New study: Violence by white supremacists "has surged since President Trump took office"

Violent acts motivated by right-wing political beliefs have far outpaced any other type of domestic extremism

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published November 27, 2018 6:00AM (EST)

Barack Obama; Donald Trump (Getty/Scott Olson/AP/Evan Vucci)
Barack Obama; Donald Trump (Getty/Scott Olson/AP/Evan Vucci)

When former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano warned in 2009 that right-wing extremist groups could pose a serious threat to national security she was lambasted by conservatives. Various lobbying groups pushed back against the federal government's efforts to clamp down on right-wing extremism and right-wing media accused the Obama administration of unfair targeting. Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that "there is not one instance they can cite as evidence where any of these right-wing groups have done anything," and Napolitano was compelled to apologize to veterans' groups after she speculated that veterans would be ripe targets for recruitment.

Now a new analysis of data pertaining to global terrorism finds that violent acts motivated by right-wing political beliefs have far outpaced any other type of domestic extremism over the past decade.

"Over the past decade, attackers motivated by right-wing political ideologies have committed dozens of shootings, bombings and other acts of violence, far more than any other category of domestic extremist," according to a Washington Post analysis of data on global terrorism. "While the data show a decades-long drop-off in violence by left-wing groups, violence by white supremacists and other far-right attackers has been on the rise since Barack Obama’s presidency — and has surged since President Trump took office."

The study mentioned two incidents that occurred last month and claimed 13 lives — one at a Kroger in Kentucky, where a gunman reportedly attempted to enter a historically black church and then murdered two customers at the nearby grocery store, and the other at a synagogue in Pittsburgh where an anti-Semitic gunman murdered 11 Jews due to his belief in a conspiracy theory that blamed Jewish people for the migrant caravan heading toward the United States.

It also cited an additional incident that occurred this month. On that occasion, a man who had posted rants against women and African Americans online opened fire at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, killing two women in the process.

The Post article announcing the results of its study did not hesitate to attribute partial blame to Trump:

Terrorism researchers say right-wing violence sprouted alongside white anxiety about Obama’s presidency and has accelerated in the Trump era. Trump and his aides have continuously denied that he has contributed to the rise in violence. But experts say right-wing extremists perceive the president as offering them tacit support for their cause.

After the violence in Charlottesville, for example, Trump asserted that “both sides” were equally to blame and that there were “some very fine people” among the far-right demonstrators, many of whom wore “Make America Great Again” caps while chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans.

More recently, Trump rallied crowds in the run-up to the Nov. 6 midterm elections with incendiary rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants, terming a caravan of Central American refugees an “invasion” and ordering active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Anti-Defamation League CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt said "The Washington Post’s analysis is consistent with what ADL’s experts at the Center on Extremism have long known: violence from right-wing extremists, like white supremacists and anti-government extremists, is on the rise and accounts for the vast majority of domestic terrorism."

"According to ADL’s latest research," he continued, "71 percent of extremist-related murders in the U.S. over the past decade were at the hands of right-wing extremism. White supremacists are emboldened – as we all just saw in the horrific Pittsburgh attack, in Charlottesville, and elsewhere. We have to combat this rising tide of extremist violence in America. This starts with our civic leaders choosing their words carefully and using their bully pulpit to speak out against racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry at every opportunity. Among other things, we also need police departments, mayors, governors, and county officials across the country to tally hate crimes data and report it to the FBI. There are some 90 cities with populations exceeding 100,000 people that do not report hate crimes to the FBI or affirmatively report zero hate crimes."

The Post's analysis is reminiscent of an FBI report released earlier this month. It found that hate crimes had surged in 2017, rising for the third straight year in a row, with nearly 60 percent of victims being selected because of their race, ethnicity or ancestry and more than 20 percent because of their religion. Overall it determined that there were 5,060 known victims of hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity or ancestry, 1,749 victims of hate crimes motivated by religious hatred, 1,338 victims targeted due to sexual-orientation bias, 160 victims of disability bias, 132 victims of gender identity bias and 54 victims of gender bias.


By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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