Right-wing extremists, including white supremacists, were responsible for the majority of extremist-related murders in the U.S. in 2019, according to data collected by the anti-hate advocacy group Anti-Defamation League. That's a continuation of a disturbing trend, with right-wing extremists committing more than three-fourths of extremist-related murders in the country since 2010, according to the group's annual Murder and Extremism report.
The report says 42 people were killed by domestic extremists in 2019 — 38 of them by assailants who subscribe to extreme right-wing ideologies. There were 17 fatal incidents, the group found. Of those, the deadliest was the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that killed 22 and wounded two dozen more in August 2019. Authorities have said the alleged shooter, Patrick Crusius, targeted Hispanics and posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto online before the rampage that railed against what he called a "Hispanic invasion of Texas."
The deadly incidents also included the shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California that killed one woman and wounded three other people in April 2019. The suspect opened fire on a crowd of about 100 and fled when his rifle jammed. He later called 911 and told a dispatcher he had just "shot up" a synagogue, speaking about his hatred of Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that white supremacists were responsible for 81% of the extremist-related murders in the U.S. in 2019, which the group says goes along with an ongoing resurgence of white supremacy that started in 2015.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security have faced criticism that they've been sluggish in their response to the increased risk posed by white supremacists and right-wing extremists. The FBI recently elevated its assessment of the threat to a "national threat priority" for fiscal year 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a congressional hearing this month.
Wray's statements indicate the FBI is just as concerned about racially-motivated violent extremists as it is about the threat posed by homegrown extremists inspired by foreign terrorist organizations such as ISIS. Wray said both pose a grave threat because the perpetrators are often "lone actors," self-radicalized online, who choose easily available weapons and often look to attack "soft targets" such as public gatherings, retail locations or houses of worship.
In many cases, perpetrators can move quickly from rhetoric to violence, Wray said.
The ADL's report found no murders in 2019 related to homegrown extremists inspired by foreign terrorist groups. Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the organization who authored the report, warned that domestic Islamist extremists remain "very much a real threat."
Pitcavage said it's important for law enforcement to speak out and decry extremist violence.
"This is an area where the bully pulpit really matters," Pitcavage said. "It's great when the FBI can state this is a problem, otherwise we as experts might know that this is a problem, but someone down the street might not know. ... You can't deal with a threat unless you acknowledge there's a threat."
The report also includes killings by extremists linked to other ideologies, such as the killing of a police officer in Jersey City, New Jersey and three others at a kosher grocery store in December 2019. Authorities have said the assailants, David Anderson and Francine Graham, had identified in the past as Black Hebrew Israelites, a group with some sects known to rail against whites and Jews.
In addition, it tracks murders by extremists that were not motivated by their ideologies, but rather linked to gangs, domestic violence and robberies.
Attacks by extremists of all kinds have grown deadlier in recent years, and the ADL found an increase in extremist-related shooting sprees of particular concern. Guns were involved in 86% of the killings in 2019, according to the report. Over the past decade, 72% of those killed in the U.S. by extremists were killed by gunfire, the group found.