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DHS funded study on domestic terrorism contrasts far-right and al-Qaida inspired attacks

Far-right extremists (FRE) killed 245 people in the United States between the years 1990 and 2014, while ideological extremists affiliated with al-Qaida or associated movements (AQAM) killed 62 people in the country during the same time period. The figures, which exclude both the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombings, were published in a March 2016 study funded by the Department of Homeland Security. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism report, “Twenty-Five Years of Ideological Homicide Victimization in the United States of America,” identified “38 ideologically motivated homicide events committed by extremists associated with al-Qaida and affiliated movements…and 177 ideologically motivated incidents” committed by far-right extremists over the 25-year period.

Among the interesting findings in the report:

  • Victims of far-right extremist violence “were more often purposefully targeted for an ideological homicide than AQAM victims (43.3% to 19.4%, respectively). That is to say that the offenders knew of the victims and purposefully decided to kill them for ideological reasons.”
  • “[M]ore than 20 percent of AQAM victims were in the military or killed in the line of duty. Compared to this, FRE victims were most often targeted for racial or ethnic reasons, specifically as their status as minorities.”
  • More than one in ten victims of far-right extremist killings, or 12.7%, were active duty law enforcement personnel.
  • “72.6% of AQAM victims were killed by a firearm, compared to 62.9% of FRE victims, who were more likely than AQAM victims to be killed with a knife or bodily weapon.”

The authors of the report describe the 9/11 attacks and Oklahoma City bombings as “outliers” to the much more common, lower-casualty types of ideologically motivated attacks. They excluded the outliers, they write, “not to discount the victims of these events, but to examine ideological victimization without the disproportionate impact of such catastrophic acts of terrorism.” Removing these attacks enables the researchers to identify important differences and similarities between AQAM and FRE attacks. Al-Qaida associated attackers were more likely to kill active duty military personnel, for example, while far-right attackers were more likely to kill police officers.

Ultimately, the researchers conclude, the likelihood of someone being victimized by an AQAM attacker “depends on whether they are in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. FRE victims, however, are more likely to be targeted purposefully for assassination based on the offender’s previous knowledge of the individual.” 


© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.