Putting the Terrorist Threat in Perspective

How likely is an American to be a victim of terrorism?


Steve Rhodes/Flickr

Over the weekend CNN breathlessly reported as "Breaking News"—it breathlessly reports everything as "Breaking News"—a new poll indicating that people are increasingly frightened about terrorism. The accompanying web story stated, "Terrorism has eclipsed the economy as voters' top pick for the biggest issue facing America, a New York Times/CBS News poll has found. Last month only [4 percent] of Americans said terrorism was the most important problem, according to The New York Times. Now nearly one in five … believe it is."

The story goes on:

Following terrorist attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino, California, the poll said Americans are more fearful about the likelihood of another terrorist attack than at any other time since the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. …

More than four in 10 Americans—44%—believe an attack is "very" likely to happen in the next few months. And 70% say that ISIS is a major threat to America's security.

Nearly 60% of people are "very" concerned about the threat of terrorism against Americans committed by elements entering the U.S. from other countries. And 63% are "very" concerned about the threat of terrorism against Americans committed by people currently living in the U.S. who are inspired by foreign extremists."

How likely is an American to be a victim? Curiously, CNN never bothers to say.

In fact, the likelihood is so low that the saturation coverage—which is better described as fear-mongering—looks ridiculous. Commonplace things are far more likely to kill Americans than terrorism—from any source—yet you won't learn that by watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.

It's not as though qualified interviewees would be hard to find. John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart have been putting the terrorist threat in perspective for years. Chasing Ghosts: The Policing of Terrorism is their latest attempt to cool things down.

"Although [over the last 40 years] the yearly chance an American will be killed by a terrorist within the country is about one in 4 million under present conditions," Mueller and Stewart write, "around 40 percent of Americans have professed, in polls taken since late 2001, that they worry they or a family member will become a victim of a terrorist." ["For the period since 2001, the chances are one in 110 million."]

Of course. The media work overtime to make them afraid. But getting killed by an asteroid is more likely. Richard Jackson of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand says we have more to fear from bathtubs and vending machines.

After the attacks, American officials from the president on down sounded repeated alarms about how many al-Qaeda operatives (2,000-5,000) and sleeper cells were in America and about a coming second wave of terrorism. The lack of evidence was considered evidence. No operatives or cells were found and no second wave took place, yet no official apologized.

Thus the U.S. government's expenditure of trillions of dollars since 9/11 is shown to be outrageous.

We've been through this before. In the 1980s a group of right-wing "experts," aided by the media, tried to scare Americans into believing that Soviet-trained terrorists were among us. If so, they preferred living here peacefully to creating mayhem.

Why do the government, the media establishment, and an assortment of consultants traffic in fear?

It's not a hard question. Many people profit from fear-mongering about terrorism. Politicians and bureaucrats gain more power. They also gain access to more money (through borrowing, that is, taxation of future generations). That money ends up in the terrorism industry, a constellation of firms that sell the government endless quantities of goods and services.

No presidential candidate dare tell the truth because rivals will portray him or her as a weak-kneed, head-in-the-sand appeaser. Fear-mongering brings the worst to the top.

Finally, the news media and the "sham 'terrorism expert' industry" it fosters have every incentive to exaggerate any danger. Fear-mongering attracts viewers and builds circulation. Why would CNN report something that might prompt viewers to change the channel?

Regular Americans pay a heavy price—in stress (which is a killer), in lost liberty and privacy, and in prosperity forgone. Fear of terrorism also makes people more willing to support American militarism in the Middle East, which creates more would-be terrorists than it destroys and keeps the scam going. What will it take to change this perverse system that thrives on power, war, and fear?

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog. 

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  1. I suggest you actually study Islamic Doctrine and Islamic History.

    Stage 1: “Moderate” Muslims are the ones first to immigrate in the Hijra (Islamic principle of immigration based on Muhammad’s example). They are often ignorant of what Islam teaches and they do not practice Islam. This is Muruna, i.e., the suspension of Sharia Law in order appear “Moderate” in Kuffar lands. The immigrants though, tend to settle in common areas, creating cultural enclaves, waiting to be “radicalized”, i.e., convinced or socially coerced into being devout Muslims.

    Stage 2: Then come the “Radicals” who are devout Muslims who activate many of the “Moderates” into “Radicals” and impose Sharia Law in the enclaves and then claim that those enclaves are “Muslim Lands”, i.e., part of Dar al-Islam (House of Islam as opposed to Dar al-Harb or House of War/Conflict/Chaos). They agitate for “Muslim rights,” involve themselves in politics and use the Kuffar Laws against the Kuffar or lawfare (See Dearbornistan & parts of Europe). For example France has 751 “no-go zones” where they advise people (non-Muslims) not to go. Even the police do not go into those zones alone.

    Stage 3: Then when the Kuffar wake up and take action against the Muslims, the Muslims begin to wage war against the Kuffar through terrorist acts, etc. (see Niger, Darfur, Nubia, Mali, etc.).

    Stage 4: They gain total control.

    1. I need to buy some Imodium stock. The pants-shitting here is legendary.

      1. Your use of profanity undermines anything that you write.

        1. Ha ha ha.

          No profanity so my meaningless comment isn’t undermined! Winning!

    2. Cool story bro.

    3. hahahaha. you are an idiot.


      1. France has numerous places where non-muslims fear to go. As does the UK. As does most of Europe. In the US and Canada, there are similar-though less dire places.

        France, The UK, the US, the EU all agree that there are no ‘no-go zones’. Their criteria for this statement is that there are no official no go zones.

        Snopes and everyone else who laughs about this rely on such semantic tricks.

        But we see the reality every day–and not just with muslims. Places where the cops don’t arrive to 911 calls for over an hour. Places where a house can just burn down.

        None of these places is official. No pol in their right mind would ever admit that they’ve ceded authority of stretches of their sovereign territory to some group–because they haven’t.

        Everyone knows you just don’t go to X or Y or Z.

        The worst part about all this is that so many of the people playing these semantic games know exactly what is meant by ‘no-go zones’

        1. There are zero no-go zones in the UK based on Religion, sure there are places where if you are not a local you would want to avoid but that’s down to scumbags and they can be any colour.

    4. Correction: Stage 4: Americans take up arms and systematically wipe every single radical asshole from every square inch of US soil, retire to poolside for beers and football. That sounds more probable to me.

  2. How Circumstance Dictates Islamic Behavior
    Preach Peace When Weak, Wage War When Strong
    by Raymond Ibrahim

  3. The Annihilation of Civilizations

    “By the time Mohammed died in 632 AD, Islam had used persuasion and jihad to subjugate Arabia. The annihilation of native Arabic culture is Sunna, the perfect example for all times and all Muslims. Said another way, the political theory of Islam is annihilation of Kafir civilization. How well did this political theory work out in history? Is this theory of annihilation at work today?

    We have records of Mohammed’s last jihad against the Christians north of Arabia. After he died, Umar, the second caliph, took Mohammed’s jihad against the Christians and developed it into a war that conquered half of the Christian world. But this conquest was only the beginning of the political transformation. Sharia law was put into place and the Christian Kafirs became dhimmis. But Umar was not able to conquer Anatolia, the site known today as Turkey. For centuries, Islam attacked Anatolia and finally took Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, Turkey.”

    1. People have killed people for as long as there have been people. Genghis Khan and his golden hoard committed horrendous acts as did the Christian Crusades

      Should we tar 1.4 billion people with the same brush as about 50,000 crazies that would be hardly fair

  4. Yes they are trying to create panic and hysteria just like the drug warriors did in the 80’s. Their tactics are very similar, will lots of self-appointed experts claiming that “we’re all gonna die”. Nevertheless, Islam is a true threat – but mostly to its own followers. If a Muslim believes in freedom of speech and human rights and that Israel has a right to exist then I see no problem with letting them immigrate. And it’s just stupid to blame ISIS for all these home grown terrorists who are just as likely to cling to extremist Koranic doctrine as they are to write their own racist/misogynist manifesto. It’s all the same thing. Now some will say that Muslims are told to lie about their true beliefs. Which is true but it’s easy enough to discredit them in such cases. And if you think this is impossible and leads inevitably to insanity and one’s own undoing then welcome to your caliphate.

  5. Adding “ban the automobile” to calls for repealing the First and Second amendments would go a long way toward putting this in perspective. Besides, conservative prohibitionist asset forfeiture and stop-and-search policies have turned the automobile into another opportunity to rob and jail individuals. What was once our vehicle for surviving communist H-bombs by spreading thin over a federal highway system has become an asset to be forfeited by communist-style confiscation in These States. If we cannot keep Congress from bombing foreigners and instigating the same revenge we ourselves would visit on them were the tables turned, we deserve to have the IRS and DEA confiscate our homes and automobiles. Vote early, and Vote Libertarian.

  6. Government is by far the biggest threat to my life and liberty. You’d think that “small government” conservatives might recognize that, but nope.

    1. im glad someone else bothered to put together the actual numbers, but this is so stupid obvious (to me at least). treating really really improbable things like they’re everyday occurrences is a prescription for bad policy. how much time and effort do you put into trying to avoid meteorites?

    2. “When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.” -Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

  7. I have yet to find an American who is scared of terrorism on the other hand I know lots of people that are afraid that our government will take away our ability to defend ourself from criminals and terrorist.

  8. CNN has a viewing audience?

    1. Many retired people are constantly looking for things to be afraid of. CNN delivers.

  9. The attacks on 9/11 killed 574 more people than the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    1. The wars after 9/11 killed about 70,000,000 fewer people than WWII.

  10. US cops have killed 15,000 people since 9/11. Muslim terrorists have killed, what, 30?

    1. But… cops only kill bad people right?

  11. I’m not going to do the sums again, but it is very easy to show that waiting times of 1hr/passenger for TSA delays compared to the number of hours in an average life means that TSA has ‘killed’ many more humans than the terrorists could ever hope to. This ignores the number of people who have died driving rather than put up with the delays and gropings.
    For those who gripe that you can’t compare, say auto deaths, here’s a direct correlation between an over-wrought response and the cause of that response.

  12. “The accompanying web story stated, “Terrorism has eclipsed the economy as voters’ top pick for the biggest issue facing America, a New York Times/CBS News poll has found.”

    Who cares about these “biggest issue” polls? All they reflect is whatever drum the media are beating that particular week.

    In the 1980s, when the media were covering the “nuclear freeze” movement wall-to-wall, polls claimed that “nuclear war” was the biggest issue facing America. One month later, polls claimed that “drugs” were the most serious issue facing America — everyone forgot about nuclear war. Shortly thereafter, it was AIDS. And so on, and so on.

    Similarly, when the media were covering Occupy Wall Street, “inequality” was the biggest issue facing America.

    In a few weeks we will forget all about terrorism when another “biggest issue” arises to take its place.

  13. And just what are the odds of Americans getting murdered by police? Last time I heard it was an 8:1 ratio over terrorists. So…….who should we fear most?

  14. I have a way to get bipartisan support to get rid of terrorism in the U.S., which goes as follows:
    1. Give arms to illegals from south of the border.
    2. Have the now armed illegals round up all Muslims in the country.
    3. Deport the Muslims to Mexico.
    4. Give citizenship to all the illegals that help deport the Muslims.
    5. Have anybody beside Trump build a giant wall across the southern border.
    6. Everybody gets drunk and laugh at Trump whining about not having a wall named after him.

  15. When Oprah becomes Secretary of State under Trump she’s going to address the nation by saying “and you get a metal detector! and you get a metal detector!”

  16. It’s apparent after the San Bernardo mass murders that even with all there military garb Law enforcement will only show up after the carnage to do the press conferences. The various law enforcement sources can not stop terrorism and are only focused on protesters, unarmed african americans and the mentally ill. FBI, US MARSHALL SERVICE, SWAT DEA, BUREAU OF PRISONS, ATF, CIA, Homeland, local law enforcement billions of dollars and we are on are own.

  17. Quid Pro Quo

    The risk of an American being killed by Mohammedans here in these United States of America is minuscule compared to his being killed in an automotive mishap. The difference is that, in the former, there is no quid pro quo.

    Americans receive nothing of value from the “Silent Invasion” by Mohammedans; whereas, they receive much of value from the use of automobiles. The risk:benefit ratio in the former case is almost infinite; in the latter case, slight despite the thousands of deaths annually.

    “Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and God’s religion shall reign supreme.” -The Recital (The Koran), The Spoils 8:36

    Mohammedanism was invented as a religion of war to inflict death upon us “infidels” in order to provide a rationale for Arabic conquests. Automobiles were invented as a means of transportation.

    The so-called War On Terror really is a war against Orthodox Mohammedans, their sympathizers, and supporters. Even though it is a war declared by Mohammed himself as clearly stated in the Koran, its most recent fire was ignited by Bush the First. The consequences of his ill-conceived, misguided policy have proven themselves disastrous.

    See “Did Bush Burn The Koran?” under …
    http://nationonfire.com/catego…..relations/ .

  18. After Pearl Harbor, the chance that Americans might be killed by Axis troops on American soil was miniscule.

    Did that mean that concern about the actions of the Axis powers, fear that they’d carry out their threats, was unwarranted?

    1. The Axis powers had naval forces and air forces 75 years, ISIS has none. Comparisons of the ISIS military to the armies, air forces, and navies of Germany and Japan are ridiculous.

    2. World War II was fought against clearly identifiable countries that posed significant threats to us and actually attacked us. ISIS isn’t nearly as threatening; they are outnumbered, possess inferior technology on the whole, lack training, and control areas in some of the most unstable shithole countries in the world.

      As for being afraid of the Axis powers, no, they shouldn’t have been afraid. War was justified, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid. You should always take probability into account.

  19. I have known for years that the odds of me being blown up are astronomical but that is hardly the point since I am not concerned so much about myself but my country. At four million to one that means around 16 people murdered by muslim terrorists in the United Kingdom and about 80 in America.

    It starts to take on a new meaning now, doesn’t it? And if we conservatively estimate 80 people are affected by each death, relatives, workmates, shopkeepers, tradesmen, etc etc then the numbers become about 1,300 and 6,400 respectively.

    Think about that. Terrorist bastards murdering my own people. If it were only one I’d want revenge but 16 0r 80? I want to go to war!

  20. I’d say according you your own article, 16% of Americans were victims of terrorism within the last month.

  21. How likely is an American to be a victim of terrorism?
    Curiously, CNN never bothers to say.
    In fact, the likelihood is so low that the saturation coverage?which is better described as fear-mongering?looks ridiculous. Commonplace things are far more likely to kill Americans than terrorism?from any source?yet you won’t learn that by watching TV or reading the daily newspaper.

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