The departments of Justice and of Homeland Security have both identified white supremacist extremism as the leading domestic terrorism threat to the United States.
The Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism has published a new report that provides a look at the shape of extremist violence in the United States.
"Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2022," published on Feb. 22, finds that, for the first time since 2012, all 25 domestic ideologically motivated or related killings were committed by individuals affiliated with the far right. Of the 25 murders, 18 were identified as having an ideological motive.
Two attacks — targeted mass shootings in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs — were responsible for 15 deaths.
"It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in an age of extremist mass killings," the report says.
For decades, ideologically motivated mass killings were rare in the United States, according to the report. Between 2001 and 2010, there were five. But between 2011 and 2020, that figure more than quadrupled to 21, driven mainly by Islamic and right-wing extremists.
The report says firearms, "plentiful, accessible and often laxly-regulated in the U.S.," are overwhelmingly the weapons used by extremists in deadly attacks.
Mark Pitcavage, the study's author, told the American Independent Foundation that while just two perpetrators of mass violence committed most of 2022’s extremist-related killings, the Center on Extremism's yearly reports include deaths that are not exclusively from shooting sprees or acts of domestic terrorism.
"The scope of extremist violence goes considerably beyond terrorism, even though that's obviously one of the most extreme forms of extremist violence," Pitcavage said.
Extremist-related killings tallied in the report include stabbings and shootings tied to white supremacist gangs and an election-denying QAnon follower, as well as a deadly car crash involving a man facing criminal charges for his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by supporters of President Donald Trump on the U.S. Capitol.
The report comes as federal law enforcement, security analysts, and researchers studying extremist movements are identifying domestic far-right extremists, driven by several distinct but related ideologies, as a prominent threat.
In 2021, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing that "the most significant and immediate terrorism-related threat currently facing our Nation is domestic violent extremism," particularly domestic extremists motivated by racial hatred and anti-government sentiment.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, who as an associate deputy attorney general supervised the Justice Department's investigation into the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by right-wing extremists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, said at the hearing that the FBI identified "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race" as the leading domestic terror threat.
To combat the threat, the ADL report recommends that the federal government increase funding to civil society and violence prevention groups; ensure that extremists are not employed by federal, state, and local governments and agencies; work to decrease hateful online content; and pass the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. The bill, which would have set up dedicated domestic terrorism offices at the DHS, DOJ, and FBI, died in Congress last year after Senate Republicans unanimously blocked it from coming to the floor.
"For the near to medium future, the main threat of extremist-related mass killings seems to be white supremacist shooters attacking targets such as people of color, Jews and Muslims and the LGBTQ+ community," the report concludes.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.