The me­dia misses the mo­tive

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - 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 “rightwingers” 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. “Rightwingers” 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. John R. Lott Jr. is the pres­i­dent of the Crime Pre­ven­tion Re­search Cen­ter and the author most re­cently of “The War on Guns.”


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