The Conversation

CNN's Peter Bergen: Right Wing Extremists Have Killed More than Jihadists Since 9/11

On the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, CNN's national security analyst Peter Bergen has published a story claiming right-wing extremists have killed more Americans than have jihadists since 9/11.

Bergen writes "According to a count by the New America Foundation, right wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11...By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology have killed 23 people in the United States since 9/11."

In addition to his role at CNN, Bergen is a Director of the International Security Program at The New America Foundation. In fact, he helped put together the dataset on which his article is based. The list of murders by jihadists and right-wing extremists can be found here.

Part of the gimmick here is the limitations Bergen and NAF have drawn around this comparison, starting with the decision to only look at attacks since 9/11. Obviously if you leave out the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil that helps the outcome. NAF also excludes Americans killed abroad so, for instance, the four Americans killed by jihadists in Benghazi don't count.

But even when restricted to attacks inside the U.S., NAF's list seems to have made some questionable choices. For instance, NAF includes Joshua Cartwright on the list. In 2009, Cartwright was reported to police after beating his wife. Police attempted to arrest him for domestic violence at a local shooting range. A shootout ensued in which two police officers were killed. NAF apparently includes Cartwright on its list of terrorists because his wife remarked that he was "severely disturbed" by the election of Barack Obama.

NAF's list of right-wink attacks also includes Andrew Joseph Stack, who flew a plane into an IRS office in 2010. This is surprising given that Stack's manifesto/suicide note included attacks on the "monsters of organized religion," GM executives, health insurance companies, wealthy bankers, "presidential puppet GW Bush," the "American nightmare" and, finally, capitalism itself with a positive nod to the communist credo.

On the other hand, the NAF list fails to include a number of attacks which seem connected to radical Islam. For instance, this 2004 murder of a Jewish student by a Saudi who had become more religiously conservative prior to the attack. After slicing the victim's throat, the killer fled to a mosque.

The list also omits several honor-killing style murders, such as a Muslim man in New York who beheaded his wife when she announced she wanted a divorce. It also omits the case of Yaser Said who was suspected to have murdered his two teenage daughters for dating non-Muslim men. Said is still wanted by the FBI. In a similar case, Chaudhry Rashid allegedly strangled his 25-year-old daughter when she tried to end her arranged marriage.

Granted these attacks weren't terrorism since they were directed at family members. Then again, NAF includes David Pedersen and Holly Grigsby's murder of Pedersen's father and stepmother on the list of right-wing attacks. Why should these personal crimes be included?

The most striking omission from the NAF list of jihadist attacks is John Allen Muhammad, the Muslim sniper who killed 10 strangers in the DC metro area back in 2002. While no definite motive for the killing spree was ever determined, Muhammad's accomplice Lee Malvo made numerous references to Osama bin Laden and jihad in writings he made in prison after the killings. According to the NY Times, Muhammad was eligible for the death penalty in Virginia because the jury agreed he had committed an "act of terrorism."

In 2002, one commentator connected Muhammad to a series of attacks inspired by al Qaeda. He wrote "John Allen Muhammad, the Washington DC sniper, who has reportedly expressed admiration for the al Qaeda hijackers, also seems to fit this worrisome new pattern." The author of that piece on "Al Qaeda 2.0" was Peter Bergen.


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