Tag Archives: terrorism

Whom Should We Fear?

Among the piles of literature I get, both via snail-mail and online (one of the perks–or perhaps the banes–of being an academic) are the periodic Policy Analysis publications issued by the Cato Institute. Cato, as most of you know, is a libertarian think-tank headquartered in Washington, D.C.

I have my disagreements with their economic policy perspective, but they tend to be very good on civil liberties and their scholars, by and large, are intellectually honest.

The most recent issue I received was fascinating. Titled “Terrorists by Immigration Status and Nationality: A Risk Analysis, 1975-2017, it was a thorough compendium showing which terrorists did what and why during those years. (It appears that people who enter on different visa categories pose different risks, which was something I wouldn’t have guessed.)

Terrorism, for purposes of the study, was defined as “the threatened use or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation.”

Here are some illuminating calculations from the Executive Summary:

  •  Including those murdered on 9/11, the chances of perishing in a terrorist attack committed by a foreigner on American soil is 1 in 3.8 million per year.
  • The chance of an American being murdered by a refugee is 1 in 3.86 billion.
  • Despite the rantings of our bigot-in-chief, the chance of an American being murdered by a terrorist who is an illegal immigrant is zero. You read that right: zero.
  • But watch out for tourists on B visas (the most common tourist visa). The odds of being killed by one of those guys is 1 in 4.1 million per year.
  • The chance of being murdered by one of our very own, home-grown wackos is 1 in 28 million.

No matter what the category, we really don’t have to fear that terrorists are lurking around every corner. We’re far more likely to be killed by a texting driver or even falling furniture.

Per the Executive Summary:

There were 192 foreign-born terrorists who planned, attempted or carried out attacks on U.S. soil from 1975 through 2017. Of those, 65 percent were Islamists, 18 percent were foreign nationalists, 6 percent were non-Islamic religious terrorists, 3 percent were left-wingers and the rest were separatists or adherents of other or unknown ideologies. By comparison, there were 788 native-born terrorists who planned, attempted or carried out attacks on U.S. soil from 1975 through 2017. Of those, 24 percent were right-wingers, 22 percent were white supremacists, 16 percent were left-wingers, 14 percent were Islamists, 11 percent were anti-abortion, and 6 percent were other.

What really impressed me about the analysis–which contained much more information than I have shared here–were the appendices: Table 12, which listed foreign-born terrorists, fatalities and injuries by the nation of origin, and Appendix 1, which listed every person–foreign or native born– who attempted or committed terrorism on U.S. soil between 1975-2017, and their ideologies.

A scan of those ideologies strongly supports Cato’s conclusion that religion, white supremacy and nationalism drive a hugely disproportionate number of these attacks.

Color me unsurprised.

And watch out for falling furniture.

Domestic Terrorists? What Domestic Terrorists?

One of the biggest problems facing sane Americans living through the Trump disaster is that the President’s bizarre behaviors continue to suck all the oxygen out of the room–the one thing he is demonstrably good at is grabbing media attention. As a result, we can easily miss the day-to-day mayhem being wreaked on the federal government, and the persistent undermining of that government’s capacity to discharge its responsibilities.

It’s like a roof leak that goes undiscovered until the damage causes your ceiling to collapse.

Not long ago, I came across this particular leak in America’s roof.

With the frequency of domestic terrorism rising, Trump has apparently decided that the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t need its primary intelligence unit that investigates and analyzes that problem and has disbanded it. Virtually all domestic terrorism in recent years has been committed by right-wing extremists.

The Department of Homeland Security has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism, The Daily Beast has learned. Numerous current and former DHS officials say they find the development concerning, as the threat of homegrown terrorism—including white supremacist terrorism—is growing.

There have been a growing number of articles focused upon the growing threat posed by white nationalists, and reports have documented that rightwing extremists have been responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in the U.S.

According to Bloomberg,

Right-wing extremist violence is a major domestic threat. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s database, it has accounted for about 73 percent of terrorist-related murders in the U.S. in the last 10 years.

 An article in the New York Times in the wake of the New Zealand mosque attack traced the connections between white supremacists  around the globe, and the growth of their movement.

Given the reality of the threat, and the obvious need to confront it, why would the Trump administration disband the effort to understand and contain these dangerous radicals?  Why is Trump so unwilling to call them out, even in the wake of horrific attacks? Why does he encourage them by minimizing the harm done by white supremacists and focusing instead on Muslims?

I think we all know–or can guess– the answers to those questions.

Let’s face it; these particular terrorists are a significant–and clearly welcome– part of Trump’s base. They are also increasingly open about the connection: Recently, a couple sporting both swastikas and a MAGA hat were spotted taking photos in front of a Holocaust Memorial in Rhode Island.

Even more troubling, large numbers of neo-Nazis and other White Supremacists–who already have several apologists among the Republican members of Congress–are running for office.

According to an article in Vox,

In 2018, an astonishing number of self-described white nationalists (including a former president of the American Nazi Party) ran for local, state, and national office in states from California to North Carolina — with the vast majority running as Republicans.

Most who candidly described themselves as Nazis or neo-Nazis lost–but several candidates with ties to white nationalists, including but not limited to Steve King (R-IA) and Matt Gaetz, won their races. A number of avowed white supremacists have declared their intent to take over the GOP, and even a superficial review of Republican officeholders makes it clear that they have already made significant inroads.

No wonder Trump disbanded the DHS unit.

 

Struggling Against Impotence

A friend of mine who lives in Wisconsin sent me a link to a story in his local paper, reporting on a study about hormone levels in the waterways. 

“All over the country, chemicals known to disrupt or act like hormones seem to have permeated the waters and may be harming wildlife — or people.

‘The more you know, the more scared you are,’ said Kimberlee Wright, executive director of the Wisconsin-based nonprofit law center Midwest Environmental Advocates.”

Just one more example of our human interdependence and individual powerlessness–an example to join with random terrorist attacks like the most recent example from Boston, industrial accidents like the one that leveled much of a small Texas town last week, the periodic outbreaks of e coli caused by contaminated foodstuffs….the list goes on.

In a country and culture that has always emphasized individual responsibility and self-determination, the increasing evidence of our individual impotence is particularly disorienting and destabilizing. We are forcibly reminded that we have few alternative to collective measures–government measures–to protect us. We have to trust that those we entrust with responsibility for public health and safety are doing their jobs properly–that police and OSHA investigators and FDA inspectors are well-trained and honest, and that there are enough of them.  In our complex modern world, the only alternative to that trust is withdrawal from the human “grid”–retreat into the woods somewhere, and a life without modern amenities.

No one likes feeling impotent. I have a hunch that much of the “crazy” we see around us–the anti-government “patriots,” the conspiracy theory wackos, the stereotypical angry old white guys–is a response to those feelings of impotence. The notion that we actually have to rely upon our common institutions, the constant reminders that our common lives are complicated and interwoven, and that we require a social infrastructure upon which to “stand on our own two feet” is particularly galling to people who grew up in a less interdependent time. It’s one more element of the dizzying change that confuses and infuriates them.

The reality is, in today’s world, we can’t afford to make government small enough to drown in a bathtub. As unwelcome as that truth is, we need agencies with the authority to require safe factories, to prevent harmful discharges in our waterways, to ensure the food at the supermarket is uncontaminated…Instead of starving government, we need to make sure that it is doing what it is supposed to do–and only those things–and doing them well.

 

 

Words are Inadequate

We still have no answer to the questions who and why…..no way of getting our heads around the fact that some (presumably) human being or beings planned and executed a devastating, vicious attack on people they didn’t know, people who had come to Boston simply to run a marathon.

This is the horror of terrorism: it’s random. It reminds us all that life is tenuous, and that any belief that we are in control our destinies is illusory.  It reminds us–as if we had any doubt after Sandy Hook and Gabrielle Giffords and 9-11– that there are sick people in this world, people whose rage or pain or zealotry trumps their humanity.

There really aren’t any words for what most of us are feeling right now.