Calling domestic terrorism a “stain on the soul of America,” U.S. President Joe Biden announced a national-security strategy earlier this month for protecting the United States from what he described as the “serious and growing threat” of violence “driven by hate, bigotry, and other forms of extremism.” The strategy comes less than half a year after a far-right mob supporting former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and just a few months after American intelligence and law-enforcement agencies concluded that domestic violent extremists “pose an elevated threat to the Homeland in 2021.” How serious is the danger of right-wing violence in the U.S.?

Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, says domestic terrorism is actually a “relatively minor threat” compared to the others America faces and “not one of the biggest social problems facing the U.S. right now.” The number of fatalities this violence causes is dwarfed by those from “ordinary” gun violence, proving—in Pitcavage’s words—that Americans “are fully able to kill each other without needing extremist ideologies as the basis.” Yet Pitcavage emphasizes that domestic terrorism is “a consistent problem that needs to be addressed in a more systematic fashion than it has been.” Attacks have gotten deadlier in recent years, right-wing extremism is a greater threat than radicalism on the left, and the Trump administration neglected to address these issues in a meaningful way.

Graham Vyse: Why did U.S. officials recently say violent extremism posed an elevated threat to the country?

Mark Pitcavage: You’d have to talk to them about their reasoning. The storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 raised a lot of awareness among parts of American society that hadn’t thought much about the issue. Incidents related to domestic terrorism have been fairly consistent over the past few years. It wasn’t like there was a sudden uptick in incidents. Typically it’s high-profile events like January 6 that cause people to pay attention to terrorism. September 11th, 2001, and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing are two examples of that. In 1998, it took a huge arson in Vail, Colorado, for the federal government to start realizing that animal-rights extremists and environmental extremists actually posed a significant threat of violence as well. The government got a grasp on that about 10 years ago, and it’s more under control.

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