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Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2015

An Anti-Defamation League Report

Download the whole report Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2015 (PDF).

When it came to domestic terrorism and extremism, the year 2015 was a grisly one for the United States.  In the past twelve months, the names of a number of American cities became unwelcome shorthand for the carnage that extremist killers wreaked in them:  Charleston, Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino.  Each of these cities became scenes of tragedy and death, thanks to the cold-hearted ideological motivations of angry killers.

It is thus no surprise that these and other domestic extremist killers have collectively amassed a higher number of victims in 2015 than in any previous year since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing.  Preliminary tallies by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism indicate that a minimum of 52 people in the United States were killed by adherents of domestic extremist movement in the past 12 months. 

This number is bound to grow further still, as extremist connections to some murders often take years to be revealed—and there are likely still other murders whose extremist connections may never see the light of day.  Still, the 52 people known to have died at the hands of domestic extremists are disturbing enough, more than the numbers killed in 2013 and 2014 put together.  The victims included police officers, government workers, service members, and civilians from all walks of life. 

Key Findings of Report

  • In 2015, the 52 deaths came at the hands of adherents of four domestic extremist movements:  white supremacists, anti-government extremists, domestic Islamic extremists, and anti-abortion extremists.
  • As has been the case every year since 1995, white supremacists have been responsible for the largest number of deaths, at 20.  One incident, the June 17 mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which killed nine, was responsible for almost half of these deaths. 
  • Usually, right-wing anti-government extremists account for the next highest number of murders each year, but in 2015, in a disturbing development, domestic Islamic extremists were responsible for 19 deaths, virtually the same as white supremacists.  All of these deaths stemmed from two shooting rampages:  the July 16 attacks by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez on military targets in Chattanooga and the December 2 rampage by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. 
  • The 52 murders occurred in 17 separate incidents, with nine of the incidents involving multiple murders.  This is unusual, in that most extremist-related examples of murder involve a single victim. 
  • Ideology played a primary or substantial role in 10 of the 17 incidents in 2015, accounting for 34 of the 52 victims.  Non-ideological killings by extremists, which accounted for the remainder, tend to involve group-related killings (such as killing a suspected informant or a rival gang member) or traditional criminal violent activity (in which extremists also often engage).
  • Overwhelmingly the extremist weapon of choice in 2015—as in virtually every year—was firearms.  In fact, 48 of the 52 victims were killed by firearms.  The other four victims were killed by a variety of means, including two stabbings, a blunt instrument killing, and a motor vehicle incident.  All of the multiple murder incidents involved the use of one or more firearms.
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"It is thus no surprise that these and other domestic extremist killers have collectively amassed a higher number of victims in 2015 than in any previous year since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing."

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