Despite the fact that the FBI and Homeland Security acknowledged that white supremacist groups had carried out more violent attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years, the recent statement by Don Lemon has drawn much ire and contempt from people across the political spectrum.
“WSEs [White Supremacist Extremists] were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks,” said a May 2017 joint brief from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. “[M]ore than any other domestic group.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray wrote in August, “But the primary terrorist threat to the homeland today, without question, is homegrown violent extremists. That’s what keeps us up at night—and no doubt many of you, too.”
But ever since Don Lemon made his factual statement, he has drawn much criticism from people who might simply be afraid of being racially profiled because that would be a shame.
Before wading into the debate, The Root decided to examine the controversy by reviewing the facts.
What is a “terror threat?”
First, we must first be clear on what exactly constitutes a “terror threat.” Instead of conjuring up our own definition, we will use the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s own explanation:
Domestic terrorism: Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.
—for example, the June 8, 2014 Las Vegas shooting, during which two police officers inside a restaurant were killed in an ambush-style attack, which was committed by a married couple who held anti-government views and who intended to use the shooting to start a revolution.
In that same August blog post, Wray wrote that the FBI is “keeping our eye on the threat of domestic terrorism. We define that as attacks carried out by people inspired by, or associated with, U.S.-based movements that promote violent extremist ideologies. That’s everything from militias and anarchist groups to race supremacist groups and environmental extremists.”
I guess he would know better than Don Lemon.
Who are the terrorist threats?
The Root combed through news reports, DOJ data, reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League and other listings to come up with a list of every act of terrorism in the last five years. In some cases, we erred on the side of caution and didn’t include the person on the list. For instance, if a white supremacist killed someone during a robbery, then we excluded the person because the primary motivation for the crime wasn’t “political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.”
We also scoured the FBI database to come up with people who were arrested before they committed a terrorist act, so not all of the people on the list have injured or killed someone. We listed the perpetrator’s race, if it was known, and the number of victims killed and/or injured. You can view our data here.
What we discovered
Using our list, we discovered 160 individuals that were convicted or accused of or committing or planning an act of domestic terrorism (Some on the list were not convicted, as they were killed while committing the act). Here are a few a few highlights from our data.
- There were more white terrorists than all others combined. We found 160 individuals who fit the FBI’s definition of a terrorist, 105 of whom were white.
- Surprisingly, no women: In every case of an American female terrorist we found, her terrorist ties were linked to an overseas plot or her activity was linked to a personal or otherwise criminal conspiracy.
- White terrorists dangerous: While making up 65.6 percent of the terrorists, they were underrepresented in the number of terrorist murders (56.1 percent) but overrepresented in the number of people injured by terrorists (79.6 percent).
- But not really: Here is where logic comes in. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Whites are 75.6 percent of the population, which means they are actually underrepresented in the terrorist community relative to their percentage of the population.
Was Don Lemon right?
In short, yes. The biggest terror threat in this country is white men, which makes sense because there are far more white men in this country.