Imagine it had been a man named Muhammad who walked into an elementary school in Connecticut and murdered 20 children and six of their teachers or opened fire in a Colorado movie theater, killing 12 people and wounding 70 others.
Or that this Muhammad and a friend had attacked Columbine High School, or gotten into an armed stand-off with federal officials, or assassinated two Las Vegas police officers eating lunch, or murdered nine people in a Charleston church, or shot up a Planned Parenthood facility.
Would we have placed all such incidents under one umbrella? Under those circumstances, maybe that would have been warranted. But that’s not what we are facing. And yet, some Republican Party leaders are acting as though we are, because, to them, a white American randomly shooting up a mall or school feels like less of a threat even though that has been more commonplace than a foreigner infiltrating the U.S. and causing great harm.
A misplaced fear of Muslim-inspired terrorism has convinced the Trump administration to focus even more on what it calls “radical Islamic extremism,” and was illustrated recently when Rep. Sean Duffy declared that fighting Muslim-related terror requires the most urgency. (Never mind that a few years ago, a white supremacist killed six people in a Sikh Temple in Duffy’s home state of Wisconsin.)
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The FBI has nabbed more anti-immigrant American citizens plotting violent attacks on Muslims within the U.S. than it has refugees the past few years, according to data compiled by the Lawfareblog.com. The New American Foundation found that about half those charged since the 9/11 attacks with true terror-related activities have been U.S.-born citizens.
Charles Kurzman, who teaches sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, say that 74 percent of the law enforcement agencies they surveyed listed anti-government extremism as one of the top three terror threats in their jurisdictions – compared with only 39 percent who felt the same about Al Qaida and like groups. And with good reason: An average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in terror plots since 9/11, in contrast to the 337 per year by right-wing extremists.
By Kurzman’s calculations, there was only a one in six million chance in 2016 of an American being killed by a Muslim terrorist. Still, brown- and olive-skin terror convinces us to launch wars in the Middle East. Homegrown terror perpetrated by white Americans doesn’t even prompt a tweak in background check laws.
Violent Muslims are not lurking behind every bush. The longer we act as though they are, the easier it will be for leaders to prey upon our fears to enact unwise policies that leave us vulnerable in ways we don’t even realize.