A new report from New America, released a week after a white supremacist gunned down nine people in a black church in Charleston, finds that since the September 11, 2001, attacks, “nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims.”
The New York Times reports that this threat is “familiar to police officers,” three-quarters of whom list antigovernment extremism as a greater threat to their communities than “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence:
If such numbers are new to the public, they are familiar to police officers. A survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide to rank the three biggest threats from violent extremism in their jurisdiction. About 74 percent listed antigovernment violence, while 39 percent listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence, according to the researchers, Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University.
“Law enforcement agencies around the country have told us the threat from Muslim extremists is not as great as the threat from right-wing extremists,” said Dr. Kurzman, whose study is to be published by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and the Police Executive Research Forum.
We haven’t heard any right-wing reaction to this report yet. But we aren’t incredibly optimistic that it will be reasonable.
Back in 2009, when the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on countering violent right-wing extremism, the Right went ballistic, with groups including the American Family Association, the American Center for Law and Justice and Concerned Women for America denouncing it as an attack on Christians and veterans.
Liberty Counsel, the Religious Right legal group, even went so far as to print out cards for its members to show their solidarity with the violent right-wing extremists supposedly attacked by this report:
Other right-wing groups started an ad campaign demanding that then-DHS chief Janet Napolitano resign for supposedly having labeled George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa and the pope as “the new terrorists”:
Under pressure, DHS ultimately retracted the report and cut back its team investigating non-Muslim violent extremism, infuriating the self-described conservative Republican analyst who had written the report.
Since then, conservative activists have repeatedly referred back to the report to claim that President Obama is treating all conservatives as potential domestic terrorists, a suspicion that has fed into a number of right-wing conspiracy theories about DHS. Liberty University’s Matt Barber even started defending violent extremists groups just because groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center reported on their activities.
As recently as February, Rep. Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, was complaining on the Family Research Council’s radio program that the Obama administration is “more aggressive toward Americans, Republicans, conservatives, Christians, and concerned about them being threats to the country, which they’re not, than they are about the real threats to our country.”
Never mind that the report focused exclusively on the actual threat of violent, far-right extremism — something that even their strongest detractors aren’t accusing groups like Liberty Counsel and the AFA of being involved in. The Right saw an opportunity to stir up a fake controversy in order to raise money, reinforce the narrative of conservative activists as victims and provoke animosity toward President Obama. In the process they helped make it harder for DHS to investigate a very real threat to American security. But they ended up with a meme that lives to this day.