Right-wing extremists were linked to at least 16 extremist-related murders in the United States in 2020 and have been responsible for 75 percent of such murders in the last ten years, according to new data from ADL (Anti-Defamation League).
According to an annual analysis by ADL’s Center on Extremism, domestic extremists were responsible for killing at least 17 people in the U.S. in 15 separate incidents in 2020, a significant decrease from the 45 extremist-related murders in 19 incidents documented in 2019, and the 54 murders in 20 incidents in 2018.
While there were fewer extremist-related killings in 2020, extremist activity in general was on the rise. ADL recorded 16 right-wing extremist-related terrorist attacks or plots in 2020 (through November), an increase from the 13 recorded in 2019. Additionally, ADL documented more than 5,000 incidents of white supremacist propaganda distribution in the U.S. in 2020, compared to 2,724 in 2019.
“While it is a welcome sign that extremist-related murders decreased in 2020, the unprecedented violent and deadly insurrection we witnessed on January 6 in the nation’s capital and other nonfatal but violent incidents reported in 2020 show that the threat of extremist violence remains an ever-present danger to society,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “As we saw in the Capitol violence just a few weeks ago, the far right is emboldened like never before.”
The 2020 findings do not include the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists, which was fueled by extremist conspiracy theories. In response to that event and the overall increase in domestic terrorism in recent years, ADL is announcing the PROTECT Plan to mitigate this threat while protecting civil liberties.
“It is important to remember that extremist murders represent merely the tip of a pyramid of extremist violence in the United States,” Greenblatt said. “As ADL has documented, extremists engage in a wide variety of violent and criminal acts related to their causes, which is why our PROTECT Plan takes aim at violent conspiracies, hate attacks, terroristic threats, campaigns of intimidation and harassment and other offenses.”
In 2020, there was an absence of mass shooting sprees, such as the August 2019 white supremacist attack on a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which resulted in 23 deaths. It is possible that fewer public gatherings may have discouraged mass shootings of that nature, as well as early intervention by law enforcement, which thwarted several terrorist plots in 2020. Last year was also the second year in a row during which there were no killings linked to domestic Islamist extremism.
On Thursday, Greenblatt will present ADL’s findings and the PROTECT plan in testimony at a public House Committee on Homeland Security hearing looking at the events that led to the violence in the Capitol.
Murder and Extremism in 2020: Additional Findings
- Of the 429 people killed at the hands of extremists over the last 10 years, 323 (or 75 percent) were killed by right-wing extremists.
- Five of the deaths of 2020 were at the hands of anti-government extremists, including two people killed by adherents of the new boogaloo movement.
- All but two of the victims of 2020 extremist-related murders were killed with firearms. Guns have been the murder weapon for the majority of extremist-related killings in every year since 2010.
- Of the 17 extremist-related killings in 2020, slightly over half (nine) were committed by white supremacists. Four of these murders were committed by people tied to white supremacist prison gangs, while the others appear to have been carried out by non-affiliated white supremacists rather than members of specific groups.
- ADL also documented 16 incidents in which police and extremists exchanged gunfire, a high number considering the prior 11-year average is nine. During these incidents, extremists shot at least 10 members of law enforcement, and three of those shootings were fatal.
The PROTECT Plan priorities include:
- Adopting a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to prevent and counter domestic terrorism while protecting civil liberties.
- Passing the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act to authorize offices to address domestic terrorism and ensure those offices have resources proportionate to the threats.
- Taking steps to ensure that individuals associated with violent extremist movements or engaged in violent extremist activity are deemed unsuitable for employment at the federal, state, and local levels – including law enforcement and military – and not given security clearances.
- Funding civil society programs to address violent extremist radicalization and recruitment, while ensuring these programs do not stigmatize communities.
- Investigate any complicity between social media companies and extremists, and make social media platforms more transparent and accountable for dangerous content.
A fact sheet with more details on the PROTECT Plan is available here. In addition to advocating for action at the federal and state level, as well as at tech companies, ADL is harnessing its resources and expertise by raising awareness among policymakers, law enforcement, and supporters; building coalitions with diverse partners; gathering petition signatures; and publishing research on these issues.