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Do Data on Right-Wing Political Violence Exaggerate the Problem?

How big a problem is right-wing political violence in the U.S. Bigger than other kinds of political violence? You might think the answer is clearly yes, but the data often cited to support this conclusion don’t say what most people think, writes Washington Post opinion columnist Megan McCardle. The aftermath of the Buffalo massacre saw a spate of articles describing the menace of right-wing extremists. Over the last decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 murders committed by domestic political extremists, with 29 occurring just last year. It reports the overwhelming majority were committed by people with ties to various right-wing groups. The people citing these reports say the attacks are motivated by someone’s political affiliation and at least tangentially related to some political goals.

Certainly such attacks do happen, but look closer and some of those cases aren’t so clear-cut as they sound. Drill down into the data and you’ll find other cases are not clearly political, such as prison gang members engaging in pedestrian criminal violence; white supremacists killing their wives; people with mental illness acting on delusions that sometimes include references to right-wing conspiracy theories; people embroiled in criminal trials or child custody disputes who have become enamored of “sovereign citizen” theories that tell them the state has no right to interfere. A majority of the incidents in the ADL’s 2021 report do not clearly have much to do with politics, as the ADL itself acknowledges.


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