Despite the alleged Daesh connections of two of the three shooters in the San Bernardino health clinic massacre earlier this week, the Republican hand-wringing over Muslim extremist Syrian refugees overwhelming the United States, and the general suspicion in this nation of persons of Middle Eastern origins and descent since the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement officials, though naturally concerned about Daesh, Al Qaeda, and other potential foreign threats, are much more worried about another group of terrorists: homegrown right wing extremists.
According to a June 2015 op-ed in the New York Times by sociology professor Charles Kurzman and terrorism think tank director David Schanzer, of the University of North Carolina and Duke University, respectively, of the 382 law enforcement agencies they surveyed in 2014:
74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction;
39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations as a top three threat; and
Only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism.
The two researchers also spoke with counter-terrorism specialists at 19 law enforcement agencies throughout the nation in both urban and rural counties. The specialists reported that though extreme Islamic radicalization of U.S. citizens from the Middle East or of Middle Eastern descent was a concern, it was not as dangerous as radicalization among homegrown right-wing extremists.
According to the op-ed, some officers listed militias, neo-Nazis, and so-called sovereign citizens as the biggest extremist threat faced by law enforcement. One officer even stated he believed that the anti-government threat had “really taken off.” The article also noted that 25 law enforcement officers had been killed by right-wing extremists and that such extremists tend to share a fear that government will confiscate firearms and that the collapse of the government and the economy is imminent in this country.
Kurzman and Schanzer emphasized:
Despite public anxiety about extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the number of violent plots by such individuals has remained very low. Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.
In contrast to to Muslim extremist attacks, they pointed out:
Right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012.
Per those statistics, a terrorist attack in the United States is approximately 17 times more likely to perpetrated by an extremist anti-government individual or group than by Islamic extremists and that an American citizen is more than five times likely to be killed by an anti-government terrorist than an Islamic terrorist.
A summary of Kurzman and Schanzer’s survey may be downloaded at: