Lies, Damn Lies, and Islamic Terrorism Statistics

In case you haven’t noticed, there is an orchestrated campaign underway to convince Americans that the threat of Islamic terrorism is wildly overstated.  And every so often, the purveyors of that lie will cite a study that ostensibly proves the claim to be true.

Take this recent example, a Twitter tease from the Cato Institute:

“Far right extremist groups were responsible for 73% of deadly terrorist incidents since September 11, 2001.”

It’s pretty hard to miss the intended message, as it’s pretty broad and suggestive.  But it’s also incredibly dishonest.

First of all, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study that Cato cites in the article addresses only domestic acts of terrorism.  Cato neglects to mention in the tease that the statistic is relevant to domestic terror attacks only, opting instead to misleadingly make a blanket statement which suggests that global terrorism data has been considered to reach its conclusion.  And, given the Iron Cross flags in abundance (which is not an archetypical symbol of American white supremacists), these certainly would appear to be European white supremacists in the picture.

It’s simple but sly propagandistic deception.  The tease and the image suggest to casual readers that the statistic addresses the global issue of terrorism.  But if global terrorism data were actually considered, the data would very clearly suggest a wildly different conclusion than the one in the Cato tease, to say the least. 

Consider that, as The Economist reported in late 2015, there were 32,700 people killed in global terrorist attacks in 2014.  The deadliest five terrorist groups responsible were the Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban, al-Shabaab, and Fulani militants.  These five groups, all of which are Islamic extremist groups, were responsible for well more than half of those deaths.

Secondly, upon closer inspection, we find that not only is the data used in the GAO report extremely selective, but it’s none too pure, either. 

You see, the Cato tease focuses on the number of deadly domestic terror “incidents” as compiled by the U.S. Extremist Crime Database (ECDB), and not the number of victims.  It’s a curious means of approaching the impact of terrorism.  After all, which is more important; the number of shots fired in a shootout, or the number of people struck by bullets? 

We can assume Cato didn’t tease the article using the number killed by Islamic versus right-wing terrorists in America (the binary focus of the GAO study) because the conclusion drawn by readers might be a little different.  Despite the wide discrepancy claimed in the number of incidents, Islamic extremists are still responsible for 53% (119 of 225) of deaths since, but not including, 9/11.


“Islamic extremists responsible for 12% more deaths in domestic terror attacks since 9/11 than right-wing extremists, GAO study suggests.” 

That wouldn’t exactly have the same effect on the casual Twitter reader, would it?  But it uses the exact same study’s data.

Even more curious, though, is the fact that the discrepancy in “incidents” as presented by the ECDB appears to be altogether inaccurate.

The ECDB reports that there have only been 23 deadly incidents of Islamic terrorism since 9/11.  But it’s clear that not all acts of Islamic terror are tallied as Islamic terrorism in the data.  

On December 4, 2009, a non-Muslim Islamic studies professor was stabbed to death in New York by a Muslim student as revenge for “persecuted” Muslims. 

This “incident” is missing in the ECDB data.

In November 2012, a devout Muslim killed a young man in Houston for his alleged role in converting a young Muslim woman to Christianity. 

In September 2014, a Muslim man beheaded a woman after “calling for Islamic terror” in Oklahoma.

Neither of these “incidents” appear in the ECDB data.

Recently in Fresno, a Muslim murdered three people while shouting “Allahu akbar” to his victims and captors.  Given the media subterfuge downplaying the role of Islam in the attacks, all signs point to this “incident” also being excluded from such ECDB data in the future.

The ECDB lists the number of incidents of right-wing terror at 62, versus the number of Islamic terror incidents at 23.  Hence, 62 is 73% of 85.  It appears that Cato just stopped all logical thinking at that point and took their irresponsible conclusion to Twitter, without considering any of the aforementioned (and obvious) points.

But more accurate data appears at Religion of Peace, which suggests that, when religiously motivated honor killings are included (and why should a devout Muslim murdering his daughter and her lesbian lover for religious reasons, for example, not be?), there have been 51 separate deadly “incidents” in America since 9/11, and that these were responsible for 158 deaths. 

This means that when incidents are compared using that data, right-wing extremism would account for roughly 55% of domestic terror attacks, and Islamic extremism for 45%.  This would also mean that Muslim extremists have killed 50% more people than those right-wing extremists.

How can one conclude that these facts do not suggest that the permeation of extremist ideology is particularly malignant in America’s Muslim community?  After all, Muslims are less than 1% of America’s population.  Shouldn’t the fact that Islamic extremism accounts for 27% (much less 45%) of terrorist attacks in America be shocking enough?  The fact that the incidents of Islamic terrorism have been far deadlier than incidents of right-wing terrorism should be particularly alarming.  Why all the effort to downplay the deadliness and occurrences of violent extremism within this extremely small demographic in America?

No, America.  You’re not imagining this threat.  Given all of evidence we’ve already seen in Europe, along with ISIS’s “official strategy” to hide attack operatives within the waves of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, it is only logical to be wary about Muslim immigrants with unknowable backgrounds becoming your neighbors.        

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.