Equal Opportunity Terrorists

In response to the news of Christian terrorists plotting to blow up protestors at Jerry Falwell’s funeral, Steve Benen offers this food for thought:

For my friends on the right, consider a question: if I told you that Virginia law enforcement had apprehended a young religious man who was caught with five bombs in his car — bombs which he intended to use — wouldn’t your very first question be about his faith tradition and nationality? Wouldn’t you necessarily label him a terrorist?

You’ll note that I applied the “terrorism” tag to my post this morning. Yes, these people were would-be terrorists. Still, I tend to put those like this guy and the idiots who run over university students in the name of Allah into the category of “nutjobs” and think of them differently than the calculated plotters who plan serious attacks.

Still, while I’ve taken plenty of heat from my side of the aisle for not finding terrorists under every tree, I would not go so far as David Neiwert, who claims “you’re far more likely to be harmed in an attack by a right-wing domestic terrorist than anyone from Al Qaeda.” Frankly, most of us are vanishingly unlikely to be harmed by either.

Starting with a list of deaths from terrorist attacks at Wikipedia, I eliminated those that occurred outside the USA unless it was immediately recognizable as an attack that targeted Americans and/or killed a significant numbers of Americans. For a variety of reasons, I excluded attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, which skew the data considerably in my direction.

    * 2,997 – September 11, 2001 attacks, (New York City, Arlington, VA, Shanksville, PA, United States, 2001)
    * 307 – 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, (Beirut, Lebanon, 1983)
    * 270 – Pan Am Flight 103, (Lockerbie, Scotland, 1988)
    * 257 – 1998 United States embassy bombings 1998
    * 168 – Oklahoma City bombing, (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States, 1995)
    * 38 – Wall Street bombing, (New York City, 1920)
    * 33 – Virginia Tech Massacre, (United States, 2007)

Color code:

    Red=Al Qaeda
    Maroon=Other Islamists
    Blue=Christian nuts
    Green=Plain nuts
    Orange=Italian anarchists

So, by my rough calculations, the score is al Qaeda 3254, Christians 168.

Now, the list is incomplete, excluding incidents that killed fewer than 30 people. That omits two al Qaeda attacks that come immediately to mind, the 1993 WTC bombing (6 killed) and the 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole (17). It also leaves off KKK lynchings and abortion clinic bombings.

Still, al Qaeda’s toll is at least 3277. And, again, that excludes all Americans killed in Iraq by al Qaeda and its affiliates. The Christian count stands at 168.

To be sporting, let’s start the race in 1988, the earliest date al Qaeda can be said to exist, even in its prototypical state. And long before it murdered its first American. Have 3109 Americans been killed by domestic Christian terrorists that have been left off the list?

FILED UNDER: Religion, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Steve Verdon says:

    So, by my rough calculations, the score is al Qaeda 3254, Christians 168.

    Given this I think it is probably safe to say that we have the following,

    Prob(Killed by al Qaeda|X, 3254) >> Prob(Killed by Christians|X, 168),

    Thus rendering Neiwert’s claim false as well. The only way out of it is to argue that we should condition on X in one case and X’ in the other and that that difference changes the inequality.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    Of course the Christians are known for having a religion that promotes violence so your math has to be wrong.

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Protestors demonstrated against the images throughout the Badger State yesterday, with violent egging and cow-tipping incidents reported in Oconomowac, Pewaukee, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Antigo, Oshkosh, Waubeno, Wauwautosa, Waunewoc, Wyocena, Waubeka, and Washawonamowackapeepee.

    LOL

    You’re right, I’m in error.

  4. spacemonkey says:

    Will we ever be able to even this up?

  5. Scott_T says:

    Dude, don’t pick yellow text on a white background. What were you thinking? My Eyes!

    Purple or Orange or something.

    Done. I just didn’t want a color that was too close to any of the others, since monitors render differently. – JHJ

  6. Tlaloc says:

    Dude, don’t pick yellow text on a white background. What were you thinking? My Eyes!

    The goggles, they do nothing!

    Mr. Joyner, I made precisely the same point in a previous comment: AQ certainly has a higher body count but the christianists have a lot more attacks to their name (when you add in the clinic bombings for instance) here in the US.

  7. Steve in wNY says:

    Even though I see that the tone of the responses is (oddly, given the subject matter) light, I have to inject a boring old objection to one of James’ basic premises in this post. Although a first person accounting of his motives never quite seemed to materialize, classifying McVeigh’s terrorism as “Christian” is wildly unfair. Yes, the man was apparently a (nominal) Christian, but I have never seen anything indicating he wreaked his carnage to advance some Christian teaching, world view, plan for conquest, etc. He hated the federal government and had adopted vile white supremacist views. No fair-minded observer (Hitchens need not apply in this case) could in any way connect these elements of his ideology to modern Christianity.

    The abortion clinic bombings, although conducted by a decidedly fringe element of Christianity that has been roundly condemned by mainstream adherents, would in fact be a better place holder for “Christian nuts.”

  8. James Joyner says:

    AQ certainly has a higher body count but the christianists have a lot more attacks to their name (when you add in the clinic bombings for instance) here in the US.

    Well, sure, there are more Christian nuts than there are members of al Qaeda in the country. But “more likely to be killed” was the claim, not “more likely to be the subject of an attack.” And, frankly, if you’re not an abortion clinic worker or in a government building, your chances of the latter approximate zero.

  9. James Joyner says:

    classifying McVeigh’s terrorism as “Christian” is wildly unfair.

    I would agree. When assessing someone’s claim, though, you take their basis assumptions into account first. Including McVeigh wildly inflates the count and yet the comparison is still not close.

  10. Steve in wNY says:

    Including McVeigh wildly inflates the count and yet the comparison is still not close.

    Quite true. I guess I’m a little hypersensitive when I see the door open a crack to allow those who try to place *ahem* xianists (or whatever the derogatory phrase of the day may be) on the same plane as those who base their actions on a Wahhabist or Salafist interpretation of Islam. You know: Jerry Falwell = OBL.

  11. Tlaloc says:

    Well, sure, there are more Christian nuts than there are members of al Qaeda in the country. But “more likely to be killed” was the claim, not “more likely to be the subject of an attack.”

    I wasn’t saying you were wrong, actually I was agreeing with you, although cutting out the small attacks does skew things quite a lot. AQ really has only had two domestic attacks. The Christianists have had hundreds. It’s just that the Christianist crimes are generally very small scale.

    And, frankly, if you’re not an abortion clinic worker or in a government building, your chances of the latter approximate zero.

    Or gay…
    or a pagan…
    or a hippy…
    or a jew…
    or black…
    or…

    Man, the list of what you have to be to have a zero chance of getting attacked by Christians is getting kinda long…

  12. Tlaloc says:

    I guess I’m a little hypersensitive when I see the door open a crack to allow those who try to place *ahem* xianists (or whatever the derogatory phrase of the day may be) on the same plane as those who base their actions on a Wahhabist or Salafist interpretation of Islam.

    The difference being…

    Help me out here because on the one hand i see a bunch of neanderthals who kill out of their perverted misunderstanding of ancient superstitions, and on the other side I see pretty much the same thing.

    What exactly is the fundamental difference between a christian group like the KKK and a muslim group like Al Qaeda? Sure they swap out the particular holy text they claim to follow and they have different specific races/ideologies they hate (although both conveniently hate the jews, ah the one hatred that springs eternal), other than that though I’m hard pressed to see much difference in the underlying pathology.

    Like I said, help me out here…

  13. Tlaloc:

    Don’t be dense.

    Acts of violence by self-identified Christians are condemned by the mainstream of Christianity. This has practical consequences, including less tendency for self-identified Christians to turn to violence and more difficulty establishing effective terror networks.

    I see remarkably little evidence that the same is true of Muslims. Yes, there are moderate Muslims who condemn violent jihad, and they deserve our respect and support. But I see little evidence that the extremists are significantly out of the mainstream of worldwide Islam.

    It really does make a difference.

  14. Tlaloc says:

    Don’t be dense.

    well I’ll try…

    Acts of violence by self-identified Christians are condemned by the mainstream of Christianity. This has practical consequences, including less tendency for self-identified Christians to turn to violence and more difficulty establishing effective terror networks.

    Damn, if this is less I’d hate to see what more would look like. The truth is that advocating violence really isn’t that far outside the mainstream for christianity. Violence is kind of on the porch of christianity after having been told politely that it was rather boorish in the living room. So now it’s out there having a smoke and still very much part of the religion’s house as it were.

    I see remarkably little evidence that the same is true of Muslims. Yes, there are moderate Muslims who condemn violent jihad, and they deserve our respect and support. But I see little evidence that the extremists are significantly out of the mainstream of worldwide Islam.

    Alright, but now let’s compare circumstances: the Christians only control the only superpower on the planet as well as much of the rest of western civilization. They have all the force and all the money.

    Meanwhile the Muslims have a number of third world states most notable for their possession of oil, a resource that has caused them to be much abused and taken advantage of.

    That just might play into why their religion hasn’t been able to divorce itself very well from violence. Just as black christians in the 50s and 60s were more likely to be violent than a similar group today- they are dealing with ugly oppression.

  15. To reiterated Steve’s point, American right-wing terrorists are generally categorized in one of two ways: as part of the American Patriot Movement or the Christian Identity Movement. The former wants to rid us of our “ZOG” government and return to some notion of Jeffersonian America, whereas the latter want to rid the nation of sin (and brown people).

    McVeigh could only be categorized as part of the Patriot Movement, but I see your point in taking Benen’s claim at face value for the sake of argument.

  16. Tlaloc says:

    I don’t see the American Patriot movement and the Christian Identity movement as being nearly as separate as you seem to indicate.

    look here:

    According to them we have (as of 2005) eleven active terrorist groups in the US (that aren;t just in the US while focused on other countries):

    • American Front
    • Animal Liberation Front (ALF)
    • Arizona Patriots (AP)
    • Army of God
    • Aryan Nations (AN)
    • Earth Liberation Front (ELF)
    • Hammerskin Nation
    • Jewish Defense League (JDL)
    • Ku Klux Klan (KKK)
    • Sheriff’s Posse Comitatus
    • al-Fuqra

    The Arizona Patriots are a perfect example:

    Founding Philosophy: The Arizona Patriots were a loosely organized group of patriots that subscribe to Posse Comitatus and Christian Identity ideology. The Patriots were white supremacist anti-Semites who sought to overthrow the American government. They began as paper terrorists, clogging the court system with bogus lawsuits. In the mid-1980s, however, the Patriots began planning more violent attacks on the government.

    An American Patriot group connected to Christian Identity as well as being white supremacists.

  17. Tlaloc says:

    Sorry should add- McVeigh apparently had a copy of the Turner Diaries (the well known Christian Identity/White Supremacist tract) in his car at the time of the attack. He was supposed to have been incensed and partially motivated by Waco. He was a roman catholic who later drifted from the church.

    A bunch of little clues that together suggest he was, like most “American Patriots”, *also* a Christianist.

  18. just me says:

    Tlaloc the main problem with your argument is that there isn’t a single member of a mainstream Christian evangelical denomination that even remotely views Christian Identity as being Christian in nature.

    Your problem here is conflating Christians with these groups-there really is a huge difference.

    I don’t see those lines drawn so brightly among Muslims.

    The day the Federal Building in Oklahoma was bombed, Christians did not take to the streets in celebration-you can’t say the same for Muslims in several predominately Muslim corners of the world.

    Christianity in general condemns the freaks and kooks on its fringes, I am not so sure Islam is so diligent about doing the same.

  19. Tlaloc says:

    Tlaloc the main problem with your argument is that there isn’t a single member of a mainstream Christian evangelical denomination that even remotely views Christian Identity as being Christian in nature.

    True, but I don’t see how it is relevant. What matters is the ideological source of the terrorists beliefs, not whether they get welcomed to the meet and greets

    And as before the mainstream isn’t nearly so anti-violence as we like to pretend. There is substantial support among christianity for abortion bombers. They may not be yelling it from a minaret like the muslims but it’s still there if you look around.

    Christianity in general condemns the freaks and kooks on its fringes, I am not so sure Islam is so diligent about doing the same.

    And yet they keep popping out of the woodwork, almost as if that condemnation was sort of a “heh, you bad bad boys, naughty naughty, here have a cookie” kind of thing. Don’t you think?

    I mean if Christianity is really so opposed to violence why is it so damn common to find the two in bed together? Is violence the crazy ex-girlfriend of christianity? You know you shouldn’t and you’ll regret it in the morning but…aww what the hell, for old (testament) times sake…

  20. John Burgess says:

    Kent G. Budge: You’re not looking hard enough if you can’t find Muslim outrage over terrorism. Have you tried the Arab media? The US media sure isn’t reporting it. See: Media Deafness to Muslims’ Anti-Terror Messages among many other posts at Crossroads Arabia.

    James: I think you’re wrong in putting Lockerbie under the rubric ‘Other Islamists’. Qadhafi’s government was and is not particularly religiously motivated. The bombing of PA-103 was done for reasons of state, state revenge for earlier attacks by the US.

    Whether the Beirut bombings could be called ‘Islamist’ is a bit more problematic, but one could certainly argue for political motivation instead of (or at least more than) any religious motivation. It was conducted by a surrogate of the newly empowered Iranian Islamic revolution. That’s certain. Whether it was to achieve religious rather than political ends, though, is a tougher call.

  21. James Joyner says:

    John,

    Fair point on Qadhafi. I tend to lump Hezbollah and Iran under the Islamist label, especially during the Khomeini era, but the definition has likely changed somewhat over time.

  22. John,

    I don’t generally follow the Arab media, so it’s possible there’s more reason for hope than I have supposed. That would be good news.

    just me,

    T’aint just mainstream Evangelicals who reject Christian Identity as being Christian in nature. I daresay almost all other Protestants, as well as Catholics, Mormons, and very likely Jehovah’s Witnesses and Moonies, do as well. That makes the “mainstream” of Christianty that is rejecting “Christian” terrorists very broad.

    Tlaloc,

    You’re still not trying hard enough.

    The notion that violence is inherent in Christianity, lurking just under the surface, is without basis. Saying it a dozen different times and in different ways won’t change that. Have you ever read the New Testament? There is precious little in it to justify Christians slaughtering unbelievers. That’s why Christian Identity has to propagate stuff like The Turner Diaries rather than just have their followers read the New Testament.

    It’s a bit unclear to me how McVeigh’s drift away from Roman Catholicism is evidence he’s a Christian. Non sequitur much? Have you read a biography of McVeigh? I’ll confess I’ve only read one. However, its conclusion was that religion played very little role in McVeigh’s thinking and motivation, which (at the time) surprised me.

    The notion that Islamists are backwards and violent because they are poor — that is what you said, isn’t it? — ignores the more likely possibility that they are poor because they are backwards and violent. It’s not the fault of the West that all that oil wealth isn’t reaching the common Muslim in the street; it’s their own backwards social institutions.

    It also ignores the fact that al Qaeda arose among middle-class Muslims rather than the poorest Muslims.

  23. Michael says:

    The day the Federal Building in Oklahoma was bombed, Christians did not take to the streets in celebration-you can’t say the same for Muslims in several predominately Muslim corners of the world.

    No, but we did celebrate the bombing of Afghanistan, the bombing of Iraq, the killing of Saddam’s sons, the capture of Saddam and the killing of Zarqawi. I’m not saying we were wrong to do so, and I’ll tell you I was happy on each of those occasions. But from another perspective, where these states and these people were not vilified, it wouldn’t look substantially different.

  24. floyd says:

    Tlaloc;
    So, just what is the ideological source of your extremist hatemongering?
    It sounds like it comes to us from the same ideological source as krystalnacht!

  25. just me says:

    There is substantial support among christianity for abortion bombers.

    Do you actually have a study, reliable source for this statement? I would be very interested in seeing it.