Government Hype Helps Terrorists

The Department of Homeland Security makes terrorism more effective by exaggerating the threat it poses.


John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, seems to be moonlighting as a publicist for ISIS. How else to explain his fearmongering warnings about terrorism on Fox News last Friday?

"I was telling Steve on the way in here," Kelly said, referring to Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy, "if he knew what I know about terrorism, he'd never leave the house in the morning." Kelly's remarks, which seemed designed to put a damper on everyone's plans for Memorial Day weekend, complemented the efforts of terrorists, who aim to provoke an emotional response that grossly exaggerates the threat they pose.

"It's everywhere," Kelly said. "It's constant….It can happen almost here anytime." He probably meant it can happen here almost anytime, but you get the idea: The threat of terrorism is so severe and pervasive that it's foolhardy to venture past your front doorstep.

Contrary to Kelly's claims, terrorism is not everywhere, and it is not constant. It is a rare event that is much less likely to kill you than myriad hazards that somehow do not deter us from leaving our homes in the morning.

From 1970 through 2016, according to numbers from the Global Terrorism Database, terrorist attacks killed 3,662 people in the United States. Nearly 3,000 of those deaths, 82 percent of the total, resulted from the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Counting 9/11, the average is 78 deaths a year, which makes the annual risk of dying in a terrorist attack within the United States 1 in 4.2 million for a random American. The lifetime risk, based on a life expectancy of 78.8 years, is roughly 1 in 53,000.

Those risks pale beside many we face every day without being paralyzed by fear. If Steve Doocy is looking for reasons to stay home, he should worry less about a terrorist attack and more about a car crash, which according to the National Safety Council is about 465 times as likely to kill him. The odds that Doocy will be killed by assault with a firearm, drowning, or exposure to excessive natural heat are, respectively, 143, 45, and three times as high as the odds that he will be murdered by a terrorist.

Not that taking Kelly's advice by cowering in his home will necessarily save Doocy. He still might fall down the stairs, a kind of mishap that each year kills nearly 30 times as many Americans as terrorists do.

Some risks are smaller than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack. Based on terrorism deaths since 1970, you are less likely to be killed by lightning, a dog, or stinging insects.

But that is true only if we include the 9/11 attacks, which were highly unusual and are unlikely to be repeated, in the calculations. If we limit the analysis to the years 2002 through 2016, the annual risk of dying in a terrorist attack is about 1 in 25 million, while the lifetime risk is 1 in 317,000. By that measure, lightning is twice as dangerous as terrorists.

Why does Kelly seem determined to make us worry about terrorism far more than is rational? Perhaps because his budget depends on an inordinate fear of terrorism.

In a 2014 Cato Institute policy analysis, John Mueller and Mark Stewart estimated that annual counterterrorism spending by federal, state, and local governments had risen by $75 billion since 9/11. Applying the usual standards for assessing the cost-effectiveness of regulations, they found that the additional spending could be justified only if it saved something like 11,000 lives a year.

That is not remotely plausible, but Kelly is doing his best to convince us otherwise by magnifying the terrorist threat and alluding to secret knowledge of attacks averted. "The good news for us in America," he said on Fox News, "is we have amazing people protecting us every day." He mentioned several agencies, but his own got top billing.

© Copyright 2017 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: Another Court Panel Allows Trans Teen to Use Bathroom of His Choice

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Coercive government again and again.

    If there were a market of governments — if governments could go out of business from lack of customers or financial incompetence or any of the other reasons why ordinary businesses fail — idiots like this would see their customer list dwindle to a few idiots with no money. They’d end up on soap boxes in Hyde Park or trying to bum a few batteries for their bullhorns.

    Because in a market of ideas, his would be shown up for lack of reality. It’s only when people are faced with having to accept one of two lousy candidates that everyone gets stuck with the dregs. If people could sign up for the government of their choice, spouting nonsense like this, over and over, and being proven false over and over, would only result on shedding well-off customers faster than rats on the Titanic.

    Coercive government is the root of political evil.

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do… http://www.webcash10.com

  2. Propagandists gotta propagandize

  3. Our government probably kills more innocent Americans every year than does terrorism inspired by religion.

    1. + or – one Tamir Rice.

    2. Our government kills far more innocent Americans every year by discouraging them from flying via the TSA alone. Driving from one place to another is far more dangerous than flying there.

  4. “”if he knew what I know about terrorism, he’d never leave the house in the morning.” ”

    Same with hotdogs.

  5. This same exact article has been churned out how many times now? Down to the lightning strikes.

    In the real world, normal people aren’t aspy libertarians plotting out their risk of dying on a computer before leaving the house. They just want the terrorism to stop.

    1. Maybe it’s like the “hate speech is not covered by the first amendment” meme, if you repeat it enough times people start to believe it.

    2. How else can you convince “real word, normal people” that they are idiots for caring so much about terrorism if you don’t quantify its insignificance?

      1. How many times have you told your wife that the tiny spider can’t possibly hurt her?

        1. I don’t care if it can’t hurt me or not, all spiders should die. By fire.

  6. So what you’re saying is that terrorists are only terrorists because people are afraid of them? If people weren’t afraid of them then they’d just be murderers?

    I guess it’s a good thing nobody is afraid of being murdered.

    1. Actually, if we treated terrorists more like common criminals, albeit nasty ones, their tactics would be far less effective and there wouldn’t be much point to them doing it.

  7. Well, Mr. Kelly, please do your job and make it safe to leave the house.
    Maybe by taking all the money wasted on street theatre at airports and buildings, and spending it on effective counter terrorism experts who will point out the bad guys for arrest or execution, depending on whether they are in the US or a foreign country.
    Then in your spare time, gather the world nations together and come up with the equivalent of the Geneva convention for armed conflicts where one or more of the participants is not a nation-state, but a supra-national ideology whose adherents do not wear uniforms. Or just declare the tenth Crusade.

  8. RE: Government Hype Helps Terrorists

    1. Never waste a crisis.
    2. Always have a crisis ready so more tax dollars can be extorted from the unwashed masses, and using a crisis is always a good excuse to further oppress them.
    3. This is all just good common sense.

    1. ‘We have nothing to sell but fear itself’

  9. “There is no such thing as “radical Islam.” I have refused to accept several organizations that seek to combat or expose the antics of “radical” or “extreme” Islam, because I know that it is not extremism that is causing the violence…it’s mainstream, typical, normal, traditional, specified, canonical [based on religious law] Islam.” ?Amil Imani (See more below.) [emphasis added]

    Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

    Excerpts From Some of Mohammad’s Chroniclers:

    Sahih Bukhari (52:177) – Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”

    Sahih Bukhari (11:626) – [Muhammad said:] “I decided to order a man to lead the prayer and then take a flame to burn all those, who had not left their houses for the prayer, burning them alive inside their homes.”

    1. But remember always that the Quran allows lies, deceit, cruelty, machinations, and anything else that a Muslim believes will advance Islam. No Muslim is bound to any honor in dealing with the infidels, the unbelievers, the Kafir.

      The upshot here is that ALL Muslims ? Muslims being anyone who has embraced the religion of Islam ? are bound to Sharia, the Code of Law derived from the Quran, the Hadith, and the Sira. It is not for them to question but to obey without question. True, some are more militant than others but the universal truth is that Islam must rule the world by Caliphate; that all will be Muslims; or tax-paying subordinates to Muslims; or dead.


  10. Well, Ms. Conway’s message was perfect for Fox, since their mantra is “be afraid, be very afraid.” Like Ann Coulter who sees a Mexican rapist under every bed, Ms. Conway wishes to engender fear and loathing for the “other,” thus making the minority president’s ridiculous attempts to make us all safer by building unnecessary and expensive walls or keeping out Muslim refuges more palatable. The unfortunate result of this fear mongering is that it is working, particularly in places where neither Mexicans, other Latinos or Muslims have settled. This is very like what happened during the Japanese panic at the start of WWII. California and the West Coast were gung ho for interning Japanese civilians, even though the likelihood of danger from them was negligible. Hawaii which had been attacked and had a much large proportion of Japanese civilians relative to its population, never interned a single family. Amazing how ignorance can feed fear and history keeps repeating itself..

  11. It is very interesting that the Japanese internment (which was ordered by a democrat president), is somehow Trump’s fault. It’s also interesting that Trump wants to put Muslims in internment camps. i hadn’t heard this. A citation perhaps? i do enjoy the observation that the deplorable flyover states are hopelessly racist (i mean it obvious, isn’t it? No Mexicans or Muslims live there; that MUST mean that everyone who lives there is a Trump-loving extremist racist). And i think it is delicious that somehow Hawaii is pure, and unafraid of Islamic extremist terrorism, despite being attacked by the Japanese Empire, 76 years ago. i mean, obviously, the two things are inseparable; they’re virtually the same thing, aren’t they? What a monolithic, reinforced steel, impregnable fortress of logic Amogin has constructed. Unassailable!

  12. Unless he said this from the comfort of his own bed, he can go fuck himself.

  13. I’ve had the same thought. If the point of terrorism is terror it seems like news about it is a necessary part of the strategy.

  14. The threat of terrorism is a direct, inevitable, expected and (to those who make policy) ACCEPTABLE result of our foreign policy.

  15. Fear is the path to the darkside. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering! -Yoda People have irrational fears and it gets hyped by media, government and officials whenever anything bad happens. When I hear friends, family, co-workers worrying about a possible terrorist attack I mentioned the odds of one happening. It is so low it is not worth worrying about, especially compared to many other daily things we do as noted above.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.