Congressional Committee Presented With Incomplete Terrorism Data

Congressional Committee Presented With Incomplete Terrorism Data
Light from the morning sun illuminates the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 3, 2021. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

House Homeland Security Committee members were told at a Feb. 2 hearing that right-wing violent extremism represents the greatest terrorism threat to the country.

The evidence presented? A study that tracked terrorism plots and attacks in the United States from January 1994 to May 2020—the month left-wing violence began erupting around the country in response to the murder of George Floyd.

“Far-right terrorism now significantly outpaces other forms of terrorism in the United States, including terrorism from far-left movements, and from individuals inspired by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda,” said American University professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss, citing the June 2020 study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

In citing the June 2020 report, Miller-Idriss omitted extremist violence from the summer of 2020, as well as terror plots and attacks that have occurred since then.

The CSIS did perform a follow-up study in April 2021, finding that far-right extremists were responsible for 66 percent of the 110 domestic terror attacks and plots in 2020. But that study, too, omits the majority of left-wing violence from the summer of that year—as the paper admits in its fine print.
“There were approximately 450 violent protests between May and August 2020,” the report’s section on methodology states. “Yet [CSIS] only verified 12 incidents of far-left terrorism during that period, since most of the violence did not meet the definition of terrorism.”

CSIS defined terrorism as the deliberate use, or threat, of violence by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals, and create a broad psychological impact.

“For inclusion in the data set, events had to meet all parts of this definition,” the organization said. “[CSIS] did not seek to address other issues, such as hate crimes, protests, riots, or broader civil unrest.”

Meanwhile, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) national director Jonathan Greenblatt told the committee that murders by right-wing extremists are near a 10-year low. He said extremists killed at least 29 people last year, and 17 in 2020—down from a 10-year high of 78 in 2016.
Greenblatt’s data also omits deaths from 2020 protests. ADL’s research acknowledged that “a number of deaths occurred during or near protests in 2020,” but that “it’s not possible to arrive at a universally agreed-upon total for those fatalities, because there is no set criteria for inclusion.”

“A couple of these deaths were identifiably extremist-related and are included in this report. Most, however, are not,” ADL said. “In some cases, killings were committed by people who were involved in protests, or in countering or responding to them, but who had no known ties to any extremist movements.”

In other cases, according to ADL, murders were committed during protests by people “merely using the protests as an opportunity for crime.”

“In a few cases, law enforcement officers shot protesters or bystanders who brandished, or appeared to have, a weapon,” ADL added.

Greenblatt did not disclose these details about ADL’s research methodology to the committee. Rather, he joined the chorus of voices saying right-wing violence is America’s largest terrorist threat, downplaying the recent fall in right-wing murders.

“While [the fall in right-wing violence] could be cause for optimism, more likely it is the result of the COVID lockdowns reducing mass gatherings, and the increased attention of law enforcement following the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection,” Greenblatt said.

“To put it in perspective: Antifa is a problem, but the armed militia practitioners, Q-Anon adherents, and accelerationists are literally a threat to the homeland in a way that dwarfs anything else.”

Committee members did not ask the witnesses questions about the data underpinning their statements about extremist violence. Democrats largely expressed support for the witness statements, while Republicans said law enforcement should focus on both sides of the ideological spectrum.

The purpose of the hearing was for members to hear from experts about the “dynamic terrorism landscape and what it means for America.”