It’s as predictable as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west: When there’s an act of Islamic terror, some in the media will take great pains to minimize the threat. When there’s an act of white-supremacist terror, many of the same folks will overhype the threat from the right, often making it out to be greater than the threat of jihadist terror.
In either case, all too few will look past the political spin to recognize the truth: Violence is a problem at both extremes of the political spectrum, and jihadists are the most dangerous extremists of all.
While questioning Jeff Sessions about the Department of Justice’s response to right-wing terror, CBS ran this:
Between the end of ‘01 & Dec. ‘16 there were nearly 3 times as many fatal attacks by right-wing extremists than Islamist extremists in U.S. pic.twitter.com/VBk7iAJnNc— Norah O’Donnell (@NorahODonnell) August 14, 2017
Citing a Governmental Accountability Office study as authoritative, it claims that since 9/11 there were 85 “extremist” attacks that resulted in 225 deaths. “Far right” extremists were allegedly responsible for 62 attacks and 109 deaths, while jihadists killed 116 people in 23 attacks. It deliberately paints a picture of a nation where right-wing terrorists are more likely to strike and almost as likely to kill as jihadists. And what about left-wing attacks? Apparently, they don’t exist.
We’ve seen left-wing riots in cities from coast to coast. Alt-right ‘proud boys,’ Nazis, and neo-Confederates instigate vicious street melees. Yet neither group is as dangerous as jihadist terrorists.
This is all so absurd it’s hard to attribute the report to anything other than an ideologically motivated effort to mislead. First, why start the death toll after September 11? Do American casualty lists for World War II not include the thousands who died at Pearl Harbor before Roosevelt declared war? Include September 11 and you understand that the actual and potential toll from terrorists simply dwarfs the domestic terror threat from left or right.
Consider what has happened since 9/11. The United States military mobilized and invaded Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven. It’s been fighting there ever since, at a cost of thousands of lives and tens of thousands of often-dreadful injuries. Terrorists have proven capable of taking and holding cities on their home turf, striking in the great capital cities of Europe, and hitting us at home. Beyond our military actions, we poured hundreds of billions of dollars into a vast international and domestic security apparatus that monitors and seeks to control the jihadist threat. Yet even when its foreign safe havens are under siege, even when America has an unprecedented level of resources directed at homeland security, and even when the Muslim population is a very small part of the American whole, jihadists still claim more lives than any other terrorist movement.
Next, even the data about right-wing terror are a bit odd. For example, the two deadliest domestic right-wing terror attacks the GAO lists are Dylann Roof’s June 2015 Charleston church massacre and Christopher Harper-Mercer’s shooting spree at Umpqua Community College. Both men claimed nine victims, and Roof’s attack was unquestionably an act of race-motivated terror. But what about Harper-Mercer? The GAO calls him a “white supremacist,” but Harper-Mercer was a black man who hated organized religion, was frustrated that he didn’t have a girlfriend, and was fascinated by the fame of mass shooters. How is that clearly “far right” violence?
Moreover, the GAO report purports to chronicle “Violent Extremist Attacks in the United States That Resulted in Fatalities, September 12, 2001 to December 31, 2016,” but it omits left-wing violence entirely. It paints domestic terror as exclusively right-wing or jihadist. Yet this is plainly wrong, and it doesn’t take a government study to prove it. It just takes a normal memory and five minutes of research. The report does not include, for example, the following well-known incidents:
Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley’s politically motivated ambush killing of two New York City police officers on December 20, 2014.
Micah Johnson’s politically motivated ambush killing of five Dallas police officers on July 7, 2016.
Black separatist Gavin Long’s ambush killing of three police officers in Baton Rouge, La., on July 17, 2016.
Those three incidents are far from the only cases of deadly leftist anti-police violence. In fact, an internal FBI report indicated that “an anti-police wave following the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., . . . drove most of those accused of killing law enforcement.” In fact, in 2016 ambush killings of police hit a 20-year high.
Why is it so hard for the media to tell the truth? Why is it so hard to acknowledge the facts that stare us all in the face? At home, while it’s nowhere near as violent as it was during the depths of the late 1960s and early 1970s, extremists on both sides have killed their enemies. We’ve seen left-wing riots in cities from coast to coast. Alt-right “proud boys,” Nazis, and neo-Confederates are instigating wild and vicious street melees. One of them even rammed his car into a group of innocent protesters. Violent extremists left and right threaten American lives. Yet neither group is as dangerous as jihadist terrorists.
Given all these threats, it’s vital that Americans shed the temptation to “fit” any new violent act into their partisan narrative. Now’s the time, rather, to stand first for the rule of law and then to sort out the politics. Any other approach will only lead to more fury, more tribalism, and ultimately more violence and death.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.