Fact check: Who are the terrorists?

Despite the still-flowing stream of scare-talk about refugees, the biggest threats to U.S. citizens come from other U.S. citizens. As Vox reported last year, “Regardless of the type of terrorist attack — jihadist or right-wing — the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks are committed by US-born citizens.” And, despite the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant focus of political rhetoric, the biggest threats today come from right-wing Christians, not from Muslims or immigrants. 

Politifact quotes Joel Day, assistant professor of security and global studies at the University of Massachusetts Lowell:

“Empirically, domestic terrorism is carried out by citizens — not immigrants — with right-wing terrorism, racial hate crimes, and the sovereign-citizen movement making up a majority of domestic terrorist incidents.”

Recent examples of right-wing terrorism include:

  • October 14, 2016 – Three members of “The Crusaders” militia are arrested in Kansas, where they planned to bomb a mosque and an apartment complex where lots of Somali immigrants live.
  • July 17, 2016 – Gavin Long, an anti-government militia member, ambushes and kills three Baton Rouge, Louisiana police officers.
  • November 27, 2015: Robert Dear opens fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and kills three people.
  • June 27, 2015 – Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, opens fire in a North Carolina church, killing nine black church members.

Reporting on terrorism is uneven, at best. As the Southern Poverty Law Center writes in its “Lone Wolf Report:”

“Analyzing terrorism comes fraught with pitfalls. There is no hard and fast agreement on what constitutes a terrorist action. What if the attack has a political dimension, but is carried out by someone who is clearly mentally ill? Is a rampage killing spree terrorism or simply an eruption of personal hatreds? Does the murder of three police officers responding to a domestic disturbance count, even if the killer does have a long history in the police-hating antigovernment movement?”

The U.S. government uses inconsistent definitions of terrorism:

• “Unlike other cabinet departments, which focus on attacks on civilians, the State Department includes attacks on “noncombatant targets,” which can include cafes and other facilities frequented by off-duty service personnel, as well as military installations that aren’t in the midst of military hostilities.

• “The FBI, unlike other agencies, addresses attacks against abortion clinics, medical research facilities and businesses accused of harming the environment. The FBI also explicitly considers private property damage to be terrorism if it’s motivated by ideology.

• “The Department of Homeland Security, echoing its mission, emphasizes “critical infrastructure” and focuses on “mass destruction.”

• “The Defense Department puts more emphasis on the threat as opposed to the actual act of violence, and it, unlike the others, specifically cites religious aims as a rationale.”

Attacks motivated by racism (Dylann Roof), anti-immigrant sentiment (“The Crusaders”), anti-government or “sovereign citizen” convictions (Gavin Long), or other right-wing causes have frequently been omitted from terrorism statistics, which tend to focus on “jihad” or any crimes committed by Muslims, especially immigrants.

Religion is not responsible for terrorism. Not all right-wing terrorists are Christians, and certainly not all Christians are either right-wing or terrorists. Do we really need to say that? No. Politicians are not attacking Christianity as a religion of terrorism. They are saying Islam encourages terrorism. That is just as wrong as it would be to say the same thing about Christianity. Just because someone claims that his terrorism is based on his religion – whether that religion is Christianity or Islam or anything else – does not make the religion responsible.

Immigrants are not responsible for terrorism. The politicians who warn that immigrants or refugees or Syrian refugees are likely to be terrorists are dead wrong. Even in the flawed terrorism statistics, which omit many right-wing attacks, some 80 percent of identified terrorists are U.S. citizens. The domestic threat, especially from the right, far outweighs any threat from immigrants. The libertarian Cato Institute analyzed the risk of terrorist attacks by immigrants:

“Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year.

And those Syrian refugees that Donald Trump and his ilk like to denounce?

“… the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year.”

Vox puts the numbers in perspective: you are more likely to die by having your clothing melt or catch on fire than you are to die from an immigrant terrorist attack.

With that in mind, maybe we ought to pass legislation mandating nudity.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fact check: Who are the terrorists?

  1. Pingback: Fact check: Trump, terror and refugees | News Day

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s