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Americans Are More Likely to Be Killed by Right-Wing Terrorists Than Muslims—But the Media's Afraid to Say It

We must confront the threat of far right extremism.

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When Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) labeled cattle rancher and right-wing extremist Cliven Bundy a “domestic terrorist,” the far Right went into an apoplectic state. But the Senate majority leader may have unwittingly stumbled upon an interesting and sobering fact: that when it comes to domestic terrorism, you are far more likely to be murdered by a far Right-wing American than a Muslim American, but the term “terrorist” remains reserved exclusively for acts of political violence carried out by Muslims.

If terrorism is defined as violence against innocent civilians designed to advance a political cause, then all racist murders that occur in the U.S. are also acts of terrorism, because the perpetrators commit the violent act to send a political message to minority communities (i.e. intimidate them into a subordinate status.)

Arun Kundani, adjunct professor at New York University and author of The Muslims are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the War on Terror, writes: “The definition of terrorism is never applied consistently, because to do so would mean the condemnatory power of the term would have to be applied to our violence as much as theirs, thereby defeating the word’s usefulness.”

Violence carried out by far Right groups or individuals, which have racism as a central component of their ideology, is of similar magnitude to that of Jihadist violence. In the years 1990 to 2010, there were 145 acts of political violence committed by the American far Right, resulting in 348 deaths. By comparison, 20 Americans were killed over the same period in acts of political violence carried out by Muslim-American civilians.

“Both categories of violence represent threats to democratic values from fellow citizens. Whereas the former uses violence to foment a change in the ethnic makeup of Western countries or to defend racial supremacy, the latter uses violence to try to intimidate Western governments into changing foreign policies. Ultimately, to be more concerned about one domestic threat of violence rather than the other implies governments and mainstream journalists consider foreign policies more sacrosanct than the security of minority citizens,” writes Kundani.

It has now been 13 years since al Qaeda and its associated forces have carried out a successful attack inside the United States. National security analyst and regular CNN contributor Peter Bergen asks, “Given this, it becomes harder to explain, in terms of American national security, why violence by homegrown right-wing extremists receives substantially less attention than does violence by homegrown jihadist militants?”

To that point, right-wing extremists have carried out a great number of high profile acts of political violence since 9/11, from the shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City, to the murders at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Attacks that have garnered fewer headlines include the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, who ran an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas. His killer was tied to a number of far right-wing groups, including Sovereign Citizens, a neo-confederate movement who deny the powers of the federal government.

In a recent op-ed, Bergen juxtaposes the media and national security attention devoted to the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing to last month’s shootings at a Jewish Community Center in greater Kansas City. On the latter, Frazier Glenn Cross, who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, shot and killed a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather, and one other. After being taken into custody, Cross shouted, “Heil Hitler.” In both respective attacks in Kansas and Boston, three Americans were killed.

“Now let's do the thought experiment in which instead of shouting "Heil Hitler" after he was arrested, the suspect had shouted "Allah Akbar." Only two days before the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, this simple switch of words would surely have greatly increased the extent and type of coverage the incident received,” observes Bergen.

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