Several folks asked me to repost this today/tonight because it got lost in the shuffle of yesterday’s election news. So reposted!
Yesterday a self radicalized Bangladeshi immigrant in New York attempted to blow up himself and a chunk of the New York City subway. There’s no indication so far that he was actually in touch with ISIS or any other extremist Islamic group.
Fortunately he failed.
You know you're in the wrong line of work as a suicide bomber when you fail to kill anyone AND fail to suicide. #NYC
— JΞSŦΞR ✪ ΔCŦUΔL³³º¹ (@th3j35t3r) December 11, 2017
He did burn himself and caused some minor injuries to three others. And as is always the case when this type of incident happens we are once again inundated with questions about terrorism and its relationship to immigration. The reality is that terrorism incidents are down globally for the second year in a row. Though there are increases in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, which makes sense giving the ongoing civil war in Syria and insurgencies and/or rebellions in the other states. The reality for Americans is that terrorism in the US remains rare – a small n phenomenon.
The New York bombing is the 19th jihadist terror attack in U.S. since June 2014. The majority of were committed by US citizens (71%). The US has the second highest number of attacks in the West, after France with 23. @ISPI_Terrorism
— Program On Extremism (@gwupoe) December 11, 2017
GWU’s Program on Extremism’s tweet is only looking at attacks arising from extremist Islamic ideology and/or affiliation, but 19 in 3 years is 6.33 incidents a year. Hardly an epidemic. Overall there have been 201 terrorist plots and incidents carried out between 2010 and 2016. This is 33.5 per year. Here too, we’re not talking about a lot of terrorism. And remember it includes both plots and actual attacks that have been carried out. Here’s the breakdown, you’ll notice who is carrying out and/or planning the majority of terrorist attacks in the US:
The database shows 115 cases by right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― compared to 63 cases by Islamist extremists. Incidents from left-wing extremists, which include ecoterrorists and animal rights militants, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents.
While we normally separate out terrorism from mass murder (four or more victims not including the perpetrator) by shooting, commonly called mass shooting, the difference in the number of incidents is staggering. We have now reached the point where there is at least one mass shooting per day in the US. As of 14 November 2017 there have been 317 mass shootings in the US so far in 2017. 2016 had 438! Mass shootings are not rare in the US – they are a very large N phenomenon.
The two types of violence do have some significant differences. Specifically in regard to motivation. Terrorism requires a political motivation; an attempt to use violence to force the state, the citizenry, or both to change their behavior as a result of the fear created by the act or acts of terrorism. Mass shootings that don’t have this component are just mass murders using a firearm. And, of course, the latter gets wrapped up in the ongoing argument over what the 2nd Amendment means and how it should be applied in the 21st Century.
There are, however, attempts to conflate these two issues. For instance, the attorney for the three Kansans facing trial for plotting to blow up an apartment complex where the majority of the residents are Somali immigrants is claiming that his clients activities are covered under both the 1st and 2nd Amendment. Specifically, his clients actions are protected as political speech/actions and as a type of freedom of assembly, as well as under the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
“This case is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center around, and was in reaction to, the 2016 Presidential election,” defense attorneys wrote.
They also argued the case will require jurors to weigh whether the alleged conduct constitutes a crime or whether it is constitutionally protected speech and assembly and the right to bear arms.
This conflation, of an attempted act of domestic terrorism with lawful and protected speech and the right to keep and bear arms, heavily elides the distinction between terrorism and mass murder by mass shooting, which is the usual contact point for questions as to whether mass shootings are a form of terrorism. Short answer: if the shooter had a political motivation it could be terrorism. If the shooter doesn’t, then it most likely isn’t.
So I guess we've stopped asking why an old semi-rich guy in Vegas shot five or six hundred people?
— Schooley (@Rschooley) December 12, 2017
And this really gets to Robert Schooley’s observation. Because the Las Vegas shooter was a very affluent white man, despite the fact that he killed 58 people and wounded 546 more in under a half hour, outside of Las Vegas and maybe the home towns of the victims, the coverage dropped to almost zero quickly after the attack. Had yesterday’s attacker been a white guy with a gun there wouldn’t be any calls today to reform the US immigration system or for travel bans. There wouldn’t even be real calls for sensible reforms regarding firearms sales. Rather there would be calls for thoughts and prayers. And emphatic statements that it is too soon to discuss doing anything but thinking and praying. Americans have built up terrorism into an existential, uber-threat out of all proportion to the reality of terrorism to the lives of Americans. At the same time we’ve decided that mass murder by shooting is just something that happens – a type of background noise to our daily lives.
The national anthem, which has recently gotten recognized more and more, I notice, unequivocally states that the US is the home of the brave. It is high time Americans started living up to that statement and stopped being so easily spooked.
People outside of NYC: TERRORISM!!!!!
New Yorkers: Dude’s a loser with a crappy bomb who’s crowning life achievement is making my train 36 minutes late.
— Kashana (@kashanacauley) December 11, 2017