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Countering Propaganda

"Right-Wing" vs Islamic Terrorists

Debunking the 2015 New America Study and the myth
that America's 'Right-Wing' is a greater threat than Islam

by Glen Roberts, Editor TROP
July 19th, 2015


Shortly after a racist walked into a Charleston church and gunned down nine innocent people in June, a group called "The New America Foundation" released a study appearing to show that "right-wing" terrorists have killed more people in the United States than "Jihadists" since 9/11. The count, according to New America, is (or was) Jihadists: 26; Right-Wingers: 48.  A few weeks later, a Muslim supremacist murdered five US servicemen in Chattanooga - presumably changing the count to 31 and 48, respectively.

This has been broadly interpreted in the media to mean either that "right-wing" ideology is more dangerous than Islamism, or that "right-wingers" (or conservatives, or "white Americans" as several headlines put it) are more dangerous than Muslim extremists in America. 

The obvious problem with the study is that it does not include the largest terror attack on American soil, which occurred on September 11, 2001. If the count began one day earlier, then it would be 3027 to 48 and any question as to which is the larger threat would be laughable. In other words, ignoring reality can lead to different conclusions than when reality is taken into account.

But it isn't just the body count from 9/11 that throws off an accurate comparison.  Because of that attack, counter-terrorism in the United States has focused disproportionately on the Muslim fringe rather than the "right-wing."  Theoretically, this means that it is harder for an Islamic radical to commit a deadly attack than someone else. In fact, the same study shows that significantly more Muslim than non-Muslim terrorists have been charged and jailed with plotting terror in the US since 9/11. Fewer terrorists free to commit attacks means fewer attacks, which distorts a results-based comparison of dead bodies.

Another problem with the study is that it doesn’t define the pool of potential terrorists, which would make it more meaningful.  Muslims make up less than 1% of America, of which only about 25% believe in violence. How is the other side defined, given that over 98% of the population is non-Muslim?

The smallest definable group of "right-wingers" (fortunately) seem to be racists. A somewhat disturbing 2013 poll showed that as many as 13% of Americans do not approve of interracial marriage.  But some of the attacks on New America’s "right-wing" side of the list (such as the 2010 Austin, TX plane incident and 2014 Bloomberg Grove Police shooting) have nothing do with race. 

The number of Americans holding "anti-government" views is much larger and encompass both sides of the political spectrum. A Pew poll found that 56% of citizens believe their taxes are too high (odd, since 51% pay no income tax). Even 31% of Democrats have an unfavorable view of the IRS. 30% of Americans also say they are "angry" with the government (while another 55% are "frustrated").

Regardless of how it is defined, the pool of "right-wingers" or those holding anti-government views in the United States is certainly many times greater than even the total number of Muslims, meaning that if only 50% more people are killed by "right-wingers", it actually proves that they are the more peaceful of the two groups.

Some news outlets, such as MSNBC, use the phrase "greater threat" to obfuscate the findings and make it appear as if conservative or anti-government views are more dangerous than Islamic teachings.  By this they mean that you are more likely to be killed by a "right-winger" than a Muslim (even if the Muslim is statistically more likely to kill you). This reporting may be technically correct, according to the study, but it is like saying that childbirth is a bigger threat than Ebola.

Contrary to the way it is being presented in the media, the study is not an apples-to-apples comparison between the Islamic and anti-government (or racist) ideologies. A closer look at the "methodology" page shows that New America applies different standards to the Jihadi and non-Jihadi groups, making it seem as if more bodies are produced by the latter.

While there are legitimate acts of terror on the "right-wing" side of the board, including shootings by violent racists, a killer need only be suspected of holding "anti-government" views to be included on the list. Sometimes a motive was not expressed, as in the 2014 Tallahassee Police ambush. Sometimes the act of "terror" was not even a planned attack, such as the 2009 Pittsburgh Police shooting in which a paranoid man opened fire on officers who were responding to a domestic disturbance at the house.

By contrast, New America stringently restricts the Jihad side of the scorecard to attacks "inspired by or associated with Al Qaeda and its affiliated groups."   Inspiration from the Quran or even other Islamist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, doesn’t count (at least for New America).

This arbitrarily excludes the 17 victims of the 2002 "Beltway Sniper" spree, despite evidence of a religious motive based on numerous Quran verses and references to Allah and Jihad. In fact, if these victims were included (along with those from Chattanooga) the number of Islamic victims would equal exactly the number of purported "right-wing" victims, at 48.

Also excluded from the comparison are the 2012 killing of two Christians in Houston by a conservative Muslim family angered over their daughter's choice to leave Islam, the 2013 shooting of a pastor at an Ohio church by a convert who said it was the "will of Allah", the 2014 murder of two lesbians in Texas by the father of one (who left the Quran open to the page supplying his motive) and the numerous women and girls in America who have been shot, stabbed, strangled and driven over by conservative family members insisting that it is their religious duty to restore "honor".

So the survey is not demonstrating, as MSNBC mistakenly puts it, that "nearly twice as many Americans have been killed by right-wing radicals than by Muslim extremists" since not all killings by Muslim extremists are included.  If that were the case then the total would be much higher than those of so-called "right-wing" extremists – even ignoring 9/11.

Perhaps the only meaningful point to the New America study is just how unlikely an American is to be the victim of any terror attack.  However, when the true number of terrorists are considered against the size of the pools from which they are drawn, Islam is by far the deadliest ideology in the United States - as it currently is in the rest of the world. 

[Update June 14, 2016: The June, 2016 massacre of 49 innocents at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida obviously puts to rest any statistical argument that the "right-wing" in America is a greater threat than Islamic terror.]

Further Reading

Another article making similar points can be found here
See also: No, You're Not More Likely to be Killed by a Right-Wing Extremist from 2017

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