White Supremacist Terrorism In The US Is On The Rise, The FBI Found

by Seth Millstein
Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images

An FBI official told CNN on Thursday that white supremacist domestic terrorism cases have been on the rise in recent months. The official didn't reveal any numbers or specifics, but did say that domestic terrorism in general has been on the rise over the last several years.

The report is consistent with a claim Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenank made at a hearing on Thursday, according to CNN. McAleenank said that "white supremacist extremist violence" is a "huge issue" and an "evolving and increasingly concerning threat."

Domestic terrorism has skyrocketed over the last 15 years, Quartz reports, and study after study has shown that it's largely a right-wing phenomenon. In 2017, for instance, far-right assailants committed three times more violent attacks than their left-wing counterparts, according to a Quartz analysis of information from the Global Terrorism Database. A study by the right-leaning Cato Institute found that between 1992 and 2017, right-wing terrorists carried out 10 times as many attacks as did leftists. The Southern Poverty Law Center determined in September 2018 that two-thirds of all extremist attacks that year were carried out by people with right-wing ideologies.

The FBI official whom CNN spoke with said that the bureau currently has around 5,000 open terrorism investigations, including both domestic and international cases.

It's worth noting that "terrorism" is a notoriously vague term with no single, official definition. The FBI, the Defense Department, the PATRIOT Act, and FEMA all offer different definitions of what constitutes a "terrorist," while the U.S. Code offers different definitions of "terrorism" in different sections. Moreover, "domestic terrorism" is not actually a specific crime, but rather an informal designation used by law enforcement, think tanks, and other organizations to categorize other existing crimes.

In 2017, the Government Accountability Office released a study on violent extremist attacks in the United States, and compared the ideological motivation behind them. It found that, between Sept. 12, 2001 and 2016, right-wing extremists have killed a total of 106 people in the U.S. By contrast, Islam-inspired extremists killed 119 people, while far-left terrorists didn't kill anybody.

Although the FBI official who spoke with CNN didn't provide any numbers, Reuters reports that in the current fiscal year, which began in October, there have been 66 arrests related to domestic terrorism, compared with 63 for international terrorism.

President Trump, who was criticized in 2017 for saying that there were "very fine people" among a group of white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, has taken active steps to reduce funding for groups that track and fight domestic terrorism, specifically white supremacist terrorism. NBC News reported in October that Trump, weeks after taking office, rescinded a $400,000 grant that was set to be given to Life After Hate, a group that seeks to dissuade people from joining white supremacist organizations. The Trump administration also withdrew three other grants that the Obama administration had approved for anti-domestic terrorism groups, NBC News reported.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, violent attacks by white supremacists in the United States increased 182% between 2017 and 2018.