The Real Terrorist Threat

The terrorism Americans fear most comes from abroad. Islamic radicals, starting with 9/11, have plotted and frequently succeeding in killing our citizens. Yet these legitimate concerns have been turned into hysteria by right wing politicians and their media outlets, who mindlessly denounce Syrian refugees and Sharia law. Evidence and law enforcement, however, show that they're ignoring the real domestic threat: the most deadly element locally does not follow the flag of ISIL or Al Qaeda, but often sports the Gadsden banner.

Thus, in a recent survey of 382 law enforcement agencies ranking security problems, 79 percent cited anti-government extremism, only 39 percent the version associated with Al Qaeda and like organizations. Asked to cite concerns they felt were "severe" 7 percent cited domestic anti-government movements, compared to only 3 percent for Muslim extremists, or less than half as much.

Figures bear out these concerns. For the period from 9/11 to the present nine American Muslims per year have attempted an average of six terrorism attempts against domestic targets. Most failed, but there has been a real toll: twenty succeeded, causing fifty casualties.

In the period from 2001 to 2012, however, rightwing domestic groups averaged 337 attacks every year, producing 254 fatalities, or almost thirteen times as many. This comes from a study by a professor at the U.S. Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center.

In reality, the fastest growing violent movements in this country are the networks of associations and individuals who reject government authority from the federal to the local level, and act on these concerns with violence, usually aimed at police and law officials, not at civilians. In Forsyth County GA a man associated with the sovereign citizens' movement attacked a courthouse, firing a semiautomatic rifle at police officers and masking his approach with smoke and tear gas canisters. Officers returned fire and killed him. In Nevada someone walked up to two officers in a restaurant and shot and killed them, then left a swastika and a "Don't Tread on Me" flag on their bodies. Police suspect local anti-government radicals. According to the Justice Department, since 2000 twenty-five officers have been killed by rightwing extremists who "fear that government will confiscate firearms" and believe "in the approaching collapse of government and the economy."

John Horgan, who specialized in terrorism research at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, summed up this realistic approach: "There's an acceptance now...that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown. And there's a belief that the threat of right-wing, anti-government violence has been underestimated."

This is accelerated by another tendency of the press, both liberal and conservative. If the perpetrator is non-Muslim, the focus is on mental illness; if he or she is Muslim, it is on ideology. Abdul Cader Asmal, a member of Muslims in Boston, observed, "With non-Muslims, the media bends over backward to identify some psychological traits that may have pushed them over the edge. Whereas if it's a Muslim, the assumption is that they must have done it because of their religion." The press, for example, has never investigated the influence of corrupt forms of Christianity on terrorism, only of corrupt forms of Islam.

There is no question that ISIS is a violent, despicable enemy. But based on hard evidence, on the number of dangerous and often lethal incidents, the real domestic terrorist threat both to civilians and especially police is not just Islamic and foreign, it is also home grown. We need to declaim and oppose all extremist, violent movements, no matter their origins.