Few mass public killers have obvious political or religious reasons for doing their shootings, vehicle attacks, or bombings

31 Oct , 2018  

right-wing terrorism has become far more commonplace — and, since 9/11, far more deadly — than Islamist terrorism in America” — Max Boot, Washington Post, October 28, 2018.

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.” — CNN’s Don Lemon, October 30, 2018

In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.” — New York Times, November 3, 2018

The United States has well below the world average in mass public shootings, but in contrast to the rest of the world where most mass public shootings appear motivated religion, relatively few mass public shooters in the United States appear to have significant political or religious views that could explain their motivations. The Excel file that can be downloaded here has links to the information on these killers over the last 20 years from 1998 through October 28, 2018 (we had put up our list of religious views before). This isn’t to say that the vast majority of these killers didn’t have political or religious beliefs, but that those beliefs weren’t significant enough to be mentioned in any of the news coverage in discussing these individuals’ motives for their attacks.

Compare how the New York Times discusses this issue: “roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.” Note that if someone is racist, that is enough to classify them as “right-wing.” By contrast, we relied on the news coverage of these individual cases to see if those reports classify these attackers as having particular political views.

Mass public shootings are defined as those cases where four or more people are killed at one point in time in a public place and not involving some other type of crime such as a gang fight or a robbery.

In the charts shown above for the United States, it is hard to see any pattern of political beliefs. Three percent were identified as conservative or Republican, and three percent as liberal or Democrat. Another 3% were deemed “right-wingers,” and 1% as left-wingers.

Islamic extremists are one group that stands out. They have carried out 10% of mass public shootings in the US, and while it is much greater than their one percent share of the population, that is still just a fraction of the total attacks..

Information on vehicle attacks is available here. Worldwide between 2000 and April 2018, radical Muslims committed 83% of mass public attacks.  Including attacks where fewer than 4 victims were killed, 73% of all vehicle attacks were carried out by Muslims.

Adding in the vehicle attacks further slightly increases the share of attacks in the US by Muslims where four or more people have been killed to 11%. Mass bombings where multiple people were killed are rare in the US. The one notable exception to that was the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, where three people were killed and 180 wounded. The two brothers in that attack reportedly did their attack as retaliation for US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq against Muslims.

During 2014 and 2015 there were 1,761 bombings in the world that killed at least four people.  Of those, 1,401 were by radical Muslims, 58 were non-Muslims, and 302 were unknown.  It seems likely that most of those unknown attacks were also by radical Muslims, but even if that isn’t the case, at least 80% of these bombings were done by radical Muslims and possibly as few as 3.3% is done by non-Muslims.

The worst mass public shootings around the world are available here. Between 1970 and February 2018, Muslims committed 23 of the worst 25 mass public shootings in the world.

UPDATED: August 4, 2019: The Dayton, Ohio shooter is a registered Democrat.


UPDATED: August 3, 2019: El Paso WalMart killer is an extreme environmentalist.

UPDATED: Nikolas Cruz registered as a Republican while he was in prison. Registering with a party for the first time after committing such a horrible crime doesn’t provide a clear signal of party preferences. At that point, the killer knows that he will be harming the party that he registers with. Still, one can include this in our future totals.

While it doesn’t quite reach the threshold for being classified as a mass public shooting, the Jacksonville shooter hated Trump.

Despite the media classifying the New Zealand shooter as “right-wing,” if you read his manifesto, it is very clear that he is an eco-socialist (and here).

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2 Responses

  1. Samantha Moison says:

    I feel that all this emphasis on why these sick individuals are doing what they are doing is wasting time and efforts. The real problem here is “Gun Control” and that should be everyone’s “Top Priority” !
    These sick individuals want to blame their actions on other individuals and the truth is, that only they are to blame.

    • shell says:

      You’re correct, Samantha. The people who murder innocent people are responsible, and solely to blame for their crimes.

      So, why would we punish every gun owner by illegally stripping constitutionally protected rights from them for crimes someone else comitted?

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