More people in the U.S. have been killed in terrorist attacks perpetrated by white supremacists than Muslim extremists since 9/11, according to a new study.
The researchers found that 28 people were killed as a result of white supremacist terrorism, while 26 have died in attacks by Muslim extremists. There were the same number of attacks driven by white supremacists and Muslim extremists—seven of each.
Last week's shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, in which white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people, is the latest terrorist attack studied by New America, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
The report is based on court documents, wire service, and news stories. It looks at "lethal terrorist incidents" with a clear ideological motivation since 2001. Forty-eight people were killed in 19 terrorist attacks by white supremacists, anti-government activists, and other extremists classified as "right wing."
That means that in total, the number of Americans killed by non-Muslim extremists since 9/11 is nearly twice the number killed by Muslim extremists, based on the New America study. But what is classified as extremist ideology and terrorism remains difficult to pin down, as the New York Times points out:
If terrorism is defined as ideological violence, for instance, should an attacker who has merely ranted about religion, politics or race be considered a terrorist? A man in Chapel Hill, N.C., who was charged with fatally shooting three young Muslim neighbors had posted angry critiques of religion, but he also had a history of outbursts over parking issues. (New America does not include this attack in its count.)
Likewise, what about mass killings in which no ideological motive is evident, such as those at a Colorado movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school in 2012? The criteria used by New America and most other research organizations exclude such attacks, which have cost more lives than those clearly tied to ideology.
The concerns of police officers across the country seem to be in line with the figures in the study. In a separate study to be released this week, police officers ranked anti-government radicals as the biggest terrorist threat to public safety, well ahead of Muslim extremism, according to the Times.
“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,” Dr. Kurzman, author of that study, told the Times.