental health issues”? Mashallah.)
Alana Simmons leaves a message on a board in front of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after a mass shooting at the church left nine people dead, on June 22, 2015. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Today, the terror threat from far-right white supremacists is the terror threat that dare not speak its name. Leading conservatives, and even some liberals, are keen to downplay the danger that they pose and to divert and deflect attention away from homegrown white extremists and toward what President Trump likes to call “radical Islamic terrorism.”
Yet the numbers don’t lie — even if the Islamophobes do. “Since September 12, 2001,” noted a recent report prepared for Congress by the Government Accountability Office, “the number of fatalities caused by domestic violent extremists has ranged from 1 to 49 in a given year. … Fatalities resulting from attacks by far-right wing violent extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years, and were the same in 3 of the years since September 12, 2001.” Imagine that.
The report continues: “Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far-right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent).” That’s a margin of almost three to one.
The report points out that “the total number of fatalities is about the same for far-right wing violent extremists and radical Islamist violent extremists over the approximately 15-year period,” with the latter edging out the former by 119 to 106. However, the report also acknowledges that “41 percent of the deaths attributable to radical Islamist violent extremists occurred in a single event — an attack at an Orlando, Florida night club in 2016.”
Islamist terrorists, it seems, are more deadly in terms of the number of people killed in each of their attacks, yet far-right terrorists are far more active in carrying out attacks on U.S. soil. A plethora of reports and studies — from the New America Foundation to the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point — have backed the GAO on this point. One group of researchers even found that “compared to Islamist extremists, far-right extremists were significantly more likely to … have a higher level of commitment to their ideology.”
Meanwhile, U.S. law enforcement agencies, according to a survey carried out by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, “consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.”
Forget Congressman Duffy: These agencies won’t get much sympathy from their new Republican president either. As Reuters reported in early February, less than two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, the White House expressed a desire to “revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism … and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.”
The news was met with glee in far-right circles. “Donald Trump,” wrote Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, “is setting us free.”
Why would a president who has repeatedly retweeted white supremacist Twitter accounts such as WhiteGenocideTM, appointed a white nationalist to be one of his delegates in California, accepted campaign donations from white nationalist leaders, picked a white nationalist as his chief strategist in the White House, and been officially endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan want to turn a blind eye to the domestic terror threat from white supremacists and nationalists and put American lives in danger?
I couldn’t possibly imagine.
The U.S. government has prosecuted 802 people for terrorism since the 9/11 attacks. Most of them never even got close to committing an act of violence.
The U.S. government segregates terrorism cases into two categories — domestic and international. This database contains cases classified as international terrorism, though many of the people charged never left the United States or communicated with anyone outside the country.
Since the 9/11 attacks, most of the 802 terrorism defendants prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice have been charged with material support for terrorism, criminal conspiracy, immigration violations, or making false statements — vague, nonviolent offenses that give prosecutors wide latitude for scoring quick convictions or plea bargains. 523 defendants have pleaded guilty to charges, while the courts found 175 guilty at trial. Just 2 have been acquitted and 3 have seen their charges dropped or dismissed, giving the Justice Department a near-perfect record of conviction in terrorism cases.
Today, 350 people charged with terrorism-related offenses are in custody in the United States, including 61 defendants who are awaiting trial and remain innocent until proven guilty.
Very few terrorism defendants had the means or opportunity to commit an act of violence. The majority had no direct connection to terrorist organizations. Many were caught up in FBI stings, in which an informant or undercover agent posed as a member of a terrorist organization. The U.S. government nevertheless defines such cases as international terrorism.
416 terrorism defendants have been released from custody, often with no provision for supervision or ongoing surveillance, suggesting that the government does not regard them as imminent threats to the homeland.
A large proportion of the defendants who did have direct connections to terrorist groups were recruited as informants or cooperating witnesses and served little or no time in prison. At present, there have been 32 such cooperators. By contrast, many of the 296 defendants caught up in FBI stings have received decades in prison because they had no information or testimony to trade. They simply didn’t know any terrorists.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 by Trevor Aaronson
Trial and Terror Part 5: The U.S. Has Released 417 Alleged Terrorists Since 9/11. The Latest Owned an Islamic Bookstore. (5/30/17)
Abdulrahman Farhane maintained that he was not involved in terrorism, but he pleaded guilty to the charges to avoid a longer prison sentence.
Trial and Terror Part 4: The Government’s Own Data Shows Country of Origin Is a Poor Predictor of Terrorist Threat (4/20/17)
Jeff Sessions has worked since at least 2015 to build a case for limiting Muslim immigration. His evidence is ambiguous at best.
Trial and Terror Part 3: FBI Stings Zero In on ISIS Sympathizers. Few Have Terrorist Links. (4/20/17)
Alexander Ciccolo professed support for ISIS, but it’s unclear whether he would have posed a threat had the FBI not provided weapons and encouragement.Trevor
Trial and Terror Part 2: Terrorism Defendants With Concrete Ties to Violent Extremists Leverage Their Connections to Avoid Prison (4/20/17)
The case of Earnest James Ujaama, a prolific cooperating witness, illustrates the irony of a system that grants leniency to those with information to trade. (4/20/17)
Trial and Terror Part 1: More Than 400 People Convicted of Terrorism in the U.S. Have Been Released Since 9/11 (4/20/17)
In the Liberty City Seven terror case, a group of street hustlers working a scam fell victim to an FBI informant posing as an agent of Al Qaeda.