When President Trump signed his executive order last January to ban people from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States, his justification was that it was to protect the American people from “radical Islamic terrorists.” However, the United States should primarily focus on the main perpetrators of terrorism in this country: white American men.
“We are very desensitized to terrorism,” social studies teacher Mrs. Jennifer Wlodek said. “‘Oh, another shooting, that’s so sad. We’re gonna light a candle and move on.’ Nothing has changed; attacks still occur. It is part of our routine.”
An act of terrorism differs from a violent crime in that with terrorism, there is an ideological component and a desire to instill fear into the general public, change government policy, or draw attention to a political or social cause. Whether or not they have ties to a certain religion or ideology, within the past few years, a majority of casualties due to terrorist attacks in the United States have not been perpetrated by the stereotypical Muslim extremist.
“I think that domestic terrorism is a bigger threat [to the United States],” senior Brad Schaffer said. “There have been numerous [encounters], especially recently, where Americans have committed terrorism, between lone-wolves pledging to ISIS or people committing acts that the government might not see as terrorism, such as the Las Vegas shooting, but still classify as so.”
In our state of Pennsylvania, there has only been one Islamic terror attack in the past 15 years. In early 2016, a mentally-ill man named Edward Archer shot and injured a police officer in Philadelphia, later on pledging allegiance to the Islamic state.
Far-right attacks with far more casualties have been more common. In October of 2014, an anti-government radical named Eric Matthew Frein ambushed two police officers in the Blooming Grove township, killing one and injuring another, then leading law enforcement into a 48-day manhunt. In August of 2014, police discovered 20 handmade bombs in the basement of Eric Charles Smith, who ran a white supremacist church. In 2011, Eli Franklin Meyers, a government-survivalist, shot two police officers, killing one. In 2009, Richard Poplawski, a white supremacist opened fire on Pittsburgh police officers, killing three and leaving two injured. All of these attacks occurred within the state of Pennsylvania.
The Investigative Fund at the National Institute from the Center for Investigative Reporting conducted a study observing 201 cases of domestic terrorism in the United States. From January of 2008 until the end of 2016, there were 63 cases of Islamic domestic terrorism, or incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology adopted from a group such as the Islamic State, and 76 percent of these attacks were prevented before any injuries could occur. Only 13 percent of these attacks caused fatalities. Observing the same time period, there were 115 attacks perpetrated by right-wing extremists, and only 35 percent were prevented. These right-wing attacks were far more fatal, with nearly a third involving fatalities resulting in 79 deaths.
“I believe that we are never going to be able to fully prevent terrorism, but we can still slow it down,” Schaffer said. “As a country, we can’t afford to be ignorant, but I think that the government needs to step-up and find a median solution, rather than just letting everyone in, or banning groups of people.”
“According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country,” President Trump claimed during a speech to Congress a week prior to signing the executive order barring people from seven majority-Muslim countries. “We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.”
However, research from the study conducted by The Investigative Fund at the National Institute from the Center for Investigative Reporting claimed that only 36 perpetrators of the attacks were foreign or foreign-born, which is 13 percent of the total terrorists. One percent of them were from a country listed on the executive order.
“To be an informed citizen, you must look at all sides,” Mrs. Wlodek said. “You can not follow the same news source all the time. All sides need to be represented with the news.”
Since there has been a distinct observation that far-right violence has been the biggest terrorist threat to the United States, why is the majority of America primarily focusing on the threat of Islamic extremism? A majority of right-wing media continues to be silent in the face of white American terrorism.
“They make it appear that every person who practices Islam is a terrorist, which is not true. You cannot assume every person who practices a certain religion will become an extremist,” senior Sydney Dunbar said. “I’m not saying that terrorism isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes news outlets like to exaggerate certain things to make them seem worse than they really are. The media is basically making people hate Muslims because they all see them as are terrorists and that simply just isn’t true.”
In 2015, Dylan Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine people in a mainly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Black Lives Matter movement, which protests against violence towards African-Americans, argued that Roof’s attack was a direct threat against black people. The crime clearly fit the definition of terrorism, yet Roof was described as a lone wolf suffering from mental illness, rather than the terrorist he is. If Islamist terrorism has incited fear among people leading to policy changes, then why hasn’t terrorism against black people?
There is an evident, morally wrong trend occurring in media today. No matter what race someone is or what ideology they follow, if someone is a terrorist, they are a terrorist, and must be identified as so.
“I believe that multiple different [news] sources manipulate us by providing fear through prejudice that Americans are more than willing to buy into, because we are naturally paranoid,” Schaffer said.
As a country, we must improve. These is an abundance of evidence that recently, far-right violence is what we should be concerned about, rather than radical Islamic terrorism. While both certainly are a threat to our safety, if we observe the current incidents and casualties, white Americans are disrupting the safety and sanctity of this country. If our government acknowledges the threat of domestic terrorism, the change we need will occur.