Right-wing Terror Attacks in U.S. Approach 1990s Levels

  • April 7, 2015

Recent terrorist attacks, plots and conspiracies by right-wing extremists in the United States are approaching the level of attacks in the mid-1990s when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, based on a chronology of such attacks compiled by the Anti-Defamation League.  The chronology was released as part of ADL’s commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

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The list of right-wing attacks and attempted attacks chronicles 120 different incidents between January 1995 and December 2014, illustrating a steady stream of domestic terror incidents in the United States stemming from extreme-right movements over the past two decades.  Targets included ethnic and religious minorities, government officials and buildings, law enforcement officers, abortion clinics and their staff, and others.

Examined over time, the attacks illustrate the two major surges of right-wing extremism that the United States has experienced in the past 20 years.  The first began in the mid-1990s and lasted until the end of the decade.  The second surge began in the late 2000s and has not yet died down.

During both surges, the number of right-wing terror attacks and conspiracies outnumbered those in the intervening period.  From 1995 through 2000, 47 incidents occurred, while from 2009 through 2014, 42 incidents took place.  The eight-year intervening period of 2001-08 produced 31 attacks.  The surge of recent years has not produced a two-year period with as many incidents as the years 1995-1996, which had a high of 18 attacks, but it has come close, with 16 attacks for the years 2011-12.

When analyzed on the basis of perpetrator ideology, the list shows that the various white supremacist and anti-government extremist movements have produced the vast majority of the right-wing terrorist incidents over the past 20 years, with 50 each.  Anti-abortion extremists come in third place with 13 incidents.

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Incidents on the list include terrorist acts and plots by white supremacists, anti-government extremists, anti-abortion extremists, anti-immigration extremists, anti-Muslim extremists, and others.  The list does not include spontaneous acts of violence by right-wing extremists, such as killings committed during traffic stops, nor does it include lesser incidents of extremist violence or non-ideological violence committed by extremists.

Some incidents had perpetrators who adhered to more than one ideological movement; in such cases, the movement that seemed most important to the perpetrator was used for categorization.  Categorization was by perpetrator ideology rather than type of target, a fact important to note, as different movements sometimes chose the same type of target (white supremacists and anti-abortion extremists both targeted abortion clinics, for example), while some perpetrators chose targets that did not closely tie in with their main ideology (such as anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph targeting the 1996 Atlanta Olympics).  The 2001 plot by the Jewish Defense League to attack Muslim-related targets in California is not listed, as ADL includes such incidents under Jewish nationalist extremism rather than right-wing extremism.

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