Avoiding Extremes in Discussing Extremism

Immediately following the massacre in Buffalo, New York, I posted a video on my “Light Over Heat” YouTube channel, “Talking guns and race post-Buffalo.” These are two topics that we are bad at discussing as a society, so if you combine them it is often even worse.

As with all things, I try to avoid extremes. I’m sure there is something deeply evolutionary that makes our brains favor binaries (either/or), but the nice thing about being evolved is that we don’t have to just accept that. I am constantly trying to see issues as both/and or “yes, but…” or “no, however…” This is reflected in my most recent “Light Over Heat” video in which I discuss race and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Seeing the complexity of the world is aided by relationships with people from diverse backgrounds. Feedback I received on my initial post-Buffalo video led me to share some “further thoughts on the Buffalo massacre thanks to intellectual diversity” on “Light Over Heat.”

One of the points I made in that video in response to feedback is, “Yes, there is Black supremacist violence in America.” Immediately followed by, “But, it is not as deeply rooted as White supremacist violence.”

Of course, this is an empirical question. A recent opinion by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post provides some evidence that helps answer it.

Milbank begins with the story of Garnell Whitfield who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his mother, Ruth, who was killed in the Buffalo supermarket massacre.

“What are you doing?” Whitfield demanded of the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at their hearing on Tuesday. “Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” With breaking voice and sniffles, he added: “My mother’s life mattered. Your actions here today will tell us how much it matters to you.”

Much like those who responded to my initial video talking race and guns post-Buffalo, Milbank observes, “Then, Republicans on the panel answered — with accounts of violence committed by Black people and antifa.” They notably included two cases that were mentioned in comments on my own video: the Brooklyn subway shooter and the Waukesha Christmas parade car attacker.

“The Brooklyn subway shooter was a known Black supremacist who called for racial violence,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). “The Waukesha attacker … was a viciously left-wing Black nationalist bigot. Another Black nationalist gunned down five police officers in Dallas.” Cruz went on, about “the violence of the antifa riots and the Black Lives Matter riots.”

As noted, the relative balance of left-wing Black nationalist violence and right-wing White nationalist violence is an empirical question. Milbank addresses it as follows:

Since 2015, when the recent upsurge in political violence began, the brutality has been overwhelmingly perpetrated by the far right. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, right-wing extremists (generally either white supremacist or anti-government) were involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities from 2015 through 2020. Far-left extremists (anarchists, anti-fascists) were involved in 66 incidents and 19 deaths. The proportion of left-wing attacks and plots increased in 2021 (40 percent of the total, compared to 49 percent by right-wing extremists), but right-wing attacks remained far deadlier, accounting for 28 of 30 political-violence fatalities in 2021.

These data are in line with the overall point I tried to make in my follow-up video: this is not an inverse of Trump’s “good people on both sides” situation. There are bad people on all sides, but not in equal amounts or to equal extents.

If there are other DATA that address the issue of extremist violence, I am happy to learn about it. Please share in the comments or email me.

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10 comments

  1. The problem is, of course, the definition of “right wing” and “left wing”, even used by “non-partisan” organizations. If a crime is not labelled as a hate crime, or as having a political motive, then it won’t be recorded nor counted as one. The recent spate of attacks, primarily by black suspects against Asian victims, are on the whole not being counted as “hate crimes” even where no other motive presents itself. Similarly in such anti-Semitic attacks, or in attacks where race is brought up by suspects of any other race than “white” against “white” victims, the crime is too often classified as a “normal” crime of violence.

    There is a methodological bias in crime reporting toward emphasizing any hint of “white” or “right wing” motivation, even to the point of simply noting a suspect’s past affiliations, however attenuated, and comments, even if there is no direct evidence they played any role in the crime at hand, and ignoring such “hints” when any other scenario occurs. That, of course, makes real data hard to find, as it isn’t being collected and one must go case by case into all the arrest and evidentiary documents to find the references which didn’t make the national news, and may not have been admitted at trial.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a good point here, as usual. The data from CSIS invoked in this essay (which I trust) addresses the issue of domestic terrorist violence as opposed to all hate crimes. The CSIS report says: “This analysis focuses on terrorism, which is defined as the deliberate use—or threat—of violence by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals and create a broad psychological impact. For inclusion in the data set, events had to meet all parts of this definition.” https://www.csis.org/analysis/pushed-extremes-domestic-terrorism-amid-polarization-and-protest

      So, this goes beyond “everyday” hate crimes, though of course my broader point would encompass that, so some good/better/appropriate data on that would be appropriate.

      As an Asian-American, I am definitely attuned to anti-Asian hate crimes which seem to have been on the rise in recent years. Again, universally acceptable data is hard to come by, but I did take note of a Brookings Institution release: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2022/05/18/confronting-the-invisibility-of-anti-asian-racism/

      Liked by 1 person

      • “On March 16, for example, Robert Aaron Long conducted a shooting spree at three spas in the Atlanta metropolitan area, killing eight individuals and injuring one. Long viewed the women working at these spas as a “temptation” and aimed to help other men suffering from “sex addiction” by killing them.34”

        Misogyny is a “far right” ideology? How so?

        The murderer in New York left a screed containing a slew of, in some cases, mutually contradictory moronic motives, yet the ‘great replacement’ nonsense, which of course was and is still pushed by explicit statements from legitimate high-level Democrat politicians and thinkers over the past decades that “demographics are destiny” and “white conservatives/Republicans will be a minority in the US very soon”, is the single motive used to assign his actions on the spectrum?

        At this point I cannot trust any “non-partisan” organization making claims about politics out of hand, I have seen too many cases where, based on even a cursory examination of the primary sources, their conclusions and methodology are too often at best arguable, if not arguably false.

        It is the same issue I have with most crime and gun rights reporting and analysis, when you start looking at it critically too much of it it falls apart. Too many of these long-standing organizations have been infected with partisanship and no longer support their original goals and purposes, being just shells riding on no longer deserved reputations.

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  2. I would ask where is your data coming from as we know the media often downplays left wing violence, usually by not mentioning the race or religion of the perpetrator. But is very quick to ascribe any violence to the right wing. Thus the numbers you quote may be very suspect.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry I did not notice that. My comment – I would not trust the Washington Post based on past history but I do not know CSIS and so can not comment on any biases they might have.
        I am just very leery of any statistics given by partisan entities. My favorite book from when I first studied statistics was Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.

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      • The question “where does the data come from” is a good and important one. I always ask myself this before referring to data sources in my work. The piece by Milbank is an OPINION essay and in the Washington Post, so a critical approach is appropriate. But the underlying data comes from the CSIS, which is official bi-partisan but of course that does not mean ideologically neutral. It is a very reputable institute studying national security issues and has been around since 1962.

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  3. I could do with a lot less whataboutism from my good GOP countrymen on this subject, but I concur with Matthew that there is just a tiny bit of bias in the news when reporting other types of what seems to be political or race based violence by non Duck Dynasty types (I love ya, but I’m gonna follow you around with that stereotype, David!). But that should not be the big issue. If we increasingly decide that “being the change we want to see” means it comes out of a gun barrel or truck bomb, this republic is in deep shit.

    On that note, I share the amusement of others that the attempt on Assoc. Judge Kavanaugh was buried in my electronic issue of the NY Times. I wonder if it would have been front page news had a classical right wing type taken a potshot at one of the liberal judges. I also suspect that if Sen. Cruz or McConnell had made comments similar to those made by Chuck Schumer, but aimed at Justices Sotomayor, Kagan,or Breyer the rending of garments, wailing, and gnashing of teeth on the Left would be memorable.

    Thankfully, no one has taken a potshot at any Supreme Court judge. Yet. I would be far happier if those on the L and on the R would point out the gleam in their own side’s eye before pointing to the mote in their political adversary’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The new SPLC poll on political violence is on point.

      I’m pretty open that I don’t consider them a credible source of information on “extremist” groups, given their laughable and biased methodology, but this poll is independent of that.

      I have no idea what the numbers would have been a decade or two, or even 5 years, ago, but the fact that “both sides” have such high percentages that are willing to at least talk big about being willing to kill to achieve “the change we want to see” is horrifying.

      Particularly concerning to me is the huge, 10%, gap in the demographic most likely to actually act on those sentiments, young men. The constant hard Left drumbeat of “Republicans/conservatives are inherently evil non-persons” has had what I would consider its desired effect on their street soldiers and those who idolize them.

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    • In addition to the comment I just left to Matthew’s post above, I would also recognize what was in Milbank’s opinion (albeit as a parenthetical) and in the CSIS original report: “Third, there was an increase in the percentage of attacks and plots by anarchists, anti-fascists, and other likeminded extremists in 2021. While white supremacists, anti-government militias, and likeminded extremists conducted the most attacks and plots in 2021 (49 percent), the percentage of attacks and plots by anarchists, anti-fascists, and likeminded extremists grew from 23 percent in 2020 to 40 percent in 2021. This rise has occurred alongside an increase in violence at demonstrations. However, although there was a historically high level of both far-right and far-left terrorist attacks in 2021, violent far-right incidents were significantly more likely to be lethal, both in terms of weapon choice and number of resulting fatalities.”

      I don’t approach this situation as a competition between ideologies. It’s always been odd to me when I talk about white supremacist violence which was integral to this country since before 1789 that some people immediately respond “yeah, but what about . . . ” It’s kind of like responding to saying Black Lives Matter by saying All Lives Matter. OK, great, so then Black Lives Matter. Glad we agree!

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