Click to Return to

The media misses the motive

November 7, 2018, at The Washington Times

By John R. Lott, Jr.


The media is intent on blaming President Trump and Republicans for any violence. They accuse Republicans of stoking the violence and claim that “right-wingers” have been more violent than their counterparts on the left.

Both sides want to claim that they are the ones who have been wronged. Democrats point to pipe bombs sent to Democrats. Republicans point to members of the Trump administration and even senators who have been accosted at restaurants. Then there are the ricin letters, the shootings and the fires at party offices.

The media doesn’t view the scales as balanced. Washington Post columnist Max Boot makes a common claim: “Right-wing terrorism has become far more commonplace — and, since 9/11, far more deadly — than Islamist terrorism in America.” Likewise, CNN’s Don Lemon noted last week: “the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them.” And, of course, the media has spent a great deal of time claiming that Mr. Trump and other Republicans have stirred up this violence.

Mr. Boot blames Mr. Trump for stoking the anger that led to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre by “denouncing ‘globalists’ such as Jewish financier George Soros.” He notes that Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California wrote a tweet criticizing George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg for each spending many tens of millions of dollars in trying to “BUY this election.” Mr. Boot points out that “Soros and Bloomberg are Jewish; Steyer is an Episcopalian whose father was Jewish.” Never mind that neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. McCarthy mentioned the religions of any of these individuals.

But there is another problem with the media’s narrative. “Right-wingers” don’t commit terrorism at an usually high rate, compared to other groups.

The United States is well below the world average in mass public shootings, and those that do occur rarely appear to be motivated by religion or politics. At least, these beliefs are rarely significant enough to be mentioned in news coverage of attacks.

The Crime Prevention Research Center, of which I am president, looked at the political and religious views that were mentioned in the news media of all U.S. mass public shootings from 1998 to now. Following what was the FBI’s traditional definition, we only count cases where four or more people were killed in the course of a single incident at a public place. It also cannot involve some other type of crime such as a gang fight or a robbery. For 68 percent of the shooters, media accounts never mentioned the religious affiliation of the killer. Seventy-two percent of killers’ political affiliations were never mentioned.

It is hard to see any pattern of political beliefs. Three percent were identified as conservative or Republican, and 3 percent as liberal or Democrat. Another 3 percent were deemed “right-wingers,” and 1 percent as left-wingers.

Islamic extremists are one group that stands out. They have carried out 10 percent of mass public shootings in the United States.

Islamic extremists were even more likely to perpetrate vehicle attacks or bombings.

Worldwide between January 2000 and April 2018, radical Muslims committed 83 percent of mass killings with vehicles. Including vehicle attacks with fewer than four fatalities, the percentage drops to 73 percent.

There was only one mass terrorist killing with a vehicle in the United States, where eight people were killed and 15 injured by a pickup truck in New York City in 2017. The attack was ISIS-related. Adding that in slightly increases the share of attacks by Muslims, where four or more people have been killed to 11 percent.

Mass killings from bombings are rare in the United States. The one notable exception to that was the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, when three people were killed and 180 wounded. The two brothers in that attack reportedly wanted revenge for U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq against Muslims.

It might not fit the media narrative, but clearly very few of these killers in the United States appear motivated by religion or politics. Any attack is regrettable, whether it be the shooting of Republican congressmen last year or the dud pipe bombs sent in the mail this year. The man who sent the pipe bombs had a criminal history where he had previously been convicted of bomb threats back in 2002, long before the current political debate.

It is simply a mistake for the media to see a significant share of these attacks as having been egged on by political rhetoric.

Do you like this page?