A new Washington Post “analysis” of domestic terrorism argues that attacks from white supremacists and other “far-right attackers” have been on the rise since Barack Obama’s presidency, and “surged since President [Donald] Trump took office.” It’s a familiar storyline meant to assure liberals that, yes, Trump-motivated right-wing terrorists are running wild. There are, however, a few problems with this narrative.
The numbers hardly warrant the use of the word “surge” — meaning a sudden, powerful forward or upward movement. There’s no evidence of a “surge” either in historical context and it appears more the Post is bolstering its own findings to push preconceived partisan notions about the state of the nation.
Or, in other words, fewer homicides were committed by political terrorists of any stripe in the United States in 2017 than were committed by illegal immigrants in the state of Texas alone–not that we should worry about that, right?
Then again, even if we use the criteria offered by GTD, we need to be exceptionally generous to even get to 36 incidents of right-wing violence in 2017 (it seems more like around 30?).
Part of the problem is how events are categorized. The Las Vegas shooter’s motivations are still unknown, yet the CTD had no problem categorizing the murderer of 59 people as an “anti-government extremist.”
You need these kinds of assumptions to create the narrative of a “surge” in right-wing terrorism.
In some cases, the perpetrators are only “suspected” of being right-wing terrorists. Some of these incidents could have been the work of one person, as in the pellet-gun shootings of Muslims in New York. In other incidents, we are asked to treat patently insane people as if they have coherent political agendas. In still others, the attacks could easily have non-terroristic motivating factors.
In San Juan, Puerto Rico — apparently a hotbed of white supremacy — an incendiary device was thrown into a gay night club. No one was injured,and no one was caught and no one claimed responsibility for the act. The episode doesn’t even earn a “suspected” designation from GTD. And the Washington Post almost surely added this to its right-wing terror stats.
If the definition of domestic terrorism is muddy at best, the definition of “right-wing” terrorism is often arbitrary. To help bolster right-wing terrorist stats, for instance, we would have to include every anti-Semitic act. The Washington Post even mentions an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) study showing “a 57 percent surge in anti-Semitic incidents in 2017.”
If anything, the ADL study is the kind of cautionary document demonstrating how difficult it is, not only to quantify these incidents, but to categorize them ideologically. The ADL’s faulty data was self-reported, and most of the “surge” can be attributed to a single Jewish teen in Israel calling in a number of bomb threats to Jewish centers.
In the real world, a Jewish American is probably more likely to encounter anti-Semitism at a college campus or progressive march in the guise of “anti-Zionism” than he is anywhere else, because Jew hatred is non-partisan.
Then there is the matter of inconsistently defining terrorism. If throwing a rock through the window of an Islamic center is an act of right-wing terrorism, why isn’t it an act of left-wing terrorism for anti-capitalists to throw rocks through the window of a business in Portland? Surely both fall under the description of terror, which is “the threatened or actual use of violence by nonstate actors seeking to attain political, economic, religious or social goals through fear or intimidation.” Oddly, only one of these genres makes the cut at GTD.
According to their own data, the Post shows that there were more fatalities due to domestic Islamist terrorism than to all other types combined over the past three years. In 2017, there were 16 fatalities due to Islamic extremism. Fatalities from Islamic terrorism in 2016 — which includes 49 killed in a gay Orlando nightclub by an ISIS-inspired jihadi — and 2015 were higher than all alleged right-wing terror attacks. There’s just as strong a case to be made that there has been a “surge” in Islamic terrorism in the United States since Donald Trump ran for president.
Then again, none of the three authors of the article take the time to mention a single one of those Islamic attacks. So while we learn that Trump is being blamed for a pipe bomb being thrown “yards” away from an Islamic enter by the “White Rabbit 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia,” we read nothing about the man who pledged his allegiance to ISIS before killing eight people on the West Side Highway in Manhattan.
So it goes.