11 Years After 9/11: Who Are the Terrorists?

Peter Bergen, CNN, September 11, 2012

On August 15, Floyd Lee Corkins allegedly walked into the Family Research Council in Washington, a conservative think tank, and shot the building manager Leo Johnson in the arm, saying something along the lines of, “I don’t like your politics,” as he did so.

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Corkins was volunteering at a Washington community center for lesbian, gay and transgender individuals and his parents said their son had “strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.” The Family Research Council promotes the view that homosexuality is harmful to society.

Three years earlier, also in Washington, rabid anti-Semite James von Brunn was charged with shooting and killing Holocaust Museum security officer Stephen Johns. He died while in custody.

The shootings at the Holocaust Museum and Family Research Council underlined the fact that acts of political violence against civilians, commonly referred to as terrorism, can be carried out by those espousing many different types of ideology.

In fact, since the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and Pentagon 11 years ago, 19 people have died in terrorist attacks in the United States that were motivated by ideologies that have nothing to do with the ideas of Osama bin Laden, but rather were the victims of terrorists motivated by extreme anti-government views or virulent anti-Semitic/neo-Nazi views.

Jihadist terrorists, on the other hand, have killed 17 people, according to data compiled by the New America Foundation from thousands of news reports and court documents. (“Jihadist” terrorists are defined in this database as those associated with or motivated by al Qaeda, or its affiliates or like-minded groups.)

There have been 10 deadly attacks in the United States by nonjihadist extremists since 9/11 compared to just four by jihadists. (One of those incidents was at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 in which 13 were killed.)

The New America Foundation study suggests that law enforcement’s tendency to regard Muslim-American communities as the most likely source of terrorism risks missing the threat from other extremists.

Since 9/11, jihadist and nonjihadist terrorists have killed about the same number of people in the United States, yet 61% of the 337 people indicted for terrorism-related activities since the 9/11 attacks are jihadists, according to the New America Foundation data.

Since 2009 and 2010 there has been a sharp drop in the number of jihadist defendants, which peaked at 43 and 34 respectively. This year the number of jihadist defendants has dropped to 7, suggesting that the threat from these kinds of terrorists is receding.

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Additionally, the New America Foundation found that no jihadist terrorists have acquired or even attempted to acquire chemical and biological weapons since 9/11, while 11 anarchist, white supremacist or right-wing extremists have been indicted for possessing such materials, and another four were indicted for attempting to produce them.

Some politicians and much of the public continue to believe that the threat from terrorists comes from violent jihadists, when in reality far-right extremists pose as much or possibly even more of a threat, something that we would do well to consider on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

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