Professor Tells Students That Right-wing Terrorism More of a Threat Than Islamic Terrorism

College Fix, September 11, 2017

A professor at American University recently taught students that right-wing terrorism in the United States is actually more of a pressing threat to American citizens than Islamic terrorism based on the number of attacks, not the death toll.


Professor Erin Kearns said Americans seem most afraid of Islamic terrorists, but that so-called right-wing extremists here have actually committed a higher number of attacks.


“That is a common, common assumption,” the professor continued. “In reality, if we look at the past 10 years, only about 12 percent of terrorist attacks in the U.S. have been committed by Muslims.”

But attacks perpetrated by jihadists “get more coverage, politicians talk about them more, media talks about them more,” Kearns added.


While Kearns did acknowledge in her lecture that jihadist attacks although less prevalent tend to be more deadly, she focused on the quantity of attacks rather than lives lost.


“By covering terrorist attacks by Muslims dramatically more than other incidents, media frame this type of event as more prevalent,” the authors write. “Based on these findings, it is no wonder that Americans are so fearful of radical Islamic terrorism. Reality shows, however, that these fears are misplaced.”

While Kearns and her co-authors did find that the involvement of a Muslim perpetrator was a statistically significant predictor of news coverage, they also found that the most statistically significant predictor of coverage was the number of fatalities resulting from a terrorist attack.

In other words, the main reason certain terrorists get extensive media coverage is because they hurt a lot of people, not simply because they are Muslim.

This finding, however, seems downplayed in the research, according to a College Fix analysis.


When reached for comment to weigh in on The College Fix’s analysis, Kearns maintained that the study concluded that the perpetrator’s identity is the most significant predictor of media coverage.

“Our study concludes that both the perpetrator’s identity and fatalities impact coverage, but the perpetrator’s identity—not fatalities—is the most significant predictor of media coverage. This is represented accurately in our paper and in my discussion of our findings to my class,” she said via email.

Fewer attacks, far more deadly

In an analysis by The College Fix of terrorism fatalities using the Global Terrorism Database, the same source used by Kearns and her co-authors.


The database does not include a definition for right-wing terror. The phrase “right-wing” could encompass a number of motivations when it comes to terrorism, such as white supremacy, anti-abortion or anti-government. Without a set definition, however, The College Fix used its best judgement to determine what falls under the broader so-called right-wing umbrella.

For roughly 47 percent of the total attacks, the Global Terrorism Database listed the perpetrator as “Unknown.” Unknown perpetrators accounted for 18 deaths and 159 of the injuries.

A bulk of the damage from unknown perpetrators came from an April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, which killed 15 and injured 151 more. No suspects have been publicly named.


To be fair, the 2016 data were not available at the time Kearns conducted her research. This means it did not account for the Orlando night club shooting, when lone-wolf jihadist Omar Mateen killed 50 and injured 53 others. Even by removing this attack from The College Fix analysis, however, jihadists were still responsible for 40 fatalities and 231 injuries, totals that exceed those stemming from right-wing extremists.

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