Oh really now?
Back in January, Cory Booker told CNN that “In American history since 9/11, we’ve had 85 major attacks in our country, 73 percent of them have been by white nationalist hate groups.” Convenient of him to begin his timeline after the worst Islamic terrorist attack in U.S. history, ain’t it? Unsurprisingly, the factless fact-checkers over at Politifact rated the claim “half-true.” Their “half-true” rating was based on Booker claiming 73 “white nationalist” attacks, while the study Booker was relying on was documenting “far right wing violent extremist groups.” So Politifact’s problem with Booker’s statement was largely semantics – but the real problems with his statement deserve a “pants on fire” rating.
The source in question is a 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study titled “Countering Violent Extremism.” While Booker’s assessment is technically correct that 73 percent of terrorist attacks are from far-right groups (which I assume is what he meant to say regardless), the GAO study is extremely flimsy on what constitutes a right-wing terrorist attack. For example, turn to page 29 of the study, and one of the right-wing terrorist attacks is described as “White Supremacist member of Aryan Brotherhood killed a man.” That’s it. No detail as to the motive, the race of the victim, or anything else. Since when does a murder become a terrorist incident just because the murderer also happens to be a bigot? A hate crime perhaps, but not a terror attack. That same white supremacist killed someone else in later weeks, and is counted as a separate “terrorist attack” in the study.
On page 31, “Far rightist murdered a homeless man” is counted as a right-wing terror attack, and if these examples thus far weren’t crazy enough, page 32 describes a “White supremacist [who] shot and killed 9 at his community college.” That shooting was the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting, carried out by a self-described “mixed race” individual who singled out Christians for his attack. Does that sound like a right-wing terrorist attack to you? How about on page 30, when the study documents the “right-wing terrorist attack” involving “Six white supremacist inmates beat[ing] another prisoner to death.”? Do you walk the streets in fear that prison inmates will somehow assault you?
Clearly, the GAO is grasping at straws when it comes to defining terrorism or “major attacks.” Indeed, nearly every single right-wing terrorist attack on the list are individual murders that at best would accurately be described as hate crimes. Those murders should not be counted as instances of “terrorism,” but suppose for a second that we’re to grant the GAO’s methodology. Even so, this highlights another problem in the study: that they’re counting attacks based on their frequency, not death toll.
While there were 62 instances of right-wing terror int he GAO study, they resulted in “only” 106 deaths. That’s a death toll racked up in mere seconds on September 11th. When one Islamic terror attack can result in over 30x the deaths of an inflated estimate of right-wing terror deaths, who in their right mind would think the right-wing is more dangerous?
Meanwhile, the GAO’s documented cases of Islamic extremism has only 23 incidents, but a comparably higher 119 deaths. As already mentioned, they’re conveniently beginning their timeline post-9/11. So I suppose by their logic Islamic terrorism isn’t such a threat if you just happen to ignore the worst Islamic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
In total, I could only find seven incidents (carried out by five perpetrators) that could accurately be described as right-wing terror incidents, resulting in 22 victims dead (excluding perpetrators). They are:
- Anti-government violent extremist flew a small plane into an Austin, TX office building with an IRS office in it to protest the IRS and the government. One dead – only the perpetrator.
- Neo-Nazi killed six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, 8/5/2012, Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Six dead.
- Anti-government extremist kills Transportation Security Administration officer at Los Angeles International Airport, 11/1/2013, Los Angeles, California. One dead.
- White supremacist shot and killed 2 at a Jewish Community Center, 4/13/2014, Overland Park, Kansas. Two dead.
- Same perpetrator as the previous attack in Overland Park; perpetrator murdered another person at a Jewish retirement center later the same day, 4/13/2014, Leawood, Kansas. One dead.
- White supremacist Dylann Roof shot and killed 9 African Americans in a shooting at an African American church, 6/17/2015, Charleston, South Carolina. Nine dead.
- Anti-government survivalist extremist killed 3 at Planned Parenthood clinic including a responding police officer, 11/27/2015, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Three dead.
If we’re to apply these revised figures, that would mean seven right-ring terror incidents compared to 23 Islamic terror incidents. Not only is the former much rarer, when such terror attacks do occur, the death toll is far less. Even a single Islamic terror incident such as the 2009 Fort Hoot shooting or 2015 San Bernardino massacre racked up death tolls of more than half of all right-wing terror incidents combined. Most importantly, however, it proves that 3/4th of terror attacks are Islamic, not the reverse, as Booker claimed.
And don’t forget, this is just domestic terrorism. Even as they were seeing massive territorial losses last year, ISIS still carried out attacks killing at least 6,500 innocent people, and their African affiliate Boko Haram killed an additional 900. It goes without saying that there are no equivalent “right-wing” terrorist outlets.
P.S. For anyone curious, you can view the list for yourself below.