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Islamic Extremist Violence v. Right Wing Extremist Violence, and Our Government

Earlier this month, the Government Accounting Office released a report entitled Countering Violent Extremism”. Its a great example of how to outright lie using data. (I note that the, um, “analysis” was performed between October 2015 and April 2017, and bears the previous administration’s imprint. The current administration’s inanities lie in an orthogonal direction.)

The upshot of the report is:

GAO recommends that DHS and DOJ direct the CVE Task Force to (1) develop a cohesive strategy with measurable outcomes and (2) establish a process to assess the overall progress of CVE efforts. DHS and DOJ concurred with both recommendations and DHS described the CVE Task Force’s planned actions for implementation.

All well and good, once you get through the acronymese. But you cannot tackle something you don’t understand, or pretend not to understand. (Sun Tzu’s dictum about the need to know the enemy and know oneself comes to mind.) And this is how the authors of the piece understand violent extremists:

Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent). The total number of fatalities is about the same for far right wing violent extremists and radical Islamist violent extremists over the approximately 15-year period (106 and 119, respectively). However, 41 percent of the deaths attributable to radical Islamist violent extremists occurred in a single event—an attack at an Orlando, Florida night club in 2016 (see fig. 2). Details on the locations and dates of the attacks can be found in appendix II.

The usual narrative we’ve seen in the past decade and change in this country is that right wing extremists are more dangerous than Islamic extremists. But bad as the right wing crazies are, the narrative is getting a bit hard to sustain, what with the internet being so easily accessible. So the rear-guard action now seems to be to say that radical extremists at least aren’t any worst than the people we actually are allowed to think of as villains, and maybe better if you ignore that Mateen fellow.

But going to appendix II, where the data, such as it is, sits, is eye opening. Appendix II is basically a collection of sordid acts, described in short blurbs. Some are well-known, such as the aforementioned Mateen case: “Orlando Night Club shooting. Omar Mateen killed 49.” Some are oddly described. The John Allen Muhammad – Lee Boyd Malvo sniper attacks are broken up into 15 separate incidents, each with one dead victim. (This seems shy of the 17 deaths attributed to them in other sources, but that’s a quibble.)

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