Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2017

An ADL Center on Extremism Report

Chapters

  • Every year, adherents of a variety of extreme movements and causes kill people in the United States; ADL’s Center on Extremism tracks these murders.
  • In 2017, extremists killed at least 34 people in the U.S., a sharp and welcome decline from the much higher totals for 2016 and 2015, but still the fifth deadliest year since 1970.
  • Unlike 2016, a year dominated by the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida, committed by an Islamic extremist, a majority of the 2017 murders were committed by right-wing extremists, primarily white supremacists, as has typically been the case most years.
  • The white supremacist murders included several killings linked to the alt right as that movement expanded its operations in 2017 from the internet into the physical world—raising the likely possibility of more such violent acts in the future.
  • An Islamic extremist still committed the single deadliest incident in 2017: the New York City bike path vehicular homicide attack, which killed eight people. Adherents of several different extremist movements, including white supremacists, anti-government extremists, and black nationalists, have also used vehicles to commit attacks in the U.S. in the past several years.
  • The year 2017 was the second year in a row in which black nationalists have committed murders in the United States. Combined with other violent acts by black nationalists in recent years, these murders suggest the possibility of an emerging problem.
  • Firearms remain the most common weapon of choice for extremists committing deadly acts in 2017, followed by vehicles and stabbing/cutting implements.
  • Two corrections officers and one police officer were killed by extremists in 2017, highlighting the threat that extremists pose to the safety of law enforcement officers.

Extremism was a constant subject in the headlines in 2017, from protests to politicians and radical interpretations of Islam to the radical right. But extremists from a variety of groups and movements committed a variety of murders—some highly publicized and others largely invisible— leaving their violent marks on the American landscape.

By the preliminary tally of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, 34 people were killed by domestic extremists in 2017. Compared to 2016, which totaled 71 extremist-related killings, and 2015, which produced 69 such deaths, the deadly tally for 2017 was markedly lower. Still, 2017 was still the fifth deadliest year since 1970 for domestic extremist-related killings.

 

Five Most Deadly Years for Domestic Extremist Killings 1970-2017

 

These statistics illustrate that extremist-related killings comprise only a small fraction of the total number of homicides in the United States each year. Nevertheless, because of their nature, they can often have an outsized impact, affecting entire communities—or even the entire country—in ways many other deaths may not. Perhaps the clearest example of that from 2017 was the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August by white supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr., during a white supremacist rally in that city. Heyer’s death received national attention and for many served as a wake-up call to the dangers posed by a re-energized white supremacist movement.

It is important to note that the deaths described here represent merely the tip of a pyramid of extremist violence and crime in the United States; for each person actually killed by an extremist, many more are wounded or injured in attempted murders and assaults. Every year, police uncover and prevent a wide variety of extremist plots and conspiracies with lethal intentions. Moreover, extremists engage in a wide variety of other crimes related to their causes, from threats and harassment to white collar crime.

The main reason the extremist murder statistics for 2017 are significantly lower than in 2015 and 2016 is the absence of large extremist-related shooting sprees. In 2016, Omar Mateen killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. In 2015, white supremacists and Islamic extremists engaged in three significant shooting sprees that left 28 dead. In contrast, the deadliest extremist-related shooting incident in 2017, which took place in Fresno, California, involved a murder followed by a shooting spree that left three more dead—a tragic and deadly incident, but simply not at the same scale of some of the mass shootings of 2015-2016. There were actually more deadly incidents in 2017 (19) than in 2016 (13), though far fewer than in 2015 (32).

 

Domestic Extremist-Related Killings in the U.S. 2008-2017

 

The deadliest extremist-related incident in 2017 was unusual in that it did not involve firearms or bombs but rather a vehicle. This was the October 31 terrorist attack by Sayfullo Saipov in New York City that involved vehicular homicide on a pedestrian walkway and bike path, with eight deaths. Given that the murder of Heather Heyer also involved a vehicle, the most highly-publicized Islamic extremist and white supremacist-related murders in 2017 each used vehicles as weapons—another unwelcome first for the United States.

Ten Deadliest Acts of Violence by U.S. Domestic Extremists

 

These attacks follow a number of vehicular attacks elsewhere in the world, including Spain, France, and Great Britain, but the United States has seen its share of such attacks in recent years. In November 2016, a vehicular and stabbing attack at Ohio State University in Columbus by an Islamic extremist resulted in 13 injured people. In September 2016, a black nationalist, Marc Laquon Payne, was charged for attempting to kill police officers in Phoenix by ramming them with his car; he injured three. In July 2015, an anti-government sovereign citizen drove through a crowd at a Fourth of July fireworks show in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, killing one person and injuring eight more. Thus, in the past three years, people from four different extremist movements have tried to use vehicles as deadly weapons in the United States.

Extremists from a variety of different movements were involved in murders in 2017, including various types of white supremacists, anti-government extremists, Islamic extremists, and black nationalists, as well as one adherent of the alt lite. Sometimes extremists adhere to or are influenced by more than one extremist movement; in such cases, extremists are categorized here by the ideology that seems to be the most important to them.

Usually such categorizations are straightforward, but occasionally incidents emerge that are much harder to characterize. Perhaps no better example exists than Jeremy Christian, who is accused of stabbing to death two people and severely injuring a third as they tried to defend two teenaged girls—one Muslim and the other African-American—in a confrontation reportedly initiated by Christian in Portland, Oregon in May. Based on comments made by Christian, descriptions of him by people familiar with him, as well as his social media postings, Christian emerges as a volatile, angry man who appears to have fueled his rage with ideas from a variety of sources. Christian frequently expressed hatred of people on the left, and showed up at right-wing events in the Portland area, but had been a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders—seemingly because he thought Sanders would smash the establishment. Most of Christian’s influences seem to have been right-wing in nature and include some from the white supremacist movement and others from anti-government extremists such as sovereign citizens and the militia movement. It is clear that Christian belongs somewhere on the extreme right but it’s difficult to categorize him precisely. For purposes of this report, his murders have been categorized as white supremacist in nature, but others could look at the available evidence and possibly come to a different conclusion.

In some instances, not enough evidence has emerged to be able to categorize a particular murder as extremist-related. The most noteworthy such case from 2017 was the May stabbing murder of Richard W. Collins III, an African-American student at Bowie State University in Maryland, allegedly by a white University of Maryland student, Sean Urbanski. After his arrest, Urbanski was widely characterized as a white supremacist based on his membership in a racist Facebook group called “Alt-Reich Nation.” However, that Facebook group included people who were not white supremacists as well as people who were, and no other specific information has emerged suggesting Urbanski had ties to the white supremacist movement.

In October 2017, Urbanski was charged with a hate crime in connection with the murder. This was a result of the police investigation, which uncovered what one prosecutor described as “lots of digital evidence” of a racial motive. This evidence, if revealed or presented in court, may in the future provide confirmation of an extremist tie on the part of Urbanski, but based on presently available information, the Collins murder does not appear in this report.

Even without incidents such as the Collins murder, white supremacists were responsible for the majority of extremist-related killings in 2017, as is usually the case each year, though it was not true for 2016. White supremacists were responsible for 18 of the 34 murders documented in 2017. A right-wing anti-government extremist committed one murder (see below), while an adherent of the alt lite—an offshoot of the alt right that rejects explicit white supremacy while retaining the alt right’s other hateful views of Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, the left, and especially women—committed another.

Thus 20 of the 34 extremist-related murders in the United States in 2017, or 59%, were related to right-wing extremism. This can be compared to 2016, in which only 20% of extremist murders were related to right-wing extremism—though, again, 2016 was an aberration. Over the past 10 years (2008-17), domestic extremists have been responsible for at least 387 murders; of these, 274 (71%) were committed by right-wing extremists of one type or another.

 

Domestic Extremist-Related Killings in the U.S. by Affiliation 2017

 

Domestic Extremist-Related Killings in the U.S. by Affiliation 2016

 

Some of the murders involving right-wing extremists made headlines around the world, such as the murder of Heather Heyer, allegedly by James Fields, during an alt right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, or the May 2017 Tampa, Florida murders reportedly confessed to by Devon Arthurs, one of four roommates who were all members of Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi group. Arthurs, who had recently converted to Islam (though apparently not a radical form of Islam), reportedly became angry that his roommates made fun of his conversion and he shot two of them. A fourth roommate, Brandon Russell, who was not present at the time of the shootings, subsequently pleaded guilty to unrelated federal explosives charges after bomb-making materials belonging to him were discovered during the murder investigation.

Several murders involving right-wing extremists appear to have stemmed from arguments over their extremist beliefs or affiliations. In July 2017, Lane Maurice Davis, an alt lite conspiracy theorist, was accused of stabbing his father to death at their home on Samish Island, Washington, following an argument with his parents over Davis’s beliefs and conspiracy theories. Across the country, a teenager from Reston, Virginia, was charged with shooting and killing his girlfriend’s parents in December after they convinced their daughter to break up with him because of the teenager’s white supremacist beliefs.

James Fields and Lane Davis also stand out as adherents of the alt right and alt lite, respectively (the latter movement diverging from the former in 2017). Prior to 2017, the alt right was overwhelmingly an online phenomenon, with people expressing opinions in online venues ranging from 4chan and Reddit to Twitter and Facebook, as well as more obscure sites and platforms. Energized by the 2016 presidential election and the media attention given to the movement, alt right adherents (and, after the split, alt lite adherents, too) increasingly involved themselves in the real world as well as the virtual realm, forming actual groups such as Identity Evropa, while engaging in a variety of real-world activities ranging from protests and rallies such as the August “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville to racist fliering campaigns targeting college campuses in the United States and Canada.

With the expansion to real world activities, it was inevitable that some alt right and alt lite adherents would engage in violent acts, like previous extremists before them. Another such act involved James Harris Jackson, a Maryland white supremacist and fan of the alt right website Daily Stormer. Jackson travelled to New York to launch a series of attacks against African-American men. On March 30, he used a sword to fatally stab a homeless African-American man, Timothy Caughman, in what Jackson later admitted to police was a “practice run” for a planned violent spree in Times Square. Jackson, who turned himself in to police before killing anybody else has been charged with murder as an act of terrorism.

It is quite likely that the future will see yet more violent acts stemming from the ranks of the alt right and the alt lite as more of their adherents move their activities into the real world.

 

Domestic Extremist-Related Killings in the U.S. by Affiliation 2008-2017

 

Islamic extremists were responsible for nine of the 34 killings (26%) documented in 2017, with eight of those stemming from the bike path attack by Sayfullo Saipov. The other incident was the February 2017 murder of a transit security guard in Denver, Colorado, allegedly by Joshua Andrew Cummings, a convert to Islam who had once been reported to the Department of Homeland Security by members of a local mosque as possibly becoming radicalized. After his arrest for the murder, Cummings told a journalist that, though he subsequently pledged allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS, the murder of the security guard had not been committed on behalf of ISIS but rather for the “pleasure of Allah,” a somewhat inscrutable statement. This murder is presently categorized in this report as a non-ideological murder rather than an ideological murder, though that may change if more information emerges.

Over the past 10 years, Islamic extremists have been responsible for at least 99 of the 387 documented extremist-related murders (26%). What is most remarkable about these murders is that the overwhelming majority were committed in just a handful of relatively high-casualty attacks, as opposed to the much more numerous but usually smaller-scale deadly incidents involving other types of extremists.

Finally, five of the 34 murders (15%) were committed by black nationalists (for purpose of simplicity, the Center on Extremism includes both black nationalists and anarchists in the broader category of “left-wing extremism,” while acknowledging that black nationalists include some adherents who don’t necessarily fit neatly within that category). In April 2017 in Fresno, California, Kori Ali Muhammad was accused of allegedly murdering a security guard at a hotel, then several days later embarking on a shooting spree that seemed to target white people as victims. Muhammad was charged with killing three people in that spree, bringing his total to four deaths, before police were able to arrest him. Muhammad’s father subsequently said his son believed in a war between whites and blacks. The following month in Dallas, Texas, Derick Lamont Brown, a member of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and former Dallas chairman of the New Black Panther Party, shot and killed his godfather, with whom he shared a residence, then wounded a neighbor and an EMT before fatally shooting himself after police arrived at the scene.

These deadly events followed the 2016 murders of eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge at the hands of black nationalists; the attempted vehicular murders of police in Phoenix by Payne, described above; a shootout with police in Belleville, Illinois, in June 2016 initiated by Angelo Brown, the head of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party; and the 2014 plot by two black nationalists in St. Louis, Missouri, to kill police officers and bomb the Gateway Arch. Taken together, these incidents represent the most significant black nationalist-related violence since the early 1980s and should be something of a concern as a possible emerging extremist threat, though one that is so far still far smaller than threats posed by right-wing extremists and Islamic extremists.

The 34 extremist-related murders in 2017 represented a significant decline after four straight years of rising deaths but were still above the average number of yearly murders in recent decades (29).

In contrast to the previous two years, 2017 saw fewer victims killed by firearm; only 20 of the 34 murders (59%) were committed using firearms as a weapon, a significant drop from 2016 (93%) and 2015 (80%), and substantially lower than the 10-year average (72%). However, the bike path murders show that guns and bombs are not the only ways extremists bent on destruction can be deadly. Guns, vehicles and stabbing weapons accounted for all the documented murders in 2017; no murders emerged related to bombs, beatings, or other means.

Ideology seems to have played a primary or secondary role in 17 of the 34 murders (50%), but this figure includes the Samish Island and Reston murders as non-ideological, though some could argue that ideology played at least a secondary role in these domestic disputes. In nine of the 34 murders (26%), hate-related motives seem to have played a primary or secondary role.

Many extremist-related murders each year, as in 2017, are essentially non-ideological killings, which can include killings stemming from factional disputes, murders of suspected informants, as well as murders committed by extremists in the pursuit of traditional criminal motives. In another domestic dispute, in Leadwood, Missouri in February, neither ideology nor hate seems to have played a part when Frank Ancona, the head of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was murdered, allegedly by his wife and fellow Klan member, Malissa Ancona, and her son.

In another non-ideological killing, David Atchison of Aztec, New Mexico, seems to have had two obsessions—school shootings and white supremacy. He opened fire at a local high school, killing two students before taking his own life.

Two non-ideological murders occurred during an escape attempt from a prison bus in June, when two Georgia inmates—one of them a member of the Ghostface Gangsters, a white supremacist prison gang—overpowered two corrections officers, Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue, took one of their guns, and killed the officers. They were subsequently recaptured in Tennessee and now face the death penalty for the murders.

Extremists of any sort can pose a safety risk to corrections officers and police officers, as the deaths of Monica and Billue tragically illustrate. There have been numerous murders of corrections officers by extremists over the years, while almost every year at least one police officer is killed by an extremist.

2017 was no exception. The sole murder committed by an anti-government extremist in 2017 was the deliberate targeting of a police officer in one of the year’s most cold-blooded killings. In May, Deputy Sheriff Mason Moore of Broadwater County, Montana, attempted a traffic stop in May on a car carrying two anti-government extremists, Lloyd Barrus and his son, Marshall Barrus. The stop led to a car chase and shootout in which the deputy was wounded. After seeing the officer’s vehicle come to a stop, the two men made a U-turn, drove back to the police cruiser and allegedly fired dozens of rounds at the officer, killing him. Authorities eventually located the Barruses and, following a high speed chase, a second shootout occurred, in which Marshall Barrus was killed and his father arrested. Authorities subsequently learned that the two had apparently discussed a “suicide mission” against police and had even wanted to bring Marshall Barrus’s children with them.

The 2017 incident was not the first shootout with law enforcement for Lloyd Barrus. In the early 2000s, Barrus, another son, and a third person were involved in a car chase and standoff in Death Valley, California, during which their gunfire forced down a California Highway Patrol helicopter. No one was killed in that earlier encounter.

 

Police Officers Killed in the United STates bu Domestic Extremists 1965-2017

 

There is one extremist-related officer death not included in this report’s statistics. An Orlando, Florida, man, Markeith Lloyd, was charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon, in December 2016, and Orlando police officer, Lt. Debra Clayton, in January 2017 while she was trying to arrest him. During court appearances in early 2017, Lloyd used language that strongly indicated an association with the sovereign citizen movement. However, because the sovereign citizen movement has so thoroughly penetrated jails and prisons across the United States, it is not clear if Lloyd had any association with the movement before his arrest or whether he, like countless others, only became exposed to the movement after his arrest and began using its pseudo-legal arguments in filings and court appearances. If evidence emerges that Lloyd had connections to the movement prior to the murders, he will be added to ADL’s extremist murder statistics.

The 2017 extremist-related murders preliminarily documented by ADL include:

  • Reston, Virginia, December 22, 2017. An accused white supremacist teenager (as a juvenile, his name is being withheld until/unless he is formally charged as an adult) is reported to have killed the parents of his girlfriend before shooting himself, reportedly because they had convinced their daughter to break up with him because of his ostensible white supremacist beliefs.
  • Aztec, New Mexico, December 14, 2017. White supremacist David Atchison disguised himself as a student in order to conduct a school shooting at a local high school, where he killed two students before killing himself.
  • New York City, October 31, 2017. An Islamic extremist, Sayfullo Saipov, is accused of driving a rental truck down a bike path in New York City, killing eight people and injuring 11 others before being shot and arrested by police. Saipov reportedly claimed allegiance to ISIS.
  • Greeley, Colorado, August 16, 2017. Kelly Raisley, believed to be a member or associate of the 211 Crew white supremacist gang, was arrested on first-degree murder charges for the murder of his uncle, Randy Gene Baker. Baker’s wife and sister were similarly arrested. The motive was apparently personal.
  • Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2017. White supremacist James Alex Fields, Jr., from Maumee, Ohio, was charged with first-degree murder and other crimes for deliberately ramming his vehicle into a crowd of protesters opposing the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally being held in the city that weekend, injuring 19 people and killing one, Heather Heyer.
  • Samish Island, Washington, July 14, 2017. An alt lite conspiracy theorist and vlogger, Lane Maurice Davis, allegedly murdered his father following an argument over Davis’s beliefs.
  • Century Correctional Institution, Florida, June 19, 2017. Robert Hunt, an inmate with white supremacist tattoos, some common to prison gangs, is accused of stabbing to death an African-American inmate, Jorge Slaughter.
  • Putnam County Georgia, June 13, 2017. Ricky Dubose, a member of the Ghostface Gangsters white supremacist prison gang, and another inmate, Donnie Russell Rowe, reportedly killed two corrections officers while trying to escape from a prison bus. They were later recaptured.
  • Portland, Oregon, May 26, 2017. Police charge right-wing extremist Jeremy Christian with stabbing to death two men and severely injuring a third who were coming to the defense of two teenaged girls, one African-American and the other wearing a hijab, whom Christian was reportedly harassing.
  • Tampa, Florida, May 19, 2017. White supremacist Devon Arthurs allegedly shot to death two of his roommates for making fun of his recent conversion to Islam. All three, and a fourth roommate, were members of Atomwaffen, a neo-Nazi group.
  • Broadwater County, Montana, May 16, 2017. Anti-government extremists Lloyd Barrus and Marshall Barrus are accused of killing a Broadwater County sheriff’s deputy as part of a “suicide mission.” Marshall Barrus was killed by police in a subsequent shootout and Lloyd Barrus was arrested.
  • Dallas, Texas, May 1, 2017. Black nationalist Derick Lamont Brown killed his godfather, with whom he shared a house, and wounded a neighbor and a paramedic before killing himself after police arrived.
  • Fresno, California, April 18, 2017. Kori Ali Muhammad, a black nationalist, allegedly killed a motel security guard then, several days later, embarked upon a shooting spree that killed three more people before police were able to arrest him.
  • New York City, New York, March 30, 2017. Maryland white supremacist James Harris Jackson travelled to New York City to attack African-American men in order to stop white women from engaging in interracial relationships. He is charged with fatally stabbing a homeless man before turning himself in to police.
  • North Judson, Indiana, March 3, 2017. Aryan Circle member Edward Blackburn allegedly shot and killed another man who was reportedly dating his ex-girlfriend.
  • Leadwood, Missouri, February 9, 2017. Frank Ancona, head of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, was shot to death; his wife and fellow Klan member, Malissa Ancona, and her son have been charged for the murder.
  • Denver, Colorado, February 1, 2017. Joshua Andrew Cummings reportedly shot and killed a transit security guard in Denver. Cummings, a convert to Islam described by people who knew him as possibly becoming radicalized, claimed after his arrest that he had pledged his allegiance to ISIS after three days of fasting behind bars but that the murder was not done on behalf of ISIS.
  • San Antonio, Texas, January 29, 2017. Ashton Lucas Lomas was charged with capital murder after allegedly robbing and shooting to death Martin Gonzales over an alleged dispute Gonzales had with another person. Lomas and others charged in the case appear to be members or associates of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.
  • Lafayette, Indiana, January 16, 2017. Wesley Andrew Hampton, a self-declared white supremacist, and another defendant allegedly robbed and murdered a man in a home invasion.

The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism has compiled a list of over 1,000 known murders/killings by perpetrators associated with domestic extremist movements of all types since 1970—essentially the post-Civil Rights era. These are primarily murders committed by American extremists on U.S. soil, though a few cases involving American extremists murdering other Americans abroad (such as at Jonestown) are also included.

Because extremist connections to some murders can take months or years to be revealed, statistics for the most recent years will inevitably be revised upward in future years. For example, ADL’s report on extremist-related murders in 2016 counted 69 murders; within a year, ADL had uncovered two more extremist-related murders for 2016 and revised its numbers accordingly. Similar upward revision is likely to occur in the future for the 2017 statistics presented here.

The incidents are derived primarily from public sources, leading to some limitations regarding cross-era or cross-movement comparisons. Regarding cross-era comparisons, generally speaking, information on extremist-related killings from the 1970s and 1980s is more difficult to obtain than for later years; thus it may not be meaningful to compare or contrast figures from the earlier era with figures from the 1990s or later.

The main limitation of cross-movement comparisons is that extremist connections to killings are easier to determine for some movements than for others. For example, white supremacists, who frequently sport many racist and white supremacist tattoos, or who may be documented as white supremacists by gang investigators or corrections officials, are often more easily identifiable. In contrast, it may be more difficult for police or media to identify, say, anti-government extremist associations that a suspect might have. This issue comes up most often with non-ideological killings rather than ideologically-motivated ones. It is fair to say that non-ideological murders committed by extremists other than white supremacists are probably underrepresented here.

In addition, because murders that occur behind bars often get little or no reporting by the media, and are typically not publicized by prison officials, prison-based violence by all extremist movements is definitely under-represented.

As with any such list, the inclusion or exclusion of certain borderline cases may be a judgment call based on the best evidence available, judgments with which others may possibly disagree.

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