Since a mentally disturbed 18-year-old white supremacist murdered 10 African Americans and injured three others at a Buffalo market May 14, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) report “Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2021” has been cited repeatedly as evidence of the lethal threat posed by far-right extremists.
There are a lot of problems with the ADL data, starting with the fact that many of the “white supremacist” killings were not hate crimes aimed at terrorizing blacks or other minorities.
- Two members of a white supremacist prison gang allegedly killed a member of the rival Southwest Honkeys prison gang.
- A New Jersey man who had vandalized synagogues and distributed neo-Nazi pamphlets strangled his wife.
- A white supremacist with a swastika and SS tattoos on his face killed another man in an extended-stay hotel following an argument over a social media post.
- A member of a white supremacist street gang in Fresno, CA, allegedly shot a man “with whom he had long been feuding.”
- Four members of the New Mexico Aryan Brotherhood were involved in a shootout amongst themselves inside a vehicle. (You’ve gotta love that one.)
The ADL admits that the majority of murders it attributes to white supremacists were non-ideological.
“Over the past 10 years, only 86 of the 244 white supremacist killings (35%) were ideological murders,” the report says. “The remainder were group-related but not ideological attacks, were related to traditional criminal activities, or were murders for which no clear motive could be determined.”
The ADL also claims that other “right-wing extremists” were responsible for another 20% of extremist killings during the 10-year period from 2012 through 2021—including those it describes as “anti-government” and “incel/manosphere.” Why being anti-government or incel requires being a right-wing extremist is left as an exercise for the reader.
The ADL report also overstates the percentage of white supremacist murders because it omits some high-profile crimes committed by non-whites.
- A black man ambushing white police officers in Dallas, killing five and wounding 11.
- A black man with a history of racist social posts driving into a mostly white crowd in a Christmas parade in Waukesha, WI, killing six and injuring 62.
For 2021, the ADL lists just two murders by people it classifies as “black nationalists.” If the Waukesha victims were included, black racist murders would account for 23% of extremist murders (eight of 35) for 2021.
A sense of perspective is very important, I think. Context. And it’s not provided by just spitting out headlines like “Right-Wing Extremists Responsible for 75% of Extremist Killings.”
During the same 10-year period cited by the ADL, identifying 86 ideological murders by white supremacists, there were at least 165,000 murders in the U.S., so 86 represents about 0.05% of all cases. And 86 murders over 10 years in a country of well over 300 million people doesn’t seem like an alarming number. You might say, well, it’s 86 too many, but it’s still not an alarming number.
The FBI has not issued the official number of murders in the U.S. in 2021, but it is expected to exceed the number of murders in 2020: 21,570—of which, according to ADL, 23 were committed by extremists.
So the ADL data could also be characterized as follows: The number of murders committed by extremists is very small. In 2020, according to the CDC, 1,080 people were killed falling out of bed. Therefore, you are 47 times more likely to be killed by a bed than by an extremist.
So why do we constantly hear that white supremacy is an existential threat to society but we hear nothing about putting something soft around your bed in case you fall out of it? Or putting rails on your bed so you don’t fall out of it?
Because no one is afraid of a bed, but as long as people are kept uninformed about the actual numbers regarding white supremacists, they can be worked into a useful state of panic and fury completely out of proportion to reality.
How many white supremacists are there in the U.S.? I’ve never heard or read an estimate of the number of active white supremacists, or the number of people who identify as white supremacists. Try an online search, you’ll see what I mean. Either nobody knows, or the people who do know won’t say because the number is so small that it would invalidate whatever point they’re trying to make.