Terrorism

Report: When Obama Became President, Right-Wing Violence Fell

Revisiting the Brown Scare of 2009-10.

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You may have encountered some of the outraged responses to "Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America's Violent Far-Right," a recent study from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point. Having seen some of those perturbed conservative reactions before I read the actual paper, I approached it expecting a Brown Scare document along the lines of Daryl Johnson's infamous Homeland Security report on "rightwing extremism."

That isn't what I found. I certainly don't agree with everything in the new paper, but unlike Johnson's sloppy effort it actually includes some substantial data. Here's the key chart, labeled "Attacks Initiated by Far-Right Groups/Individuals per Year":

Combatting Terrorism Center

Before we go further, a caveat from the author, Arie Perliger: "the quality of, and accessibility to, data on hate crimes and far right violence has improved during the last two decades: we need to take this into consideration when interpreting findings relating to fluctuations in levels of violence." It's not clear to what extent the apparent growth from 1990 to 2011 reveals a real increase in the number of violent incidents and to what extent it just means the measurements are more accurate.

So perhaps it's unwise to use this chart to compare the present to 20 years ago. But if you narrow your focus to the last few years, you see something pretty interesting. In 2009 and 2010—the period when the "rising right-wing violence" narrative was ubiquitous in the media—the number of incidents was actually declining. Let me repeat that: When the Tea Party protests were taking off and Frank Rich et al were warning about the great beast stirring in the fever swamps, the number of attacks was going down.

Instead, the bulk of the increase took place under Bush, not Obama, with a peak during the 2007-08 election season. Perliger argues that this is part of a broader pattern in which "presidential election years and the preceding year are characterized by an increase of far-right violence," and he suggests that the increase in 2011 might represent the same cycle repeating itself. 1996 was an exception, he hypothesizes, because it featured "the least-competitive elections of the last 22 years"; he raises the possibility that "far-right groups and individuals are more inclined to engage in violence in a contentious political climate." Maybe.

Hey, at least it came out the right year.
Time

What happens if you take out the white supremacists, the anti-abortion killers, and so on, and just stick to the people the paper calls the "anti-federalist movement"—militias, sovereign citizens, and others opposed to the concentration of power in Washington, D.C.? Then the Perliger paper does show a brief spike in 2010. Usually, he reports, there are about one to four violent incidents involving "anti-federalists" each year. In 2010, the number jumped to 13. The next year, it dropped back down to two. Perliger contrasts these data with the Southern Poverty Law Center's warnings that the number of anti-federal "Patriot" groups has been growing steadily since 2008. I've argued in the past that the SPLC's count is not a very good proxy for the threat of political violence, and this certainly seems to confirm that.

As I said, I have my disagreements with the paper. (I think the author uses the word "militia" too loosely, for example.) And I'd like to take a look at the raw data, as I've got a number of unanswered questions about Perliger's figures. How many of those 13 "anti-federal" incidents in 2010 involved militias, for instance? Was the spike related to the debate over health care reform? What kind of violence was involved?

But it's unfair to classify this paper with the DHS report. Better to marvel at the contrast between the picture offered here and the picture offered in the press at the time, when the assassination of an abortion doctor and an attack on a Holocaust museum were seen as a sign that a new wave of right-wing violence was taking off in 2009.

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50 responses to “Report: When Obama Became President, Right-Wing Violence Fell

  1. When the Tea Party protests were taking off and Frank Rich et al were warning about the great beast stirring in the fever swamps, the number of attacks appears to have been going down.

    DUH! Because of the Chilling Effect of the PRESENCE of the Tea Parties and other loonies, the whack jobs didn’t need to take so much action – just the THREAT of grandmothers (and my aunt and uncle, God bless their domestic terrorist, Christian hearts) descending on them caused people to curb actions that might draw the ire of the Tea Partyistas. Chilling. Effect.

    Instead, the bulk of the increase took place under Bush, not Obama, with a peak during the 2007-08 election season.

    DUH! Part Deaux.

    1) I blame Bush.
    2) Bush ENCOURAGEED such actions – therefore, more occurred.

    You guys are MORANS! Figure it out!

    Also, fried chicken. Rome OUT.

    1. Why do you hate the children?

    2. Classic rant. Kudos, sir!

      1. FUCK THE UNIVERSITY OF PHOENIX!!

    3. My my, those baggers that pick up their trash after peaceful protest are soooo. . scary!

    4. my co-worker’s half-sister makes $78 every hour on the computer. She has been fired from work for six months but last month her pay was $12289 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on this site… http://www.ace60.com

  2. PS Also saw guilty pleasure film “Cliffhanger” again, so for you, Jesse [voice of John Lithgow]:

    “WALKER! You resilient BAStard!”

  3. The interesting point is that domestic right-wing terrorism incidents have outnumbered those of the Muslim sort. The right wants to spend trillions responding to the latter, but not even study the former.

    1. What Right? It is Obama who is conducting the drone war all over the world. Obama has killed more Muslims in four years than Bush did in 8. What right wing war?

      The Democrats are the party of perpetual war against anyone and everyone including American citizens.

      1. In TonySpeak, “right-wing violence” includes letters to the editor, complaints to the chef over ill-prepared steaks, and putting up non-Democrat yard signs every two years.

    2. “The interesting point is that domestic right-wing terrorism incidents have outnumbered those of the Muslim sort.”

      Not per-capita.

      1. Tony doesn’t understand how per capita works. The country with the largest Muslim population is Michigan, and Muslims only make up 1.2 percent of the state.

        On the other hand, 30-40% of the U.S. population could be considered ‘right wing.’ It isn’t particularly surprising that there’d be more attacks from the second group.

    3. When one defines an act of “domestic right-wing terrorism” as stating “I disagree with Obama on…” of course they will vastly outnumber anything else, you mendacious twit!

      And who says Muslims can’t be “right-wing”?

      1. Most of the Muslims I know are either libertarians or social conservatives who would be pretty much at home in the Tea Party if it weren’t for the virulent anti-Muslim sentiment there.

    4. What incidents might those be?

    5. T o n y| 1.22.13 @ 1:02PM |#

      The interesting point is that domestic right-wing terrorism incidents have outnumbered those of the Muslim sort

      can you actually provide a link to any said example of “right wing terrorism”, please? And offer an estimate of the *body count* of said cumulative terrorisms?

    6. I’m sure Tony is referring to the number of death threats made to the ‘Journal’ who published gun owners addresses, to the number of death threats made to the NRA President during the same time frame.

  4. What happens if you take out the white supremacists, the anti-abortion killers, and so on…

    Can somebody fill in the blank in the following sentence with a nonnegative integer?

    Since Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion extremists have killed (blank) people in the United States.

    I’m just trying to get an idea how common this phenomenon is.

    1. I bet that in 40 years, there have been less than a hundred. Probably less than fifty.

    2. Since Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion extremists have killed eight people and have been convicted of nine attempted murders in the United States.

      Not zero, but also not a crimewave.

      1. If those numbers are correct, it means that Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan killed more people in a single day than all the anti-abortion radicals in this country have killed in 4 decades.

        Wow.

  5. Don’t let the facts get in the way of the narrative!

  6. There were really 500 “right-wing” attacks in 2009? What is the criteria for labeling these attacks “right-wing”? Does this get assigned every time a gay guy gets beat up or an Obama sticker scratched off a car?

    I looked through the links for raw data and didn’t find anything.

    1. It includes all sorts of hate crimes committed by unaffiliated people, as long as they were clearly motivated by one of the ideologies the author identifies as far right. I’d like to see the raw data, too.

      1. Here’s the relevant quote: “The dataset documents all violent attacks that: (1) were perpetrated by groups or individuals affiliated with far-right associations; and/or (2) were intended to promote ideas compatible with far-right ideology, based on the ideological analysis presented in the first part of this study.”

        1. The “and/or” rather than saying “and” is telling. If it falls into either category, the act gets counted.

          “were perpetrated by groups or individuals affiliated with far-right associations”

          Could mean anything. A lot of outlaw biker gangs are far right wing racist groups. But I wouldn’t call some biker killing a guy over a drug deal “right wing political violence”, but this study I think would.

          1. I would love to see a similar study of “far-left” violence. Track every act of violence by a registered Democrat, union member, environmentalists, or anyone associated with the many leftist organizations.

            I bet the numbers would be well into the thousands.

            1. I’d be willing to bet there were more instances of violence and fanaticism to be found in the year and a half of OWS’ force-led “occupation” of private and public property for the express purposes of using assault, vandalism, rape, public defecation ET AL to bring about drastic and immediate authoritarian change that revolved around their desires and manias than in the last 20 years of Right Wing militias.

            2. Drake| 1.22.13 @ 1:36PM |#

              I would love to see a similar study of “far-left” violence.

              It doesnt exist… see, when a guy shoots up the Family Research Council… he’s just expressing his *feelings*….with bullets.

              http://www.rawstory.com/rs/201…..cil-guard/

              In an article from the theTimes.uk, they said (perhaps it was english dry-wit), “the shooter allegedly opposed the Christian group’s ‘intolerant attitude’ towards the gay community”

              So… FRC is ‘intolerant’… gun-wielding gay dude was just ‘expressing his feelings’. Nothing to see here.

            3. Left wing violence, let’s see, hmmmm. Animal Liberation Front, Earth First, Greenpeace, who have I left out?

              1. Oh yeah, Black Bloc.

                1. I?ve actually met animal rights activists and spoken to them. Some were typical leftists, others were not. Black Bloc anarchists spend as much time criticizing the left as they do the right.

                  i understand the urge to point the finger at leftists when confronted with an argument over the violence of the right you may feel inclined to defend, or minimize. But point to the violence perpetrated by real leftists – those who continue to jail thousands for ludicrous drug offenses, or engage in i don?t know how many foreign wars, for example. A knee-jerk reaction to seek out a leftist analog to these very few right-wingers while ignoring pervasive state violence only serves to legitimate it, and trap you in a rhetorical dead end.

              2. Bill ayers comes to mind

            4. I’d like to see the rape, mayhem, theif of the Teabaggers compared to the Occupiers.
              The Gabby Gifford shooting was orginally reported as ‘right wing’ but that was not substantiated.
              George Zimmerman was thought to be right wing but then it became known he was registered Democrat.
              The Aurora theatre shooting was 1st associated with a Teabagger, but that was in error.
              “And now another informative report to substantiate that the right is oh so violent – minus a few details as to how the data was collected.”
              Did you see that one coming?

          2. “(1) were perpetrated by groups or individuals affiliated with far-right associations”

            LOL! What?

            So when one guy in the NRA gets into a fight with another in the NRA over a girl…that’s domestic terrorism! Who knew?

            This “study” sure is revealing, it just doesn’t reveal anything about “right-wing terrorism”.

            1. The NRA isn’t “far right”. Campaign4Liberty is “far right”.

              1. Campaign4Liberty is “far right”… if your source for such information is the SPLC.

        2. So racism and other forms of prejudice are almost certainly being labeled as “right,” which is silly, if true.

          1. Exactly. Tribalism, in all it’s manifestations, is centrist. It goes like this, from right to left…

            Individualist Tribalist Humanist

      2. If American nationalism is “right-wing” then hating America is, by definition, left wing, which pretty much means every Muslim terrorist can chalked up as left-wing terrorism.

  7. You know, I actually debated just this issue with a friend last week. This kind of nails my thesis. The reality is that the rise of the Tea Parties probably had the effect of mainstreaming much of the opposition to Obama’s policies. The kind of people who might, absent some outlet, migrate to genuinely extreme right-wing ideologies wound up supporting the Tea Parties that actively discouraged genuine extremism. A world that uniformly agreed that “You’re a racist or an extremist if you oppose Obama” would have left vast reservoirs of opposition that would have been exploited by actual extremists.

  8. So according to the logic of the left, the NRA is a terrorist organization, yet Bill Ayres is one hell of a nice guy.

  9. When I’m walking the streets alone in the ghettos past midnight, I always keep an out for a extreme right wing white man. He’ll jump out of a corner, furiously brandishing a miniature American flag in his left hand and a gun in his right hand, saying “I want to leave this country immediately, because you look different than the way I do”

    Just last year, a Ron Paul / tea party supporter jumped me, pointed a gun at me, and said “I’ll let you live only if you can tell me what the thirteen stripes of the flag stands for, you (foreign freak)”. Thankfully I demonstrated my loyalty to the country by giving him the answer, which was one of the questions I had to answer for my citizenship test. Whew!

    1. “keep an eye”

  10. Someone needs to do a comprehensive study comparing the incidents of violence inspired by various ideologies–Islamism, environmentalism, anti-federalism, white supremacism, anti-capitalism, and so forth. If it has already been done, please enlighten me.

  11. The problem is in defining what exactly is “right wing”. “Right” and “left” are entirely relative terms. When you start with the premise that essentially all violence is right wing, it’s not that terribly surprising that you end with the conclusion that there is a lot of right wing violence. When socialist right supremacists, religious anti-gay marriage groups, libertarian tax protesters, and militias, all with wildly divergent ideologies are all “right wing”, the term more or less loses all meaning.

    1. Right wing is everything the left doesn’t like. Or admit to liking.

      Like neo-nazis. Even though they are socialists (like the original Nazis), they aren’t consider “left” because they love white people and hate minorities (other than just Jews).

  12. That isn’t what I found. I certainly don’t agree with everything in the new paper, but unlike Johnson’s sloppy effort it actually includes some substantial data. Here’s the key chart, labeled “Attacks Initiated by Far-Right Groups/Individuals per Year”:

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