According to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI on Thursday, a South Carolina white supremacist planned to carry out a terrorist attack "in the spirit of Dylann Roof." After making numerous anti-Semitic posts on Facebook, the man allegedly purchased a handgun from an undercover agent on Wednesday, and was arrested shortly thereafter. Prior to his arrest, the man expressed his desire to "conduct an attack on non-whites without getting caught," according to the FBI's complaint. And though terrorist attacks committed by Muslims tend to gain the most attention, white terrorism is at least as big of a problem, and perhaps more so.
"I seen what Dylann Roof did, and in my heart, I reckon I got a little bit of hatred," the man reportedly said, according to the complaint. "I want to do that sh*t." He added that he wanted to "do something on a f*cking big scale and write on the f*cking building or whatever, 'In the spirit of Dylann Roof.'"
The man in question already had a felony burglary conviction under his belt prior to this most recent arrest, and reportedly became ingratiated with the white supremacist community while serving time in prison, the FBI complaint claimed. He fell under investigation after reportedly talking about attacking a synagogue on Facebook; the next month, he allegedly wrote a post criticizing white supremacists he perceived as insufficiently devoted to the cause, condemning them for being "loaded on drugs the Jews put here to destory [sic] white man." His mother, Joann Clewis, was very surprised by his arrest and told CBS News outside of the courthouse that her son is innocent until proven guilty.
This is only the most recent bit of white terrorism-related news. Also on Thursday, a white Tennessee man was convicted of plotting to attack a Muslim community in New York, explaining that he believed it to be a terrorist training camp.
Comparing the relative threat levels of white terrorism and Muslim terrorism is extraordinarily difficult, in part because not everybody agrees on the definition of "terrorism." In many cases, it's hard to determine what exactly motivates any given attacker, and that task is essentially impossible when, as is often the case, attackers demonstrate signs of mental illness. There's also the question of how to quantify terrorism: Do you focus on the number of attacks, the number of fatalities, or the number of injuries? And what's the most appropriate time span to examine?
There are some things that are known. As of 2015, white extremists had carried out 22 deadly attacks in the United States since 9/11, according to a list compiled by Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley (That number has grown since then). Furthermore, the deadliest mass shooting in history was carried out by a white supremacist. And in 2014, law enforcement agencies proclaimed the sovereign citizens movement a bigger terrorist threat than religious-inspired attacks (Islamic or otherwise).
Nevertheless, Muslim terrorism continues to draw far more attention from the media and politicians. Republican Rep. Sean Duffy recently claimed that "there's a difference" between white terrorism and Muslim terrorism, and insisted that the Quebec shooting was "a one-off."
This discrepancy is reflected in the criminal justice system as well: The South Carolina man who wanted to emulate Roof and the Tennessee man who planned to attack New York Muslims both faced legal repercussions for their alleged plots — but neither were actually charged with terrorism-related crimes.