The continuing political debate in the United States over how to combat the potential for terrorist attacks generally splits in a partisan divide. Republicans mostly believe that terrorists with Muslim backgrounds are the major problem, including presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, see such beliefs as a breeding ground for bigotry.
Exploring what group is the most dangerous was something that the New America Foundation (NAF) decided to undertake. The NAF, which is funded by foundations and major universities, has been keeping track of terrorist attacks that have happened in the United States since September 11, 2001.
In attempting to define what a terrorist was, the NAF decided that those who promoted violent extremism in any form was sufficient. This included those who may have supported the ideals of terrorist organizations like al-Queda or ISIS, those committed by people on either side (right or left) of the political aisle and those where the mental health of an individual was suspect.
What the NAF discovered was that between 2004 and 2015, the number of American terrorist attacks committed by white terrorists was double that of those who espoused any sort of Islamic extremism. During this period, there were 18 instances of Americans belonging to right-wing groups undertaking these acts, with only nine coming from Middle Easterners who championed terrorism.
In the nine terrorist acts committed by Muslims or jihadists, 45 Americans have been killed, including 14 in San Bernardino last December 2. Among the 18 attacks by those promoting right-wing causes, 48 Americans died.
The NAF’s data also brought about the discovery that between June 2, 2009 and April 14, 2013, none of the eight terrorist attacks that took place were committed by Islamic extremists. Within that same time frame, six people died and four others were injured on August 5, 2012, when Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire before then committing suicide. Page was a 40-year-old white male.
Critics charged that the data was manipulated, saying that the Ft. Hood shooting on November 5, 2009, was an example of Islamic terrorism due to the shooter yelling “Allah is great” in Arabic. That shooting killed 13 people and injured 30 others, but because the shooter, Nidal Hassan, was American-born and raised, he was not included among the Islamic extremists.
Another facet of the NAF study showed that more Muslim terrorists were prosecuted in the United States than whites who committed such acts. Out of the 15 years covered in the study, there were a total of 502 extremists, with 320 of them charged with acts of Islamic-based terrorism. White terrorists were either prosecuted or killed in only four of those years: 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2012.
Looking more closely at the 182 cases of American terrorism that were not committed by Islamic extremists during this 15-year span, it was discovered that just over 90 percent (165) were committed by whites. Breaking down the 502 terrorists by gender, 91 percent (458) of them were male.
In the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings, Trump indicated that Muslims should be prevented from entering the company, and repeated his comments when asked about the March 21 terrorist attack in Brussels. In the latter case, Cruz indicated that Muslim neighborhoods should be the focus of local police, a comment that drew a great deal of criticism.
However, the information above indicates that such actions would not be able to eliminate the threat of terrorism and that the home-grown variety continues to be a source of danger for all Americans.