On June 19th, the Concord Monitor ran an editorial claiming that “right wing” terror attacks are a greater danger to Americans than Islamist terrorist attacks. The editorial was inspired by a recent story in the New York Times making that claim.
According to the Times, “nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, … .”
The Monitor editorializes that it found the Times’ story not at all surprising, citing examples of what it considers “right wing” terrorism:
That shouldn’t be surprising. In the 1990s, Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured more than 600 in the Oklahoma City bombings. Ted Kaczynski killed three people and hurt 23 in a mail-bombing campaign that lasted from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Take the standoff between Plainfield tax protesters Ed and Elaine Brown and federal authorities in 2007. While the situation did not end violently, there were substantial risks that it could have. A decade before, Carl Drega killed four and wounded three in Colebrook. In 1993, John Albro killed two and wounded one at the Newbury town offices. He’d been fighting with the town over land.
While the Monitor reaches back to the 1990s for examples of “right-wing” terror, the start-date of the study relied upon by the Times was September 12, 2001, which as Megan McAardle of Bloomberg writes:
To those who would argue that the September 11, 2001 attacks are an anomaly that should be excluded from any comparison, McArdle responds:
The study relied upon by the Times also contends that police and sheriff departments nationwide by a large margin consider “anti-government violence” a greater threat than Islamist terrorism.
The Monitor mentions this survey, but then engages in a semantic sleight of hand. Anti-government violence becomes “right-wing ” terror. But as McArdle points out these are not the same thing:
I find it very hard to understand why these cases were included, except to pad out the count of “deadly right-wing attacks.” Presumably we are looking for political terror for a political purpose, not every violent crime by a Muslim or a right-winger. This means the acts must include some amount of premeditation, some intent to pursue an ideology, not a flash shootout precipitated by a completely unrelated event, like beating your wife or getting your utilities shut off. Restricting the count to attacks that seem to have had a political purpose, and an ideology that could be convincingly described as “right wing,” drops the tally of right-wing terror to 41 or less.
The same questions can be asked of the example of “right wing” terror cited by the Monitor. Did Drega have a political purpose? Was it a premeditated attempt to overthrow the government? To inspire similar acts of violence against the police?
Additionally, McArdle argues that the examples of Islamist terror are understated in the survey:
To be generous and round up the numbers for right-wing terror, I could argue for including the Gaxiola trio and Peake. However, once you start throwing in the gray cases on the right-wing side, shouldn’t we be similarly permissive on the Islamic terror side? In prison, one of the Beltway snipers penned rambling anti-American screeds in which the Baltimore Sun said that “the most recurring theme is that of jihad – or holy war – against America.” The Beltway snipers killed 10 people, which all by itself would bring the number of jihadist killings up to 36. Then the story becomes less “right-wing terror is much more dangerous than jihad” and more “Muslim terrorists have killed some people in the United States, and other kinds of ideological murderers have too.”