Over the past few years, the United States has been hit with many terrorist attacks, but the majority of those acts of violence have not been labeled properly.
Common conceptions of terrorism in the United States take the form of international terrorism, such as the attacks on 9/11. In contrast, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as “perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
Acts of violence perpetrated by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other alt-right groups account for 71 percent of extremist-related deaths in the United States between 2008 and 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. Violent acts perpetrated by Islamic extremists accounted for 26 percent.
We need to shift the way we think about terrorism in the United States. By exclusively connoting terrorism with Islamic and international extremism, we may run the risk of ignoring the much larger terrorist issue we face: far-right extremism.
On Oct. 27, a man opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, resulting in at least 17 fatalities. Despite the shooter’s connections to extremist white supremacy groups, he was not charged with committing a terrorist act. Instead, he faces both federal and state charges, including 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death.
Similarly, in March 2018, the New York Times reported that a white evangelical Christian who sent homemade bombs around Austin and killed two African-Americans was described by local authorities as a “very challenged young man.”
The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism reported 65 terrorist attacks totaling 95 deaths in 2017. The New York Times reported that “roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-government or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.”
Instead of associating terrorism with Islamic extremism, thereby conceiving of terrorism as an international threat, we need to recognize the ways domestic terrorism has wrecked so much havoc in the United States. Simply in sheer numbers, far-right extremists have accounted for more ideologically charged violent attacks than any other group. Because we don’t necessarily consider these attacks as seriously through our rhetoric as we do international terrorism, we have inadvertently sent the message that extremist attacks only matter if they are perpetrated by the “other.”
White supremacists, neo-Nazis and other extremists that perpetrate violent attacks espousing extremist ideologies are terrorists, plain and simple. Once we come to terms with that, we can begin to reform the way the law looks at these violent attacks, leading to true justice and eventually a safer United States of America for all.