A Short History Lesson for the Media on American Domestic Terrorism

| April 19 2013
Christopher Cook

When I read that Chris Matthews had graciously informed us all that domestic terrorists “tend to be on the far right,” I just about blew a gasket. The actual truth is rather different from Matthews’ characterization.*

First, it must be noted that if one ascribes a political alignment to a terrorist, it must be because the act was committed in order to advance the aims of that political ideology. Insane people (whatever their ideology may be) don’t count. For someone to be called a “right-wing terrorist” or a “left-wing terrorist,” the acts of terror he or she perpetrates must be intended to bring about a result he or she believes will advance certain political goals. A nutjob who went off his meds is not a political terrorist even if he happens to be a Democrat or Republican. A nutjob is a nutjob.

Broadly speaking, there have been three periods of increased domestic terrorism in the U.S.:

Democrat terrorism

Just because the Civil War ended in April of 1865 doesn’t mean the South gave up right away. That year, a new group was created: The Ku Klux Klan. Their goals were these: to drive Republican control from the South; to end Reconstruction; and to keep blacks from involvement in electoral politics (as candidates, voters, delegates, etc.). Their method of choice was to storm Republican meetings and kill everyone. They slaughtered white Republicans. They slaughtered black Republicans. They burned people alive in their homes. To this day, their record makes them the most murderous force in U.S. domestic-terrorism history, rivaled only by the attacks of September 11th in terms of sheer number killed.

It is a matter of congressional record that the KKK was “the terrorist wing of the Democratic Party.” They were certainly not on the far right.

And there was a lot of other Democrat/Southern terror as well, including, of course, the assassination of Lincoln. Even the fight at the OK Corral in far-flung Tombstone, Arizona was a part of it. (It wasn’t until I took a trip to Tombstone that I learned that the Clantons were Democrats, the Earps were Republicans, and the whole mess was actually a proxy fight of the ongoing effort to help the South “rise again.”)

Left-wing terrorism

The 1960s and early 70s were rife with domestic terrorism. The perpetrators of that terrorism were on the far-left. Anyone who doesn’t know those two facts has either been

A) living under a rock;

B) living in a bomb shelter for the last 50 years, like Brandon Fraser in Blast from the Past; or

C) thoroughly addled by the revisionist fog with which the left cloaks all of its past sins.

Here is Jonah Goldberg in Liberal Fascism:

Many of us forget that the Weather Underground bombing campaign was not a matter of a few isolated incidents. From September 1969 to May 1970, Rudd and his co-revolutionaries on the white radical left committed about 250 attacks, or almost one terrorist bombing a day (government estimates put that number much higher). During the summer of 1970, there were twenty bombings a week in California. The bombings were the backbeat to the symphony of violence, much of it rhetorical, that set the score for the New Left in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Rudd captured the tone perfectly: “It’s a wonderful feeling to hit a pig. It must be a really wonderful feeling to kill a pig or blow up a building.”  “The real division is not between people who support bombings and people who don’t,” explained a secret member of a “bombing collective,” but “between people who will do them and people who are too hung up on their own privileges and security to take those risks.”

There, Goldberg is mostly just talking about the Weather Underground. There were numerous other groups and incidents. The 1960s wasn’t about terrorism from the right, or the far-right. There were no disgruntled Republicans in plaid pants coming off a day at the country club to go bomb a ROTC building or stick a fork in some pigs. These were far-left radicals seeking to advance an agenda.

And it has to be noted that those same radicals spent the subsequent four decades purging all moderate elements from the Democratic Party, and are now firmly in charge.

Islamist terrorism

In this section, we expand beyond America to look at domestic terrorism worldwide. Terrorism perpetrated by people with an Islamist agenda is now a fact of life across many nations of the world.* The specific goal may be to expand the Caliphate and the Dar al Islam; to expand the use of and eventually impose sharia law; to drive the infidel from Muslim lands; to extract concessions from national governments; or to flex a little muscle on behalf of Allah. Whatever the specifics, the general fact is always the same: Not all Muslims are terrorists, but nearly all terrorists are Muslims.

Except for the hideously successful attack on September 11th, 2001, the United States has actually suffered comparatively little in the way of such attacks. But for much of the rest of the world, it is a daily or weekly event. In some places, it is less frequent, but few places are immune. In March alone, nearly 100o were killed and over 2000 critically injured in 189 attacks. March was not an outlier—it was a typical month. Islamist terrorism is now a fact of life.

The left would like to create an alternate reality in which they were not the perpetrators of most of the domestic terrorism in United States’ history, but they cannot. So they do the next best thing: they lie. People like Chris Matthews—who has a megaphone far louder than the man deserves—regularly regurgitate “facts” that suit this agenda, and he will even get people to believe him. But that doesn’t make the facts any more true, or Matthews any less of a hack.



Tony Katz has a great piece on some recent examples of Matthews-esque projection:

 . . . Right on schedule, since per Rahm Emanuel, one should “never let a serious crisis go to waste,” CNN’s National Security Analyst Peter Bergen and Esquire blogger Charles J. Pierce suggested the bomber could have been a “right wing extremist” since, after all, it happened on April 15th – tax day across the country and Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts. MSNBC’s resident hater, Chris Matthews, pronounced that domestic terrorists, “tend to be on the far right.” Their common goal, as always, is to tie violence to small government activists and the Tea Party.

It was Cenk Uygur, a Progressive liberal host on Current TV, who opined that the bombing would have had less coverage if someone had shot people in the crowd:

If shooter killed 17 people in Boston Marathon w/ assault rifle it wouldn’t get near the reaction it would if a terrorist kills 3 w/ a bomb.

Mass shootings don’t get media coverage? Since when is the mainstream media controlled by the pro-Second Amendment crowd?

On Piers Morgan’s program, Mark Botok of the Southern Poverty Law Center commented that the bomber was probably not part of the political right. Why? Because the target, “…was not a government building, it was not the IRS, although it was Tax Day on Monday. It was not a minority group. It wasn’t black people or Jewish people or gay people or Muslims.”

This is more than bias; it’s bloodlust. They look at the scene and say, “3 dead and 176 injured in a bombing? That’s a great time to connect it to the political right!”

Actor and radio host Jay Mohr blamed the bombing on gun owners, saying that the 2nd Amendment “must go”:

“What bothers me most about today is that we’re getting used 2 it. ENOUGH. 2nd amendment must go. Violence has 2 stop. Culture MUST change”.

Read the whole thing. And weep for the fabric of truth itself.


*Edited to improve clarity.


This is just dumb and lazy. I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings or pride but in recent history acts of terror by native Americans have been overwhelmingly from right wing idealogues.  


I'm a Liberal and I have the maturity to admit that in the last century there was lots of left wing terrorism: one might characterize the great strikes of the union movement this way, and of course there were left wing terror groups in the 60's, and even today there are left wing environmentalists who commit acts of terror, against loggers, for example. 


Grow up


Discussing the KKK as a group comprised primarily as Democrats then connecting that to the modern day "left" is intellectually dishonest. It's fairly common knowledge that party labels then weren't what they are now. It's also common sense, as the KKK's moral indignation at immigrants and minorities, alcoholics, homosexuals, etc represent a militant (and much more extreme) form of today's conservatism. As such, I wonder what you were thinking when you wrote that - are you really not aware of the history behind it all, or were you just being intellectually dishonest?


I'm also not sure where radical Islam fits in your argument on the left-leaning nature of American domestic terrorism. The notion that most terrorists are Muslim is false. Information on the FBI website isn't the easiest to navigate, but they do have a database with each instance of terrorism stretching rather far back. A huge majority, probably almost 85-90%, occur in Puerto Rico - not carried out by Muslims. Acts of Islamic terrorism occurred as frequently as acts of Jewish terrorism (perpetrated, as I discovered through research, primarily by the Jewish Defense League).


The left is not creating an alternate reality where Islamic extremists have not been the biggest offenders of domestic terrorism because they don't have to - that is actually reality. This isn't some sort of mainstream media list of attacks - this is an FBI database. I would assume you find statistics derived from it to be acceptable?


The Oklahoma City bombing (1995), Centennial Olympic Park bombing (1996), 2001 anthrax attacks, Knoxville Unitarian Chuch shooting (2008), George Tiller murder (2009), Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting (2009), and Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shooting (2012) are all prominent examples of domestic terrorism that were carried out by right-wing militant types.

GregoryConterio moderator

Interesting list, Guest.The OKC bombing was indeed committed by right-wing radicals, and the shooter at Knoxville Unitarian, Jim David Adkisson, expressed "..hatred toward liberals, African Americans and homosexuals."  Despite the fact that he didn't actually espouse any "right-wing" views, and was in his own words motivated by hatred, I'll give you that one as well.Let's take a look at the rest:


James Wenneker von Brunn, the shooter at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, was a White Supremacist and Holocaust denier.


Scott Roeder, the murderer of Dr. George Tiller, was an anti-abortion zealot


Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber, was another anti-abortion zealot, and said his motivation was religious, not political or racial.


The Anthrax attacks of 1002 remain unsolved.  No charges were ever filed, and no evidence linking the primary suspect to the crimes was ever presented.


Wade Michael Page, the shooter in the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting was another White Supremacist.


None of these other events you have listed have anything to do with "right wing" politics.  The only thing that makes them "right-wing" is the apparently fervent desire by many liberals that they be such.  Are you prepared to claim Jared Loughner and James Holmes as Left Wing Terrorists?  Both are Democrats, after all, and none of the killers you listed above had anything more to do with politics than did Loughner and Holms.Personally, I don't feel any particularly burning need to assign political motivation to each and every killer who comes along.  The only significant thin shared by the killers on your list, and Loughner & Holms as well, is a combination of mental & emotional instability making them murderously violent.  This is a far different thing than the motivations of a Timothy McVeigh or a Bill Ayers.

WesternFreePress moderator

Note that I made the distinction, in the giant heading for each section, of "Democrat terrorism" (section one) and "Left-wing terrorism" in section 2. I intentionally labeled them that way to avoid doing what you are saying I am doing—namely, calling the Democrats of 1865 "left-wing."


Next, leaving off to the side for the moment your imputation that "moral indignation at immigrants and minorities, alcoholics, homosexuals" is a form of conservatism, when the KKK was a highly terrorist group, their primary motivation was opposition to Republicans and to liberation of blacks. Conservatives and Republicans have never been either of those things. Over the many years since their early days, the KKK has gone through a number of phases, and their terrorist activities continued to ebb. But at no point is it reasonable to associate them with conservatism or the Republican Party.


Conservatives do not, generally speaking, have "moral indignation" towards immigrants nearly as much as towards illegal immigration. Needless to say, those two can easily blur, but it is unfair to impute the former to one ideological cohort. There are plenty of people on the left, and who vote Democrat, who bitch about immigrants themselves.


The imputation of moral indignation at minorities specifically on the part of conservatives is also far more of a calumny than anything else. What conservatives have towards minorities is the same expectations that they have of every other ethnic cohort. (Conservatives and libertarians tend to focus on individuals far more than the left, which is concerned to a greater degree with groups.) One can find specific racists on the left and on the right, but as an ideology, conservatism does not involve "moral indignation" towards minorities.


And look at what they left does to conservative blacks----supposedly reputable, mainstream lefties say vile, disgusting things that no conservative would ever say. The same thing is done to gays who dare engage in apostasy and disloyalty to the left.


You are right that there is a sub-cohort of conservatives who have specific moral feelings about homosexuality, based on their religious beliefs. However, those feelings do not automatically translate into indignant feelings towards the homosexuals themselves. I am sure that just like the race issue, we will find specific human conservatives/Republicans and liberals/Democrats who have personal negative feelings towards gays themselves. But as an ideology, and as an ideological cohort, the only issue is—for that subset who is concerned therewith—the Biblical admonitions and declarations about homosexuality as a practice. And those same people are taught by that same Bible to love everyone, including those who sin, their enemies, etc.


As far as indignation towards alcoholics, that is really an odd thing to include---perhaps I am ignorant of some aspect of conservatism, but that just doesn't seem like it's much on the average conservative's radar.


To add one that you often hear but did not include—anti-Semitism—it has to be noted that at least some studies have shown higher degrees of personal negative feelings towards Jews from people on the left than on the right. Some of that number was thrown off by the fact that blacks surveyed had a much higher rate of anti-Semitic feelings than the rest of the population, thus raising the left's number somewhat. But be that as it may, it is certainly not a right-wing characteristic. And yet you hear it imputed to conservatives and conservatism by the cultural, academic, and journalistic left often enough. And then, by extension, conservatives are then tied to ethnic nationalist and supremacist groups. None of this calumnious practice is fair or accurate to any degree that warrants its use.


The one area where I will agree I erred was in the third section, where I jump from  domestic terrorism in America to domestic terrorism in all countries. I should have been clear about that, and I will make it clear more clear in an edit. That said, when you look at the world as a whole, and look at internal terrorism within all countries today, the bulk of it is being committed by Islamists. The numbers are appalling---hundreds per week, every week, killed and maimed.

WesternFreePress moderator

 @GregoryConterio @JLanceCombs @Guest @et 


Thanks, Greg. I largely concur. I think the definition for this kind of terrorism has to include the notion that the act of terror is motivated by a desire to further a particular agenda. For something, then, to be attributable to a particular political movement, it has to be motivated by that movement's agenda.


In spite of some assertions that McVeigh had some weird, convoluted ties to Islamic radicals, I think he's one that the right has to own. Adkisson was probably so as well.


The right in now way has to own anyone who is motivated strictly by ethic supremacism, no matter what the FBI or the SPLC says. That is not "right-wing," that is ethnic in focus. Unless those ethnic supremacists are ALSO espousing classically rightward-oriented goals and engaging in terrorism for those goals (e.g., black nationalists in the 1960s were also leftists), their terrorism does not have to be owned by the right.


Anti-abortion terrorism is an interesting area. Is that "right-wing" in the classical sense of being for limited government, etc.? McVeigh fit enough of the classic anti-socialist, anti-government characteristics, but do anti-abortion people? Certainly they are currently associated with the political right. However, theirs is a rather narrow-focus agenda. Tough call.


But let's say, for point of argument, that the right has to own all of these. Even then, we're talking about a handful of lone wolves. Compare that to the Democrats' and the left's records of domestic terrorism in the United States. Hundred and hundreds of bombings. Body counts in the thousands. Dozens of ORGANIZED groups, with funding, training, focused agendas, political connections, and in some cases, very likely foreign ties.


Yes, in recent years, we have seen a small number of lone wolves who can, arguably, be associated with the right. In the grand scheme of American history, that appears far more of a drop in a bucket mostly filled by entities who are, shall we say . . . Other-Than-Right-Wing.



 @WesternFreePress Your thesis is that "the actual truth is the exact opposite of what Matthews says [that most domestic terrorists have come from the far right]." This was my issue with your inclusion of the KKK; it's not that you were false in presenting them as Democrat for their time, just that the KKK is not an example of left-wing terrorism, but rather right-wing. Of course the KKK is not indicative of modern, moderate conservatism. They are, however, representative of a twisted form of it, thus far-right. Fiddling around with words and claiming that any historical instance of a Democrat terrorist is a left-wing terrorist is intellectually dishonest if it is not actually the case. While you didn't explicitly make this claim, since it doesn't back up your thesis unless it is the case, it is implied very heavily.


The issue is not which party is more amenable to minorities; in terms of domestic terrorism, neo-nazi, etc. groups have rightly been considered right-wing militants. A discussion of terrorism has nothing to do with party platforms, etc. and how they affect minorities. Again, I'm simply responding to your thesis. Your response was not a defense of your thesis, but rather a rant against the left.


In terms of what you're saying about anti-semitism, I'm not sure I understand. What does this have to do with Jewish terrorists? Are you saying that Jewish individuals can't be terrorists, but are rather maligned by those who may be anti-semitic?


The jump to foreign terrorism was again something I was criticizing because it had nothing to do with your thesis. Nothing in your response seems to come to the defense of your initial argument, but veers off into how people malign the right.


My point was that Matthew's argument is correct, and that your article does not create an adequate counter. Certainly, there are examples of left-wing terrorism - the Weathermen of the 60s, ecoterrorists, etc. - but there are many examples of right-wing terrorism for every example from the left.

WesternFreePress moderator

 @GregoryConterio  @JLanceCombs  @et  @Guest Also, the post was about eras—period of increased terrorist activity. Though the media may be rather reluctant to report it, this really is the era of Islam-motivated terror, even here in America: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/AmericanAttacks.htm. Granted, every item on that list is not the kind of terrorism where there is a bombing and a note claiming responsibility and making demands, but it is all Islam-motivated terror and mayhem. The same kind that is taking the lives of hundreds, and often thousands, each and every month across the globe.

WesternFreePress moderator

 @JLanceCombs Sure, yes, exactly. There were plenty of left-wing ethnic nationalist leftist terrorists in the 1960s.

WesternFreePress moderator

 @JLanceCombs You are correct, and that is a better reading of my point. Still, I appreciate Guest's challenge, as my wording was less clear than it could have been.


 @WesternFreePress "I was adding in the anti-Semitism as another typical charge that is often included"


Which would have been obvious, had "Guest" been reading your retort, instead of skimming it for things to cherry pick.


 @WesternFreePress Also, many international "ethnic nationalist" groups are not described as "right wing" if they are not White, or if they also represent the Communism that is so fashionable to the left.


Basque; FARC; PKK


 @WesternFreePress He does not have to conflate the Democrat Terrorists with the left for his thesis to be correct.  All he has to do is point out that they are not representative of "the right".

WesternFreePress moderator

I do not accept that the KKK is right wing. Indeed, I do not accept any imputation that right wing = racist, nationalist, or xenophobic.


I do recognize that it is common enough to create a political continuum with crazed totalitarian communists at the far left and crazed xenophobic/racist fascists at the far right. However, that  continuum makes no sense from a raw political science standpoint. A proper continuum has a unit of measure. but that continuum has none; it is just a product of historical ideological brinksmanship and political expedience. A proper continuum, with an actual unit of measure such as size of government (and its inverse proportion of raw human freedom) places minarchist and anarcho-capitalist libertarians at the far right and totalitarians at the far left. Fascists and national socialists are well to the left, though just slightly less so than pure totalitarian communists.


Things like racism, xenophobia, and identity politics are not owned by any one ideology. You see them all over the map. The progressives of the 20th century were highly nationalist, and rather racist. FDR interned the Japanese. Wilson was a terrible racist, had 100,000 political prisoners, shut down media, and helped foster a deep anti-German sentiment. And Democrat appointees on the Court were responsible for Plessy, Dred Scott, and Korematsu, were they not?


Wilson and FDR were not right wing. They were not even right wing "in that way," because it is not proper to ascribe those things to the right. I know that it has become common and accepted practice to name ethnic nationalists as right wing, even among official entities. I do not believe that that is a proper ascription, however. If a group engages in terrorism with the aims of, say, bringing about more limited government (natural rights, subsidiarity, lower taxes, private action preferred over government control, lower regulations, free markets, etc.) , then yes, that is right-wing terrorism. Racism and xenophobia, not so much. On the abortion question, I am prepared to own that pro-life positions are now very heavily associated with the political right, and anti-abortion-motivated terrorism might be ascribed more readily thereto. Even there, I see abortion as a difficult question to place on a political continuum, though, as it boils down to one group defending one natural right (control of body exercised by a pregnant woman) and another natural right (life of a fetus). But to say that the KKK must be considered right wing is a bridge way too far.


I brought up the anti-Semitism issue not as a retort to your comment about the JDL but in the course of responding to your assertion that "moral indignation at immigrants and minorities, alcoholics, homosexuals" was right-wing. I was adding in the anti-Semitism as another typical charge that is often included in that list of calumnies directed at the right, but for which there is evidence directly to the contrary.


That said, I do agree, in hindsight, that my thesis is poorly worded due to the inclusion of modern Islamism in my list.