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Are Far-Right Extremist Crimes on the Rise? No


- April 8th, 2019
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Despite the media coverage—I’ll get to that in a second—far-right extremist crimes are not on the rise. The number of crimes ascribed to the far-right has been holding steady since the 1970s.

“There has been a steady rate of far-right extreme crimes since at least 1970, when we started collecting data,” said Michael Jensen, a senior researcher at START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.  “What has changed is the emphasis on reporting far-right extremism. It produces the perception that there is a new increase. It’s not true.”

Are you wondering what might be considered to constitute a “far-right” extremist crime? I know I was. I hopped on over to the Global Terrorism Database, a project of START, to see what might fall under the “far-right extremist” crime category as opposed to a “far-left extremist” crime or any other extremist crime. How are the researchers determining a group or criminal is from the “far-right?”

According to the Global Terrorism Database methodology, criteria were collected on the following variables:

  • incident date
  • region
  • country
  • state/province
  • city
  • latitude and longitude (beta)
  • perpetrator group name
  • tactic used in attack
  • nature of the target (type and sub-type, up to three targets)
  • identity, corporation, and nationality of the target (up to three nationalities)
  • type of weapons used (type and sub-type, up to three weapons types)
  • whether the incident was considered a success
  • if and how a claim(s) of responsibility was made
  • amount of damage, and more narrowly, the amount of United States damage
  • total number of fatalities (persons, United States nationals, terrorists)
  • total number of injured (persons, United States nationals, terrorists)
  • indication of whether the attack is international or domestic

Here is a list of perpetrators used by the GTD. There is no clear variable establishing the nature of the political movement carrying out an attack. In the GTD codebook, which defines inclusion criteria and variables in the study, it doesn’t say either but I did find this:

In order to maximize the efficiency, accuracy, and completeness of GTD collection, the GTD team at START combines automated and manual data collection strategies. The process begins with a universe of over one million media articles on any topic published daily worldwide in order to identify the relatively small subset of articles that describe terrorist attacks. This is accomplished by applying customized keyword filters to the “fire hose” of media articles available through a subscription to the Metabase Application Programming Interface (API) provided by Lexis Nexis. The English-language content from Metabase is supplemented with articles downloaded from the Open Source Enterprise (www.opensource.gov), which includes English-language translations of sources from over 160 countries in over 80 languages. This filter isolates an initial pool of potentially relevant articles, approximately 400,000 per month. These articles are then processed using more sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning techniques to further refine the results, remove duplicate articles, and identify articles that are likely to be relevant. The GTD team manually reviews this second subset of articles to identify the unique events that satisfy the GTD inclusion criteria and are subsequently researched and coded according to the specifications of the GTD Codebook. Each month, GTD researchers at START review approximately 16,000 articles and identify attacks to be added to the GTD.

So is it the media identifying who the “far-right” extremists are in their reports? We don’t know for sure but there are limited ways to make this determination: either the groups self-identify as “far-right” or someone/some criteria is determining the political group in which they belong. Now let’s go back to the beginning: there is an increase in reporting of “far-right” crimes and the Global Terrorism Database actually uses media reports to inform its population of variables.

I decided to look up an incident to see if I could figure out from where a “far-right” determination might be coming. In the United States, I examined an incident that took place on 12/7/2017 and was described as a “white extremists incident.”

A high school student opened fire on his fellow students in Aztec, New Mexico. The incident summary on the database report is as follows:

“12/07/2017: An assailant, identified as William Atchison, opened fire on students at Aztec High School in Aztec, New Mexico, United States. The assailant shot and killed two students and fired multiple shots at a locked classroom before shooting and killing himself. Statements Atchinson made in his suicide note and posted online reflect a fixation on mass shootings, as well as a misogynist and white supremacist narrative referenced in message forums where participants self-identify as “involuntarily celibate” (incel).”

So he posted on forums about school shootings as well as some “white supremacist narratives.” Other sources used in the database about this crime include the Associated Press, Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times. Are those biased sources? I’ll let you make the call. Here’s the AP article, which is titled, interestingly, “Racial motive disputed in New Mexico school shooting.” Yes, disputed. And here comes the kicker:

Law enforcement officials on Wednesday disputed a Southern Poverty Law Center report asserting that a gunman in a deadly New Mexico school shooting had been influenced by white supremacist views.

Where did the SPLC get their information from?

In the report Monday, the Southern Poverty Law Center based its findings on a story in The Daily Beast that detailed online postings that the news site attributed to Atchison.

“He was an active creator of memes and racist messaging,” said Ryan Lenz, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “How that ties into the ultimate violence is unfortunately a question that will never be answered.”

Bryce Current — the internal affairs captain for the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, the agency overseeing the investigation — criticized the report as an attempt to politicize the shooting. Jayme Harcrow, a spokeswoman for the department, said local authorities had not obtained information linking a motive in the case to white supremacist movements.

“I don’t think this has anything to do with a political agenda,” Current said.

Ryan Lenz, the SPLC spokesperson is quoted in The Daily Beast story so it would seem that the SPLC is a source for The Daily Beast story while simultaneously using The Daily Beast story as an authority for their own “hate database.” Are you dizzy yet? Does this remind you of anything else we’ve seen around the political block recently? I bet it does. By the way, the Newsweek report referenced in the GTD is titled “White man behind school shooting was obsessed with Trump and Hitler” and makes no reference to the shooter being obsessed with either Trump or Hitler other than merely saying it is so. There are no links or quotes supporting this headline, all the Newsweek article offers is a re-post of a quote used in The Daily Beast story:

“How am I supposed to function in this world?,” the post on Steam said. “Wherever I go, I see degeneracy. Pointless materialism, hedonism, sexual decay, dirty ni–ers who do nothing but slowly break down this society etc. it’s fucking everywhere. No way to escape it, 99 percent of people are part of it and whatever I do I am confronted with the death of the West. Go to the store and buy groceries in peace? Nope, here’s a group of LGBT liberal filth in line with you. And there’s a ni–er family with 10 kids over there. And a Finn too, but he’s overweight as fuck and he’s buying alcohol and shit junk food. Fucking fantastic.”

Here’s the link offered by The Daily Beast as a source for the shooter’s quote. The link goes to another person’s profile, I’m sure the shooters profile was deleted and reassigned, and there’s no screenshot of the original post so I can’t even tell what the person in question said or if the person who said it was the shooter at all.

Now here’s another media source, the Farmington Daily Times, that describes the motive a little differently than the SPLC-Daily Beast:

As for a motive, Lincoln said investigators believe Atchison’s main motivation was notoriety, but added it is possible law enforcement officials might not be able to “truly” determine his motivation.

“We just think he wanted to attach that shooting to a day already infamous to carry on his personal agenda,” Lincoln said referencing the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Aztec shooter left a suicide note. The note read:

“If things go according to plan, today would be when I die. I go somewhere and gear up, then hold a class hostage and go apeshit, then blow my brains out.”

He wrote “work sucks, school sucks, life sucks. I just want out of this shit.”

So despite police disputing the white supremacist motive of the Aztec shooter and a suicide note with no cause manifesto or any racial targeting in his killing, the event is listed as a “white supremacist” event in the Global Terrorism Database. The majority of Atchison’s postings referenced in The Daily Beast article are actually about shooting up schools.

This methodology is important because according to The Wall Street Journal article I linked above, START’s Global Terrorism Database is “used to produce the State Department’s annual terrorism report for Congress.”

And there is more. The U.S. Extremist Crime Database is part of the START project, but is a little different.

Because it [START] includes only premeditated attacks committed with the explicit purpose of promoting an ideology, its numbers are smaller than some other data sets.

One of the most sweeping is the U.S. Extremist Crime Database, a collection of violent and financial crimes committed by political extremists in the U.S. from 1990 forward—and it’s the persistence of far-right ideology this data reflects that alarms experts.

In other words, if the motives of a crime aren’t explicitly promoting an ideology, we have a database analyzed by experts who will divine the intentions of the perpetrator. What on earth?

The experts are alarmed that the number of far-right crimes hasn’t subsided. “The most striking thing is the resilience of the threat,” said Joshua D. Freilich, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and co-director of the Extremist Crime Database. “It’s consistent in terms of the level of activity.”

The ECD project does define what a “far-right” extremist is.

The database defines far-right extremists as fiercely nationalistic; anti-global; suspicious of federal authority; reverent of individual liberties, especially the right to own guns and be free of taxes; believing in conspiracy theories; and, in some cases, antagonistic toward specific racial or religious groups. The mainstream conservative movement and the mainstream Christian right are not included.

Wow, “in some cases” the racial stuff, but the most important things are this liberty, guns, taxes, anti-global junk. Real danger. But don’t worry, they don’t consider “mainstream conservatism” as “far-right.” The criteria should be changed to say they don’t consider the “Republican leadership” as extremists, but regular old conservatives tend to believe those things listed so watch out. Maybe the goal is to turn mainstream conservatives into “far-right” extremists? More good news, the project is funded by the Department of Homeland Security, so your tax dollars are paying for it. Is that an extremist thing to say?

And finally there’s a third database tracking extremism, Profiles of Individual Radicalization, which studies “extremists in an effort to deduce when, and how, they were radicalized.”

The data, which is also assembled by START, includes 2,148 violent and nonviolent individuals who committed ideologically motivated crimes in the U.S. or who associated with domestic or foreign extremist organizations from 1948 through 2017.

Far-right extremists are the largest ideological group in the database, accounting for 43% of the entries. Islamists account for 23%.

This database shows extremism comes in waves, and the most recent “wave of far-right radicalization began in the 1980s and continues today.” I guess Reagan started this recent wave?

I get the impression after reading all this, there is a concerted effort to gin up fear of “right-wing” terrorism that suspiciously sounds like conservatism.

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