In the first 2020 presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, the Republican incumbent expressed a surprising indifference toward potentially violent radicals.
As regular readers may recall, this was the debate in which the then-president told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” briefly jolting American politics and sparking celebrations among extremists.
But as part of the same sentence, the then-president quickly added, “This is not a right-wing problem; this is a left-wing problem.” At the same debate, when asked if he was willing to condemn white supremacists and fringe militia groups, Trump shrugged and said, “Sure, I’m willing to do that — but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
The Republican’s message was hardly subtle. As far as Trump was concerned, there was a far-left menace that eclipsed anything seen on the right. This was wrong at the time, and it’s quantifiably worse now. The New York Times reported:
Over the past decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 U.S. murders committed by political extremists. Of these 450 killings, right-wing extremists committed about 75 percent. Islamic extremists were responsible for about 20 percent, and left-wing extremists were responsible for 4 percent. Nearly half of the murders were specifically tied to white supremacists.
The data does not include the 10 people murdered by a suspected white-supremacist gunman at a Buffalo grocery store over weekend.
The Times’ David Leonhardt added, the American right “has a violence problem that has no equivalent on the left.” He went on to quote Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, who’s written, “Right-wing extremist violence is our biggest threat. The numbers don’t lie.”
Alas, these are not the only numbers. About a year ago, The Washington Post published these findings:
Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The surge reflects a growing threat from homegrown terrorism not seen in a quarter-century, with right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipsing those from the far left and causing more deaths, the analysis shows.
As we discussed soon after, the evidence was striking in its scope and implications: The number of domestic terrorism incidents reached a modern high in 2020, and despite Trump’s debate declarations, it wasn’t the left that was responsible.
The findings came on the heels of an NBC News report that a consensus among former Department of Homeland Security officials — from Democratic and Republican administrations — agreed that among the agency’s recent difficulties was a failure to focus on “the rise of domestic threats” during the Trump era.
The NBC News report added that DHS officials agreed it was a four-year era of “inadequately monitoring and communicating the rising threat of right-wing domestic extremists.”
Around the same time, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration “diverted” federal law enforcement and domestic security agencies, pressuring officials to “uncover a left-wing extremist criminal conspiracy that never materialized,” even as “the threat from the far right was building ominously.”
The report added that the FBI, “in particular, had increasingly expressed concern about the threat from white supremacists, long the top domestic terrorism threat, and well-organized far-right extremist groups that had allied themselves with the president.” Those concerns, however, were not prioritized during the Republican administration.