It’s an accident of fate that Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s formal sentencing for the Boston Marathon bombing is happening just now, as the U.S. continues to reel from the Charleston massacre. Tsarnaev—Rolling Stone cover and teenage apologists aside—is a stereotypical face of terrorism in the 2010s: An extremist Muslim, residing and radicalized in the U.S., and acting alone or in a small cell.
In fact, though, most lethal political violence since September 11 has come in the form of attacks by white supremacists, anti-government extremists, and the like, according to an analysis by New America. It’s not even close: Jihadists have killed 26 people, versus 48 by what New America calls “right-wing extremists.”
In that way, Dylann Roof is far more representative of political violence in 21st century America than Dzokhar Tsarnaev could ever be.
The numbers are a little more nuanced, and interesting, than that. The most deadly event counted in the study is the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, an jihadist massacre that killed 13—far more than any other attack of either kind (the closest to it is Charleston). Take that out and the numbers are even more disparate.
That isn’t to say that Islamist attacks aren’t a problem. A total of 277 people have been charged with jihadist terrorism, versus 183 nonjihadists. That ought not to be entirely surprising: Since 9/11, the United States government and local authorities have made preventing Islamist terror a primary goal. A Pew poll last September found that 53 percent of Americans are very concerned about Islamic terrorism in the U.S., with another 25 percent somewhat concerned. To fight this threat, authorities have expended great sums of money, deployed vast resources, tested the limits of civil liberties and, in at least some cases, have exceeded them according to courts. Some of those measures may well have been worth the cost and saved lives, though some almost certainly have not.