Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

U.S. right wing extremists more deadly than jihadists

By Peter Bergen and David Sterman
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
Frazier Glenn Cross, a 73-year-old Missouri man with a long history of spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric, is seen in a police car Sunday, April 13. He is suspected of fatally shooting three people: a boy and his grandfather outside a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, and a woman at a nearby assisted-living facility. Frazier Glenn Cross, a 73-year-old Missouri man with a long history of spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric, is seen in a police car Sunday, April 13. He is suspected of fatally shooting three people: a boy and his grandfather outside a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, and a woman at a nearby assisted-living facility.
HIDE CAPTION
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
Deadly shootings in Kansas City suburb
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Bergen, David Sterman: Man killed three at Jewish centers in Kansas
  • Suspect shouted "Heil Hitler;" if it had been "Allahu Akbar" media would cover it more, they say
  • Since 9/11, right wing extremists have killed more in U.S. than those motivated by al Qaeda
  • Writers: Given this, why do we not give more national security attention to right wing attacks?

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad." David Sterman is a research assistant at the New America Foundation.

(CNN) -- On Sunday, a man shot and killed a 14-year-old boy and his grandfather at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and then drove to a nearby Jewish retirement community where he shot and killed a third person. Police arrested a suspect, Frazier Glenn Cross, who shouted "Heil Hitler" after he was taken into custody.

Cross, who also goes by Frazier Glenn Miller, is a well-known right wing extremist who founded the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Now let's do the thought experiment in which instead of shouting "Heil Hitler" after he was arrested, the suspect had shouted "Allahu Akbar." Only two days before the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, this simple switch of words would surely have greatly increased the extent and type of coverage the incident received.

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

Yet the death toll in the shootings in Kansas is similar to that of last year's Boston Marathon bombings, where three people were killed and the suspects later killed a police officer as they tried to evade capture. (Many more, of course, were also wounded in the Boston attacks; 16 men, women and children lost limbs.)

In fact, since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology. 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. (The total includes the latest shootings in Kansas, which are being classified as a hate crime).

"Since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies...have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology."

By contrast, terrorists motivated by al Qaeda's ideology have killed 21 people in the United States since 9/11.

(Although a variety of left wing militants and environmental extremists have carried out violent attacks for political reasons against property and individuals since 9/11, none have been linked to a lethal attack, according to research by the New America Foundation.)

Moreover, since 9/11 none of the more than 200 individuals indicted or convicted in the United States of some act of jihadist terrorism have acquired or used chemical or biological weapons or their precursor materials, while 13 individuals motivated by right wing extremist ideology, one individual motivated by left-wing extremist ideology, and two with idiosyncratic beliefs, used or acquired such weapons or their precursors.

Opinion: Why do racists and anti-Semites kill?

A similar attack to the one that Frazier Glenn Cross is accused of in Kansas occurred in August 2012 when Wade Michael Page killed six people in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Page was a member of a white supremacist band and associated with the Hammerskins, a white supremacist group. Page committed suicide during the attack.

Page is not, of course, the only right wing extremist to have used lethal violence to achieve political ends. In 2009, for instance, Shawna Forde, Albert Gaxiola, and Jason Bush raided a house in Arizona, killing Raul Flores and his daughter Brisenia. The three attackers sought to use the burglary to finance their anti-immigration vigilante group, Minutemen American Defense. Forde and Bush were convicted and sentenced to death. Gaxiola was sentenced to life in prison.

Also in 2009, Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller, who ran an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas. In 2010 Roeder was convicted of first-degree murder. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Roeder not only had ties to the extreme anti-abortion movement, but he also had been pulled over while driving with a fake license plate bearing the markings of the Sovereign Citizens, a movement of individuals who deny that the government has authority over them.

Kansas shooting victim loved to sing
Expert: Suspect hated by supremacists
Son of shooting victim speaks to CNN

Of course, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil prior to 9/11 was the Oklahoma City bombing, which was masterminded by Timothy McVeigh, a man with deep ties to far-right militant circles. McVeigh killed 168 people when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995.

Despite this history of deadly violence by individuals motivated by political ideologies other than al Qaeda, it is jihadist violence that continues to dominate the news and the attention of policy makers.

Some of this is quite understandable. After all, on 9/11 al Qaeda's 19 terrorists killed almost 3,000 people in the space of a morning. Since then al Qaeda's branch in Yemen tried to bring down with a bomb secreted on a passenger an American commercial jet flying over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and al Qaeda's branch in Pakistan tried to launch bombings on the New York subway system a few months earlier. Luckily those plots didn't succeed, but certainly if they had the death toll would have been on a large scale.

Yet the disparity in media coverage between even failed jihadist terrorist attacks and this latest incident in Kansas is emblematic of a flawed division in the public's mind between killing that is purportedly committed in the name of Allah and killing that is committed for other political ends, such as neo-Nazi beliefs about the need to kill Jews.

Part of the reason for this disconnect might be that when a Department of Homeland Security report warning of violent right wing extremism was leaked in 2009, it generated a substantial political controversy.

In a 2011 interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Daryl Johnson, the leader of the team that produced the report, argued that following the controversy, DHS's examination of such threats suffered, stating "Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism—whether it's anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, 'sovereign citizens,' eco-terrorists, the whole gamut."

The threat from al Qaeda and its associated forces has changed significantly since 9/11. Today, almost 13 years after 9/11, al Qaeda has not successfully conducted another attack inside the United States. And since 2011, no individual charged with plotting to conduct an al Qaeda-inspired terrorist attack inside the United States has acted with more than one accomplice. This demonstrates the difficulties today of forming a jihadist group sufficiently large enough to conduct a complex attack anything on the scale of 9/11, and is a tribute to the success of law enforcement agencies in detecting and deterring jihadist terrorist activity.

Today in the United States, al Qaeda-type terrorism is the province of individuals with no real connection to foreign terrorists, aside from reading their propaganda online. Given this, it becomes harder to explain, in terms of American national security, why violence by homegrown right wing extremists receives substantially less attention than does violence by homegrown jihadist militants.

Tyler Hite contributed research support for this article.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT