America's Biggest Terror Threat Is Not Who You Think

June 24th 2015

Terror attacks from right-wing groups have killed twice as many Americans in the U.S. as Islamic terrorists have in the time since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a recent study.

Although the media more intensely reports on the prevalence of Islamic extremist terrorism, the truth is that radical anti-government groups or white supremacists were responsible for carrying out a majority of violent attacks in the past 14 years, according to a count from the Washington-based research organization New America.

The report outlines that since 2001, 26 people have died in the U.S. as a result of Islamic extremist violence, while right-wing attacks have killed 48 people, including the August 2012 Sikh temple shooting that left six people dead in Wisconsin after an ensconced neo-Nazi and white supremacist attacked the temple and committed suicide during the attack.

Much like the avowed white supremacist who shot and killed nine Black people inside a historic Black church last week, the study notes that white extremist terror attacks are outlined in online manifestos and in social media attacks, according to the New York Times.

To law enforcement, this fact is not a new one. Racial hatred and homegrown terrorism are ideological forms of violence by people who claim theories such as the "sovereign citizen" movement, which denies most written laws and has taken the lives of random civilians, racial or religious minorities, and police officers. The Southern Poverty Law Center defines the "sovereign citizen" movement as one rooted in racism and anti-Semitism and says it grew in the late 2000s. 

A different survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff's departments in the U.S. to rank the biggest threats to violent extremism in the areas they patrol, according to the New York Times. About 74 percent listed anti-government violence and 39 percent listed "Al Qaeda-inspired" violence, according to the researchers conducting the survey, Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University.

“Law enforcement agencies around the country have told us the threat from Muslim extremists is not as great as the threat from right-wing extremists,” said Dr. Kurzman, whose study is to be published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Police Executive Research Forum.

Scholars think there is an obvious mismatch between what the public is told and the reality of terrorism on U.S. soil.

“There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown,” Dr. John G. Horgan, who studies terrorism at the University of Massachusetts Lowell told The Times. “And there’s a belief that the threat of Right-wing, antigovernment violence has been underestimated."

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