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Right Wing Extremists vs. Jihadist Terrorists: What’s the Bigger National Security Threat?

Gregory Coutros

Right Wing Extremists vs. Jihadist Terrorists:

What’s the Bigger National Security Threat?

The United States faces terror threats from all over the world. But increasingly threats have been coming from within the country itself, from unsuspected people who are simply believed to be disturbed, which has led to the question, what poses more of a threat to the United States, Right Wing Extremist or Jihad Terrorist? The answer to that question is murky at best, depending largely on definition and time frame.

To be able to determine which poses more of a threat, Right Wing Extremism or Jihad Terrorism, it helps to have a clear understanding of what exactly Right Wing Extremism is. Unfortunately, a clear definition does not exist; however the FBI has provided some guidelines to what generally constitutes a Right Wing Extremist. Generally speaking, “domestic right-wing terrorist groups often adhere to the principles of racial supremacy and embrace antigovernment, antiregulatory beliefs.”[1] This definition leaves quite a bit to be desired and leaves a lot open to interpretation when it comes to determining the extent of the violence attributed to these aforementioned groups. Luckily, the FBI provides a pretty clear definition of what a Jihadist Terrorist is; pretty much any person who adopts a Jihadist ideology as motivation for an attack.[2] Yet despite this clearer definition, numbers still fluctuate when it comes to attributing violence to the group.

Right Wing Extremists have, since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, been the cause of more deaths, than Jihadists, in the United States.[3] Yet, to what extent, is the subject of much debate and open to much interpretation. For example, “University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database registered 65 attacks . . . ” whereas “The New America Foundation . . . tallied 48 deaths from attacks by non-jihadists . . . ”; however both groups only attributed 26 deaths to Jihadists over the same period of time.[4] One of the problems with this discrepancy is the definition of what exactly a Right Wing Extremist is.[5] But again, despite this discrepancy, the overall conclusion is the same; Right Wing Extremists have caused more deaths in the United States than Jihadists since 9/11.[6] Despite this, why is the general conversation as though Congress acts more in fear of preventing another Jihadist attack rather than a Right Wing Extremist attempt? There is no definitive answer to this question, but it can be argued that the Second Amendment, as well as the lone-wolf-small-arms nature of these attacks may be a guiding reason.

Right Wing Extremists largely have preferred more primitive methods when it comes to inflicting terror.[7] These people tend to prefer beatings and small arms weapons over explosives and chemical warfare.[8] For instance, according to a study done by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 86% of violence inflicted by Right Wing Extremists has been from beatings, arson, firearms, and close combat weapons, compared to 14% from explosives, chemical weapons, or vehicles.[9] Many of these crimes already have laws against them, possibly making them more aptly dealt with by local law enforcement. Additionally, many of the people and organizations that Right Wing Extremists target tend to be people or groups that are expressly protected by the Federal Hate Crimes Act, meaning protections and prosecution measures already exist should people commit these crimes.[10]

Even though the government focused a large amount of energy preventing Right Wing Extremists and putting a stop to their actions, in recent years that focus has shifted to Jihadist Terrorism.[11] In all of the Government’s efforts to prevent another 9/11 type attack, it lost track of the domestic Right Wing Extremists. It can be said that is only because of its increased unwavering focus on preventing a Jihadist-like attack that Right Wing Extremist crimes outnumber Jihadist terrorism. Has the government and its ultra-fear of Jihadist-like attacks led to something that violates freedoms and overlooks basic human rights?

With the recent Bill passed by the House limiting refuges from Syria entering the country, the Congress has passed a Bill that is nothing short of redundant.[12] As it currently stands, the United States has one of the most extensive processes to become a refugee; one so extensive that “the threat to the U.S. homeland from refugees has been relatively low. Almost none of the major terrorist plots since 9/11 have involved refugees.”[13] Yet despite the fact that it is incredibly low risk, congress still acts with fervor when it comes to stopping potential Jihadist Terrorists Yet when a man in Charleston attacks a church, not much is done to limit firearms to Right Wing Extremists.[14]

The question still remains, what poses more of threat to National Security, Right Wing Extremists or Jihadist Terrorists? Based on the actions of congress, it may be that Jihadists still poses the greater threat. But based on damage done, it may be that Right Wing Extremists are the bigger threat. However, if in a perfect world, the actions of congress are supposed to represent the will of the people, then it appears that the people are more fearful of Jihadists than Right Wing Extremists.

[1] Dale L. Watson Testimony Before Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (Feb 06, 2002),

[2] See FBI, Terrorism 2002-2005, Terrorism in the United States (2002-2005),

[3] See generally Jaeah Lee et al. The Rise of Violent Right-Wing Extremism, Explained, (Jun. 30 2015 5:00 AM),; Arie Perliger, Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right, The Combating Terrorism Center 1, (November 2012),; Charles Kurzman et al., The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat, N.Y. Times (June 16, 2015),

[4] Lee supra note 3.

[5] Watson supra note 1.

[6] See generally Lee supra note 3; Perliger; Kurzman et al.

[7] Perliger at 105.

[8] See id.

[9] Id.

[10] 18 U.S.C. § 249 (2009).

[11] See Jerome P. Bjelopera, Countering Violent Extremism in the United States, Congressional Research Service 1, 1 (Feb. 19, 2014),

[12] See generally American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015, H.R. 4038, 114th Cong. § 1 (2015)(Wording of the actual act passed by the House).

[13] Seth G. Jones, The Terrorism Threat to the United States and Implications for Refugees, RAND Corp. (June 2015),


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