“The domestic radical right has killed more people than radical Islam since 9/11 in the United States, without a doubt.” Those are the words of Ryan Lenz, principal writer of a Southern Poverty Law Center study of violent “terrorist” attacks that occurred in the U.S. between 2009 and 2015. In a classic example of confusing ideologues with facts, the SPLC study found that while US security officials were focused exclusively on protecting against foreign organizations of Islamic extremists, Americans were steadily being picked off by home-grown, Christian lone wolves.
Here are the confusing facts that the SPLC winnowed from the facts of the cases:
- The total number of “terrorist” attacks in the six-year period: 63, or on average, one every 34 days. (That is precisely the frequency of school shootings in the U.S. since Sandy Hook in 2012, according to a CNN analysis.)
- Three quarters of the attacks were conducted by a single individual operating entirely alone. Another 15 per cent were carried out by two people. That leaves 10 per cent that involved some kind of organization.
- Half of the attackers expressed venomous anti-government sentiments, and were members of the so-called “patriot” movement of Christian libertarians (although the clubs, militias, Klans or whatever were not involved with the attacks).
- The other half of the attackers comprised haters — of women, of abortion, of non-white people and of non-Muslims.
- Most of the attacks (59%) involved guns, 25% explosives. The use of guns has been rising, the use of explosives is trending downward, because it has become more difficult to obtain explosive materials. Possibly because we don’t have a National Dynamite Association.
- The Ku Klux Klan, thought by many to be a powerful force among the deranged, is a mere shadow of its former self. It has become a kind of Al Sharpton of the extreme right, showing up at events already in progress, littering the area with fliers, getting on TV, and bugging out before it’s over.
The SPLC is not the first organization to warn about the increasing danger of violent right-wing extremism. (By the way: although almost all these attack dogs are white Christians, it would be indefensible to claim their religion was somehow responsible for their criminality. You listening, Bill Maher?) The first organization to get its hair on fire over this threat was — wait, wait, don’t tell me — our own Department of Homeland Security. It was 2009, and in a report on “Right-Wing Extremism” the DHS said this:
“Lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.” The authors reported a surge in right wing extremism, and thought it was not a coincidence that it was taking place immediately after the election of America’s first black president.
The right-wing nuts went nuts. (The report was actually a confidential heads-up to police forces, but was immediately leaked to the wing nuts.) Because the report pointed out that the extremists were having some success recruiting among veterans, the American Legion among others screamed that the report was an attack on veterans. The leader of another fringe group, known as Republican Members of Congress — a guy named John Boehner — found the whole thing to be “offensive and unacceptable,” explaining that DHS was using the word “terrorist” not to describe Al Qaeda, but “to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation.”
Almost immediately, DHS secretary Janet Napolitano (who, we must remember, worked for Barack Obama) withdrew the report, apologized for its contents, and accused the team that put it out of not following proper procedures. Virtually everyone who worked on the study resigned.
It used to be a joke to say, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan once did, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Where American right-wing nuts are concerned, it is no longer a laughing matter. Knowing the facts, about who is really out to get you, can be a life-and-death matter.