How much should we worry about Islamic terrorism? How much should we worry about other kinds?
There’s no exact right answer to this question. Who’s out there in dark places plotting murder most foul?
We can only guess, using imperfect information. Of course, there’s “imperfect” and then there’s downright distorted.
The New York Times highlighted one data set recently, in an article headlined “Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in US Since 9/11.”
The article goes on to cite a nationwide survey asking police and sheriffs departments the biggest extremist threats in their jurisdiction, noting that “74 percent listed antigovernment violence, while 39 percent listed ‘Al Qaeda-inspired’ violence, according to the researchers.”
The most obvious problem to note is the choice of start date: Sept. 12, 2001. That neatly excludes an attack that would dwarf all those homegrown terror attacks by several orders of magnitude.
Ah, you will say, but that was a one-time event.
Sort of. It’s no longer possible to destroy the World Trade Center, but we can’t be certain to never again have a large-scale terror attack that kills many people.
If you have high-magnitude but low-frequency events, then during most intervals you choose to study, other threats will seem larger — but if you zoom out, the big, rare events will still kill more people.
We don’t say that California should stop worrying about earthquake-proofing its buildings, just because in most years bathtub drownings are a much larger threat to its citizens.
The other thing to ask is how we’re defining a terror event and classifying the motivation.
I took a little stroll through the underlying data, and on the “jihadist violence” side, the definition is pretty clear. Counting the other types of extremist terrorism, however, is a little murkier.
The data set the Times relies on includes Andrew Joseph Stack, who you may remember piloted a small plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas.
Stack left a manifesto behind, and it doesn’t exactly read like an anarcho-capitalist treatise. Oh, he’s mad at the government, all right, but he’s mad about . . . the 1986 revision to Section 1706 of the tax code, which governs the treatment of technical contractors. Plus the Catholic Church, Wall Street, health insurers and George W. Bush.
He closes his manifesto with, “The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”
Labeling this as a “deadly right-wing attack” is beyond a stretch; it’s not even arguably correct.
Nor is this the only questionable inclusion. Consider Raymond Peake, who was convicted of shooting someone at a firing range, apparently in the course of stealing his gun.
He appears to be on the list on the basis of a single vague statement from law-enforcement that Peake had been stealing guns for an unidentified organization aimed at overthrowing the US government.
Then there was Joshua Cartwright of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., who shot two deputies when his wife called the cops to stop him from hitting her.
This was elevated to a “deadly right- wing attack” because, according to New America and cited by the Times, “Cartwright had a history of non-compliance with the police and Cartwright’s wife told police that he held anti-government views and was ‘severely disturbed’ by President Obama’s election.”
The case of Robert Poplawski is similarly questionable. He ambushed three officers who responded when his mother called the police on him.
Add to the list of “not clear what he was thinking, but probably not domestic terrorism” Curtis Wade Holley, who set fire to his own home and then shot at the first responders.
The timeline suggests he was upset because his ex-girlfriend finally had his utilities shut off and he was worried about being evicted or losing his car, something he’d vowed not to endure without a fight. I find it very hard to understand why these cases were included, except to pad out the count of “deadly right-wing attacks.”
I’m also somewhat dubious about Albert Gaxiola, Shawna Forde and Joshua Bush, who killed Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter while robbing their house.
The database says “The three conducted the robbery to help fund their anti-immigrant organization.” But prosecutors told jurors that “it was Gaxiola who suggested Forde and Bush ought to rob and kill Flores. Gaxiola wanted Flores dead because he was a rival drug smuggler.”
And once you start throwing in the gray cases on the right-wing side, shouldn’t we be similarly permissive when categorizing violence as Islamic terror?
In prison, one of the Beltway snipers penned rambling anti-American screeds in which, according to The Baltimore Sun, “the most recurring theme is that of jihad — or holy war — against America.”
The Beltway snipers killed 10 people, which all by itself would bring the number of jihadist killings up to 36 from the Times’ quoted number of 26.
Then the story becomes less “right-wing terror is much more dangerous than jihad” and more “Muslim terrorists have killed some people in the United States, and other kinds of ideological murderers have, too.”
Monday, July 06, 2015
How to fake a rise in ‘right-wing terror’ | New York Post