Friday afternoon, one week after elected officials all over the country tried to block Syrian refugees from entering their states in an apparent effort to fight terrorism, a white man in Colorado committed what appears to be an act of terrorism in a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Though the details of Robert Lewis Dear’s motives for killing three people in the clinic and injuring nine others are still being revealed, Dear reportedly told law enforcement “no more baby parts,” an apparent reference to heavily edited videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, which numerous politicians have cited to falsely claim that Planned Parenthood sells “aborted baby parts.” Dear’s actions, in other words, appear to be an act of politically motivated terrorism directed against an institution widely reviled by conservatives.
Though terrorism perpetrated by Muslims receives a disproportionate amount of attention from politicians and reporters, the reality is that right-wing extremists pose a much greater threat to people in the United States than terrorists connected to ISIS or similar organizations. As UNC Professor Charles Kurzman and Duke Professor David Schanzer explained last June in the New York Times, Islam-inspired terror attacks “accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.” Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”
Kurzman and Schanzer’s methodology, moreover, may underestimate the degree to which domestic terrorists in the United States are motivated by right-wing views. As they describe the term in their New York Times piece, the term “right-wing extremist” primarily encompasses anti-government extremists such as members of the sovereign citizen movement, although it also includes racist right-wing groups such as neo-Nazis. Thus, it is not yet clear whether Dear, who made anti-abortion remarks but also reportedly referenced President Obama, was motivated in part by the kind of anti-government views that are the focus of Kurzman and Schanzer’s inquiry.
Kurzman and Schanzer also surveyed hundreds of law enforcement agencies regarding their assessment of various threats. Of the 382 agencies they spoke with, “74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction,” while only “39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.”
Meanwhile, the percentage of refugees that are connected to terrorist plots is vanishingly small.