There was a curious op-ed in the Washington Post this week, penned by Max Boot. The author recently decided to not only eschew President Trump but the entire Republican Party. He’s now, in the final days of the midterm race, writing columns in support of Democratic talking points which would make some of the MSNBC evening hosts blush.
But this one in particular lands with a thud. His subject is “right-wing terrorism” and how much it’s on the rise. Boot picks out three recent events which could certainly fit the bill if you embrace that worldview: the mail bomber, the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter and Gregory Bush, who murdered two African-Americans in Kentucky recently. After conceding that the actual perpetrators can’t be entirely let off the hook, Boot places the rest of the blame on Trump and the GOP (naturally), but his claims about some growing wave of right-wing terrorism are strange, to say the least.
To ask these questions in no way obviates the perpetrators’ ultimate responsibility for the evil that they do. But terrorists do not operate in a vacuum. So who created the environment in which right-wing terrorism has become far more commonplace — and, since 9/11, far more deadly — than Islamist terrorism in America?
President Trump — by championing “nationalism,” denouncing “globalists” such as Jewish financier George Soros, vilifying immigrants as “snakes” and “animals,” fearmongering about a refugee caravan and defending white supremacists as “fine people” — bears a substantial share of the blame.
The rest of the column is essentially boilerplate, running down a list of Republicans saying disagreeable things, and it could have been lifted in whole cloth from any number of other columns written by liberal columnists over the past week. But what about that claim that “right-wing terror” is on the rise? Fortunately, we have someone who has been compiling data on this subject for quite a while. That would be John R. Lott, Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center. He has a study out which breaks down mass shootings in the United States and around the world, analyzing the motivations and political or religious drive behind such attacks. Rather than seeing a rise in “right-wing terror” attacks, the opposite is true. In fact, the vast majority of mass shootings show no religious or political bias at all.
The United States has well below the world average in mass public shootings, but in contrast to the rest of the world where most mass public shootings appear motivated religion, relatively few mass public shooters in the United States appear to have significant political or religious views that could explain their motivations…
People who are listed as Conservative, Republican, or right-wing perpetrated about 6% of the shooters. For Liberals, Democrats or left-wing the total comes to 4%. Islamic extremists made up 10% of the attacks.
You can download an Exel file of John’s data supporting this study. As usual, he develops meticulous, detailed data, just as he does with gun crime statistics.
As has typically been the case in the past, the vast majority of shootings where multiple people are injured or killed don’t have any identifiable “statement” behind them, with the possible exception of Islamic extremist attacks. (Still a relatively small portion of total shootings.) Domestic disturbances, gang violence, disgruntled employees and just plain crazy people account for most of the carnage.
There is one thing that’s different these days, however, and that’s the way that cable news and the major newspapers amplify the stories. It probably seems as if there’s more politically motivated murder going on because once the networks get their teeth into a story like that they’ll drag it out for weeks if it supports the current narrative. Meanwhile, you could have a dozen mass shootings like the one in Bunny Friend Park a few years ago (nearly two dozen people shot in a matter of minutes) and you’ll never hear a peep about it on MSNBC or CNN.
So I’m afraid the data just doesn’t exist to support the idea of some sort of Right-Wing Terror Wave sweeping the nation. But with the election only six days away I suppose it makes for a juicy headline.