Let’s begin with a dose of common sense. There is a fundamental difference between mass movements dedicated to peaceful cultural and political persuasion and mass movements dedicated to violence. America is blessed by the former while the rest of the world is often plagued by the latter. Yet even the most peaceful movements can sometimes attract an evil fringe, a tiny handful of adherents who cross the bright line between speech and violence.
Take, for example, environmentalism. America has long been awash in apocalyptic climate-change rhetoric. Leading Democrats describe carbon emissions as a “national-security threat,” and blame them for everything from the rise of ISIS to last night’s rainstorm. A tiny, hardcore subset of environmental activists is so moved to violence that they’ve been repeatedly labeled America’s top domestic-terror threat by the FBI. Most domestic terrorism is committed by individuals, not groups, but eco-terrorist organizations have been responsible for more domestic-terror attacks than anyone else, and it’s not even close:
Eco-terrorism is on the decline, but even when it was at its height, no one blamed Al Gore for ELF attacks or told environmentalists to shut up lest they further inflame their tiny fringe. The way to combat environmentalist excess is to debate it on the merits and defeat it in the ballot box.
The pro-life movement consists of millions of Americans who fiercely oppose abortion through peaceful speech and protest, and a tiny, evil minority of those who resort to violence. Though the abortion debate is a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of innocent children a year, since 9/11 exactly one abortion provider has been murdered, and two clinics have been bombed. That’s hardly a crime wave, and it’s hardly grounds for liberal commentators such as Patheos’s Dan Arel to declare “Christian terrorism is a bigger threat to U.S. freedom than Islamic terrorism.”
Thanks to good police work and changes in the political climate since the upheavals of the Vietnam era, America has enjoyed a dramatic and decades-old decline in domestic-terrorist incidents. True domestic terrorism is shocking precisely because it is so rare. American political discourse may be angry, and its practitioners may be fond of the most ominous rhetoric, but American politics themselves remain remarkably peaceful.
Don’t tell the alarmists that, though. Even before this weekend’s shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, left-wing sites trumpeted the threat of “Christian terrorists” while minimizing the threat of jihadists. This summer, the New York Times hyped a transparently idiotic study claiming that (mainly right-wing) homegrown extremists were deadlier than jihadists — by excluding from the death toll the almost 3,000 Americans who died on 9/11 and the nearly 7,000 Americans killed — not to mention the more than 52,000 Americans wounded — at the hands of radical Islamists overseas.
We’ve seen this movie before. Following the dreadful Oklahoma City bombing, many on the left tried to pin Timothy McVeigh on Rush Limbaugh, and despite the fact that McVeigh called himself an agnostic, some leftists still refer to him a “Christian terrorist.” Gabby Giffords’s shooting was somehow blamed on Sarah Palin, and this year’s Charleston church massacre was allegedly an indictment of all white southerners, even those who’ve condemned racism their entire lives.
America doesn’t have a problem with Christian terrorism or with eco-terrorism. True homegrown extremists are but the smallest blip on our criminal-justice system’s radar. Thankfully, our few domestic terrorists are isolated, shunned by every reasonable activist, organization, politician, and citizen.
To claim otherwise is to lie. To claim otherwise is to tempt Americans to take their eyes off the real threat to our security — a rapidly growing mass movement that is wholly and completely dedicated to violence. Our real worry shouldn’t be an alienated teenager with a Confederate flag or an angry hermit who hates the government. It should be the fully mobilized jihadist armies controlling nation-sized chunks of territory, the entire governments dedicated to the spread of jihad and seeking nuclear weapons, and their tens of millions of supporters and sympathizers. These are the evil fanatics who have killed and maimed thousands of Americans, and aim to kill thousands more. They continue to show us what a true terror threat looks like, but too many of us still refuse to look.
— David French is an attorney, a Staff Writer at National Review, and a veteran of the Iraq War.