American Extremists Made 2016 A Deadly Year

2016 was the first time in more than 30 years that right-wing extremists have been responsible for fewer murders than domestic jihadis

Law enforcement officials investigate near the Pulse Nightclub — Getty Images
Feb 16, 2017 at 9:10 AM ET

Extremists driven by ideologies ranging from far-right white nationalism to radical Islam had a deadly 2016, according to a new report released Thursday. The year saw the second-highest number of fatalities by extremists of any since 1970.

For the first time in more than 30 years, far-right fringe groups like the Ku Klux Klan and members of other white nationalist organizations weren’t responsible for the majority of the deaths. An American terrorist, professing allegiance to the Islamic State, murdered 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in June — an act that made radical jihadi ideologies the year’s deadliest motivator of extremist violence.

The Anti-Defamation League’s annual report on murder and extremism in the United States found that there were at least 69 murders connected to extremist groups in 2016. If not for ISIS-inspired killer Omar Mateen’s massacre in Orlando, the ADL considers 2016 to be a “mild” year for murders committed by members of extremist groups or ideologies with just 11 attacks. In 2015, there were 29 fatal attacks credited to domestic extremist groups.

The Orlando attack is the second deadliest act of terrorism by an American linked to extremist groups or ideologies in U.S. history, second only to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh, which killed 168 people. (The far-deadlier attacks on September 11, 2001, were carried out by foreign nationals.)

Despite the hysteria around Islamic terrorism, right-wing extremists like McVeigh are responsible for the vast majority fatal domestic attacks — according to the ADL, between 2007 and 2016, at least 372 people were killed by domestic extremists, 74 percent of whom were murdered by right-wing extremists from white supremacist groups, sovereign citizen extremists and anti-government militias.

“In a country as large as the United States, no one extremist group or movement has a monopoly on violence,” said Oren Segal, Director of ADL’s Center on Extremism. “It is clear from the trends that we cannot ignore one threat of extremism over another. Extremists come in many forms and extremist violence, whether inspired by ISIS or carried out in the name of white supremacy, is still very much a serious threat.”

The report comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. People from those seven countries have been responsible for precisely zero fatalities in acts of domestic terrorism between 1975 and 2015 — although people from those countries have been implicated in domestic terrorist plots that were either thwarted by law enforcement or were carried out without fatalities.

Another domestic extremist ideology responsible for a significant number of murders in 2016 was black nationalism, which was the claimed motive behind the murders of at least eight people. Those murder sprees were ambushes on law enforcement officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and were in response to a series of controversial police shootings and inspired by black nationalist ideology, the ADL said.

“The growth in the number of extremist-related deaths is troubling and can be attributed largely to the ongoing serious dangers posed by domestic Islamic extremists and right-wing extremists alike, as well as an apparent new threat emerging from a resurgence of black nationalist violence,” added Mark Pitcavage, Senior Research Fellow in ADL’s Center on Extremism.