During his first address to Congress on Tuesday night, President Trump falsely claimed that foreigners have committed “the vast majority” of terrorism-related offenses in the United States since the September 11th attacks and used that lie to call for stricter border and immigration controls targeting Muslims.
Given that right-wing extremists are responsible for the vast majority of terrorism offenses in this country, Trump’s claim should be seen for what it is: nothing but an intentional lie meant to stir up the sort of irrational nativist fear and hatred that drives Trump’s brand of ignorant populism.
“According to data provided by the Department of Justice [no such data exists]” Trump said in his speech, “the vast majority of individuals convicted for terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside the country. We have seen the attacks at home – from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and yes, even the World Trade Center.”
“It is not compassionate, but reckless, to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur,” he added. While Trump did not explicitly mention his signature Muslim ban in his artificially conciliatory address, he did signal that his administration would “take new steps to keep our nation safe,” presumably in the form of a redesigned travel ban or further restrictions on immigration from certain Muslim countries.
The problem with Trump’s narrative of foreigner-driven violence is that it is simply not true. According to a 2015 Anti-Defamation League study, of the 295 deaths from terrorism in the United States since 2005 fully 86% were at the hands of right-wing extremists, with 13% resulting from Islamic terrorism.
Another study, conducted by the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center, found that right-wing terrorists were responsible for 254 deaths in the decade after 9/11. Taking into account the distinct but overlapping time periods encompassed by these two studies, right-wing extremists have killed over 350 Americans since 9/11 while Islamic extremists, whether foreign- or domestic-born, have killed fewer than 150. In every single year except 2001 and 2016, which were skewed by the 9/11 and Orlando attacks, right-wing terrorists have killed more Americans than their radical Islamic counterparts.
And even those terrorist attacks that have been carried out by radical jihadis support neither Trump’s narrative of foreigner-driven terrorism nor his ban on immigration from seven Middle Eastern countries. As the Washington Post recently reported, “more than half of the 82 people who died in the pursuit of or were convicted of any terrorism-related offense inspired by a foreign terrorist organization were native-born U.S. citizens.” Moreover, a recent draft report from the Department of Homeland Security found “no evidence” that people excluded from the country because of Trump’s Muslim ban pose a terror threat.
Even the specific attacks Trump cited do not in reality support his exclusionary policies. The Boston Marathon bombers were two brothers born in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, neither of which is covered under Trump’s Muslim ban. The man involved in the San Bernardino shooting was a native-born American while his wife was born in Pakistan, another country not covered by Trump’s proposed ban.
And the 9/11 hijackers were almost all from Saudi Arabia, a country that is in fact at the nexus of the radical jihadi ideology but which has not been targeted by Trump because of both his personal business ties to the ruling oligarchs and America’s shameful oil-for-weapons alliance with the Wahhabist state.
While the fear-mongers at Fox News have conditioned much of the country to think otherwise, the fact remains that any way you slice it right-wing terrorists pose more of a threat to the country than Islamic terrorists, and certainly than foreign Islamic terrorists. This common-sense fact is recognized by our nation’s law enforcement agencies, 74% of whom identified right-wing terrorism as a more pressing concern than Islamic terrorism in a 2015 study.
Indeed just in the past few weeks we have seen a spate of right-wing terrorist incidents, from the shooting of two Indian engineers in Kansas to a wave of bomb threats at Jewish community centers and arson attacks on mosques to the arrest of a South Carolina man who was plotting an attack on a Jewish synagogue “in the spirit of Dylan Roof.” Indeed even as Trump’s hatred continued to embolden these dangerous right-wing extremists, he has remained entirely silent on the wave of rightist violence and has even been so brash as to suggest that such attacks may be false flags perpetrated to “make people look bad.”
While we should be wary of turning the murderous records of different terror ideologies into a competition, the fact that right-wing terrorists are vastly more dangerous than Islamic terrorists – and that the nation is overwhelmingly ignorant of this fact – is in fact incredibly important given both the double standards in the media regarding political violence and the racist fear-mongering of Trump and his Republican cronies.
The consequences of Republicans’ racist fear-mongering over a dramatically overblown Islamic terrorist threat have real and far-reaching consequences, not only for American Muslims and those seeking shelter from war and deprivation, but also for the hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians whom Trump and his supporters would wantonly bomb just to win a few more votes with their cowardly self-indulgent tough-guy routine.
Indeed it is just such Republican fear-mongering over Islamic terrorism that has made so much of the American population ready to kill to fight an imaginary menace while a far greater threat lurks within us. The complete silence of both Republicans and the media on right-wing terrorism and their concurrent fear-mongering over Islamic terrorism is criminal. It’s time for Republicans, and America in general, to say the words: “Radical Right-Wing Terrorism!”
James DeVinne is a student at American University in Washington, DC majoring in International Service with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a founding member of Occupy Baltimore and interns at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.