UPDATE: The false narrative of white supremacists doing mass public shootings: Racial, Gender, Religious and Political views of these killers from 1998 through March 2021

Mar 25, 2021 | Featured, Mass Public Shootings

Entertainment television continually provides a false impression of those who commit mass public shootings and how they commit them. Show after show has mass public shootings involving machine guns, though that never happens. But another myth is that attacks are frequently by white supremacists. In his first Townhall as president, Biden claimed: “And now a rise of political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.” CBS entertainment television constantly portrays white supremacists as the most pressing danger facing the country, committing almost all the mass public shootings. Yet, that is far from the case.

Our dataset of Mass Public Shooting List US 1998-March 2021 provides information on the ages, political views, and religious beliefs of mass public shooters and these killers’ race and gender. 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. We also looked at information on the mass vehicle and bombing attacks (though bombing attacks in the US where multiple people are killed are rare). Clearly, we showed that very few of these attacks are politically or religiously motivated.

The claim that these killers are so overwhelmingly white is also misleading. While whites (excluding those from Middle Eastern descent) make up most mass public shooters, that is 6.4% below their share of the population. Hispanics are even lower than their percentage of the U.S. population. By contrast, those of Middle Eastern descent, Asians, Blacks, and American Indians are all above their population shares. If you combine all Christian groups together, you get 16.3% being Christian so that exceeds the number of Muslims, though Muslims and other non-Christian religions are overrepresented relative to their share of the population and Christians and Jews are underrepresented.

These killers are also overwhelmingly non-political (73%). The next most prominent group are Islamic extremists (8%), but you won’t see any of the television shows having Islamic extremists making these attacks. Few of these involve hate crimes against blacks: Dylann Storm Roof (Charleston, SC 6/17/2015); Robert Bowers (Pittsburgh, PA 10/27/2018); Patrick Wood Crusius (El Paso, TX 8/3/2019). Just 5 percent of all attacks fall into this category. On the other hand, the Dallas, Texas attack by Micah Xavier Johnson on July 7, 2016 involved an attack that specifically targeted white police officers.

However, mass public shooters are overwhelmingly male, with 96% of shooters being male.



  1. Pete v

    Catholics are Christian. In fact the Catholic church was the first on the planet.

    • johnrlott

      Yes, right, so? There are people who only identify as Christians and those who self-identify as Catholics. We list out the numbers based on how people self-identify.

  2. Henry

    The “Political affiliation” graph looks like it is incorrectly serializing orthogonal attributes. Why is “right wing” separate from “conservative and Republican,” and the same for “left wing” and “democrat?” An “unaffiliated voter” who “hates politics” and “did not vote for Trump” ends up where?

    It’s too bad that 72% are politics not known. I suspect there is a significant bias but the data is just too sparse to show it.

    • Carter

      Because not all those on the right wing are Republicans and not all those on the left wing are democrats

  3. Jim Severns

    Movies and TV shows consistently show bad guys with full-auto weapons. We constantly hear calls for a ban on “assault weapons”. What I would like to know is, what are the real crime stats for actual machine guns? I suspect almost none. I once heard only 3 people have been killed in the US since the 1934 NFA. So what is the truth?

  4. Al

    Seems to me that when we break down the mass shooters into too many groups, we can lose sight of the big picture. Based on F.A. Hayek’s book, “The Road to Serfdom”, anyone who is a supremacist regardless of color, race, or anything else is someone who believes that his/her group should be in overall power, i.e., a totalitarian. Every totalitarian thinks his/her group should have power over others and wants his/her group to control or exterminate everyone else. Every totalitarian is therefore on the left side of the political spectrum. Totalitarians include Communists, Socialists, Fascists, Islamists, non-classic “liberals”, etc. As Hayek explained, people who want to control others are on the left side of the political spectrum, and the further right one moves, the more they want individual freedom and less government control, inter alia. Thus the right consists of conservatives and libertarians who accept the tradeoff of some government that is supposed to protect individual freedom. To sum up, if you go around killing other people in the belief that you group should control everyone else, you are on the left. The more responsible freedom and the less government control you believe in the more to the right you are. (By responsible freedom, I mean that you do not use freedom to murder and steal). But if one goes around killing people because he/she is an anarchist and advocates getting rid of government and its law enforcement institutions altogether, that one is a hypocrite, because you cannot have freedom to live or prosper if others have the freedom to take your life or steal the results of your efforts without fear of retribution. Anarchists are are bout the only ones who should be considered far right extremists.

    • John Sutherland

      Except for your use of the term anarchist (the definition of which I suspect is different than the one I use) your post is excellent.

      I also wonder if killing others is really found in an anti-government argument, since I suspect people who are anti-government are often found in groups, which are often infiltrated by government spies. And, for example, I am generally anti-government, but my argument is that government is all about forced and violent control of others, and that is against my own voluntaryist philosophy. If government were a voluntary service organization, I would have no argument against government, but it isn’t, so I do.

    • Kevin B Craig

      “But if one goes around killing people because he/she is an anarchist…”

      I’m not sure how someone so familiar with Hayek can blow that definition so badly.

      “Anarchy” means “no rulers”; it does not mean “no rules”, and anarchists and other voluntaryists respect others’ rights.

      Rock-throwing Black Bloc communists in Portland are not anarchists. They are would-be mob rulers.

  5. John Sutherland

    Interesting report. Missing from the lists seem to be the adult voluntaryists and anarchists (depending on the term definition), namely mature adults who believe that all adult relationships should be voluntary and that individual freedom and liberty are the most important facets of life. Are there any murders by these people? I don’t think so.

    Since well organized government uses force and violence, or threats thereof, to control others, maybe the largest grouping would be those who believe in, and who support, government controls of the people. The same might be said of religious sects, especially those who may believe they are their god’s chosen ones. Are mass murder stats restricted to American mass murders, and do not include those which are initiated by foreign individuals and groups? Where does 9-11 fit in? How about military mass murders committed by US troops in foreign lands in the many undeclared wars initiated by the US government? Do they count? Do drone attacks count? When does the government murderous and violent actions get included? How about rankings by age group? Would that prejudicial against younger people?

    I also wonder if any of the alleged mass murderers are those who simply want to be left alone and want to live their lives in peace. Are they in the stats anywhere?

    How about the people who have been psychologically and/or chemically influenced by government and medical experts to kill others? Are they included? And then, of course, we have to look at government created False Flag Attacks and psyops events, the alleged deaths of which don’t seem to show up in anyone’s statistical databases. Were the FFA deaths real, or were they imaginary? Yes, the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 was a horrible and unconstitutional act that allows the government to treat the American people as badly as it treats the alleged foreign enemy. And covid deaths? Are they real or imaginary, and do they count? How about police murders of unarmed civilians?

    My point is that life is terminal, we all eventually die. The problem is really the unnatural deaths due to intentional murderous actions caused by really evil or crazy humans who simply want to control and/or kill others. I love and respect John Lott’s efforts to clarify the murders cause by firearms, and simply wonder if it is time to consider other acts of murder and broaden the database a bit. It is clear there are eugenicists among the rich and powerful, and they are known to cause premature deaths as well.


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