One of the most notable turning points in the 2016 presidential election was when Hillary Clinton said that half of Donald Trump’s supporters could be considered a “basket of deplorables”. In so doing, she asserted that over 30 million Americans are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic -- you name it”. This is a very harsh assertion, it’s almost as though Clinton considers those thirty million people to be right-wing extremists. The unsuccessful political contender, along with many of her liberal allies in the media, worked very hard to create the narrative that these conservatives are not only detrimental to the progress of our nation, but actually dangerous to those around them. Seemingly every week, a new article crops up with the intent of framing the political right as not just “extreme”, but terroristic in nature. White supremacists and mass murderers such as Wade Michael Page and Dylann Roof are, it seems, seen as typical right-wingers by those in the media. When these people committed the atrocities of murdering Sikh and Christian worshipers in their respective houses of worship, the media refused to see them as lone wolves. Even though both people were substance-dependent and mentally ill, their acts were seen as a broader trend of white supremacist violence that they could easily try to link to rising Republican Donald Trump. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is one of the key organizations that lumps white supremacist violence into what it calls right-wing terrorism. The ADL argues that James Harris Jackson, who murdered an African-American man in New York City with the intent of killing even more people based on their skin color, is part of a growing pattern of right-wing terrorism. They claim that on average, there have been six incidents of right-wing terrorism per year for the last 25 years. Notably, these incidents don’t even all translate to attacks, many of them are simply plots that were discovered or conspiracies that were thwarted. The ADL claims that there are “hundreds of thousands of adherents of right-wing extremist movements in the United States”. At least this is a more generous estimate than Mrs. Clinton’s assertion of tens of millions of deplorables.
One way that the media has shaped the narrative to exaggerate the threat of right-wing terrorism is to only count data post-2001. Their claim is that more people have died from far right terrorists since the 9/11 attacks than have died from Islamic extremist terrorists. Interestingly, the liberal narrative generally includes the deadly Oklahoma City bombing as an example of right-wing terror, but it’s crucial that they exclude the 9/11 terrorist attacks because it’s such an outlier that skews the data so far from their narrative. While we can question what constitutes a right-wing attack versus an Islamic extremist attack, the numbers are around the same. PBS did a relatively balanced piece on the issue of right-wing terror versus Islamic extremist terror. PBS claims that the two terrorist ideologies are both significant threats to national security and neither should be ignored. The news organization compiled a count of the people killed by terrorists motivated by either ideology over the past 27 years. Curiously, the article included a graph showing that from 1990 to 2014 right-wing extremists killed exactly twice as many Americans than Islamic extremists, excluding data from both the Oklahoma City Bombing and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 272 to 136. Interestingly, the article cited that the data from 2015 to 2017 is still being analyzed, but there has been a significant uptick in Islamic extremist terrorism in that time. Over this time period, Islamic extremists killed nearly three times as many Americans than right-wing extremists had. Much of this was due to the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. In addition to the attacks that took place, PBS points out that of the planned attacks that failed or were foiled, there were about 35% more that were planned by Islamic extremists over this time period than by right-wing extremists. So, from this data, we’re led to believe than Islamic extremism is on the rise in the United States. Recently, Newsweek published an article based in part from the data from the ADL demonstrating that Islamic and right-wing extremism are “equally serious threats”. Shortly, thereafter, the ever-analytical Huffington Post published an article highlighting things that they believe the media overlooks when dealing with “white supremacist hate”. Sadly, while the article claims to be about combatting a double standard in media coverage of Islamic extremist versus right-wing terrorism, it really only serves to minimize the threat of the former while stoking fear of the latter. The top two things that the author claims that the media need to know is that right-wing extremist terror isn’t rare and it isn’t fringe. But to say this when it’s happening at roughly the same frequency as Islamic extremist terror is more than slightly biased. Would the author also assert that Islamic extremist terror isn’t rare and isn’t fringe? The Huffington Post writer goes on to say that white supremacist terror needs to have more coverage and not less. Why is this? Her assertion is that when a Muslim kills even a single person, he or she might be labelled a terrorist based on his or her religion/skin color. Meanwhile when avowed white supremacists kill a person (take the aforementioned example from New York City), news outlets are reluctant to label them as terrorists. This seems a poorly thought-out conclusion. Perhaps instead we should tell media outlets to change the way they cover Islamic extremist attacks. A single murder influenced by racial or cultural bias should not be labelled as terrorism, it’s simply a hate crime. One of the reasons that Islamic extremist attacks get more attention from the media is that even though they are slightly more rare than “right-wing” attacks, they generally have more casualties, and thus are more horrific or sensational, which helps media outlets draw in more readers/viewers.
It’s highly fallacious to say that right-wing terrorism isn’t rare or fringe. A lot of loud voices on the left have said that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a fascist or neo-nazi. The bloc of voters who elected Trump is over 63 million voters. Even Hillary Clinton was kind enough to say that only half of them were deplorable. As mentioned before, the ADL only identifies hundreds of thousands as affiliated with right-wing extremist groups. So out of 63 million people right-wing people and even maybe close to a million “right-wing extremists” there have been fewer than 250 right-wing plots in the past 25 years. Meanwhile, the Muslim population in the United States is just about three million, and that population has yielded more than 250 terror plots from its extremists, however few in number they may be. It's very clear that right-wing terror is a very small fringe result of a mainstream ideology. Meanwhile, it's a little bit alarming that Muslim population which roughly 5% as large as the political right-wing is churning out roughly the same number of extremists.
To be clear, this article is not intended to vilify the Muslim community or to exaggerate the threat of Islamic extremism. There are millions of Muslims in America who are wonderful people and make great contributions to our society on a daily basis. I did not write this to link the Muslim American community to extremism. The purpose of this is to indict the mainstream media in its fearmongering and bias against the “right-wing” community. I concur that terrorism is terrorism regardless of the skin color or religion of its perpetrator. The political right doesn't breed terror at a more alarming rate than the Muslim community. Each group has its extremists who are not at all representative of those groups. Not every self-identifying Muslim who commits a crime is a terrorist. Not every right-winger who commits a hate crime is a terrorist. Villifying either community based on its radicals is dishunest and harmful to that community. With all of the hatred towards Donald Trump in the media, it's not at all surprising that those in the media want to label his supporters as dangerous extremists. But to push aside the very real threat of radical Islamic terror for the sake of scoring political points against a right-wing president is very troublesome. Further, over-exaggerating the incidence and scope of right-wing terror attacks is part of a false media narrative that only gives President Trump more credence when he refers to the mainstream media as “fake news”.
1. “Read Hillary Clinton's 'Basket of Deplorables' Remarks About Donald Trump Supporters”, Time Magazine, Sept, 2016 http://time.com/4486502/hillary-clinton-basket-of-deplorables-transcript/
2. “A Dark and Constant Rage: 25 Years of Right-Wing Terrorism in the United States”, Anti-Defamation League, 2017 https://www.adl.org/education/resources/reports/dark-constant-rage-25-years-of-right-wing-terrorism-in-united-states
3. “Analysis: Deadly threat from far-right extremists is overshadowed by fear of Islamic terrorism”, PBS NewsHour, February, 2017 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/analysis-deadly-threat-far-right-extremists-overshadowed-fear-islamic-terrorism/
4. “Right-Wing and ‘Radical Islamic’ Terror in the U.S. Are Equally Serious Threats: ADL Report (Exclusive)” Newsweek, May, 2017 http://www.newsweek.com/right-wing-terrorism-us-has-been-constant-threat-adl-report-exclusive-612492
5. “5 Things The Media Gets Wrong About White Supremacist Hate” Huffington Post, June, 2017 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/media-white-supremacist-hate_us_593850d5e4b0b13f2c66667a