Homegrown terrorism: Homegrown Radicals Jihadis

Published: June 24, 2015

Homegrown terrorism: Homegrown Radicals Jihadis, In the 14 years since al-Qaida carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.

But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, anti-government fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadis, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.

The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case. But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.

Non-Muslim extremists have carried out 19 such attacks since 9/11, according to the latest count, compiled by David Sterman, a New America program associate, and overseen by Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert. By comparison, seven lethal attacks by Islamic militants have taken place in the same period.

If such numbers are new to the public, they are familiar to police officers. A survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide to rank the three biggest threats from violent extremism in their jurisdiction. About 74 percent listed anti-government violence, while 39 percent listed “al-Qaida-inspired” violence, according to the researchers, 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 Kurzman, whose study is to be published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Police Executive Research Forum.

John G. Horgan, who studies terrorism at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said the mismatch between public perceptions and actual cases has become steadily more obvious to scholars.

“There’s an acceptance now of the idea that the threat from jihadi terrorism in the United States has been overblown,” Horgan said. “And there’s a belief that the threat of right-wing, anti-government violence has been underestimated.”

Counting terrorism cases is a notoriously subjective enterprise, relying on shifting definitions and judgment calls.

If terrorism is defined as ideological violence, for instance, should an attacker who has merely ranted about religion, politics or race be considered a terrorist? A man in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who was charged with fatally shooting three young Muslim neighbors had posted angry critiques of religion, but he also had a history of outbursts over parking issues. (New America does not include this attack in its count.)

Likewise, what about mass killings in which no ideological motive is evident, such as those at a Colorado movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school in 2012? The criteria used by New America and most other research organizations exclude such attacks, which have cost more lives than those clearly tied to ideology.

Some killings by non-Muslims that most experts would categorize as terrorism have drawn only fleeting news media coverage, never jelling in the public memory. But to revisit some of the episodes is to wonder why.

In 2012, a neo-Nazi named Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and opened fire, killing six people and seriously wounding three others. Page, who died at the scene, was a member of a white supremacist group called the Northern Hammerskins.

In another case, in June 2014, Jerad and Amanda Miller, a married couple with radical anti-government and neo-Nazi views, entered a Las Vegas pizza restaurant and fatally shot two police officers who were eating lunch. On the bodies, they left a swastika, a flag inscribed with the slogan “Don’t tread on me” and a note saying, “This is the start of the revolution.” Then they killed a third person in a nearby Wal-Mart.


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