Do White Supremacists Commit More Murders? (With Added Material)

Don Lemon now cites statistics to support his charge: “…the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right.” His source is the U.S. Extremist Crime Database, specifically a GAO report. Many media articles before him have relied on the same data to argue that white supremacists are ultra-violent. Lemon is not alone in making this charge.

These data have been criticized on grounds that of 65 attacks said to be “terrorist” since 9/11, only 12 actually are terror attacks. This critique undermines the “biggest terror threat” portion of Lemon’s charge. It leaves standing the white supremacist factor.

The GAO list of murders identifies the vast majority of the criminals as “white supremacists”, mixed in with a few identified as Neo-Nazi, anti-government and skinhead. I’ll just call them all white supremacists. Let us revise Lemon’s view in a reasonable way in order to assess its merits. Let’s consider a charge that white supremacists (who we’ll also allow him to assume are radicalized to the right) are a big threat or even “the biggest threat”.

Let’s also assume that the GAO report accurately identifies crimes committed by white supremacists throughout the United States in the period examined. The compilers of the database specifically went searching to find all the “Far Right Extremist-Motivated Attacks That Resulted in Fatalities, September 12, 2001 Through December 31, 2016”. We may question the identification of “Far Right” and that of “Extremist-Motivated”, but I won’t.

There are 65 such attacks and 106 victims over the 15 year period.

The question raised is whether the murder rate of these white supremacists is greater than the murder rate of the general population. To find out, we need to know how many murders there are in the general population, how many white supremacists there are, and how many people there are in the general population.

Murderers are usually adult males, whether white supremacists or in the general population. There are about 120 million adult males in America. There were 17,284 murders and non-negligent homicides in 2017. The murder rate was 14.4 per hundred thousand (17,284/1,200) in the general population. (I didn’t bother to subtract out the white extremist murders; it’s too small to make a difference.)

How many white supremacists are there? I found one estimate of “hard-core” of 25,000 as of 1993. That source also estimated 150,000-200,000 active sympathizers and participants. Our white supremacist estimate using 25,000, if they murder people at the same rate as the general population, is 3.6 murders a year (that’s 0.25 x 14.4). They actually killed close to 7 people a year. Over 15 years, if these numbers stayed the same, there’d be 54 murders attributable to white supremacists. The actual estimate, using the GAO source, was 106.

The result hinges critically on how many people are white supremacists. We don’t know. Are there 25,000? 100,000? 1 million? If there were one tenth of one percent of the 120 million adult males, that would be 120,000 men.

The SPLC says there are about 1,000 hate groups in the country. If each one could gather 100 members, they’d comprise 100,000 people. That’s in striking distance of the 1993 estimate of 150,000-200,000 white supremacists, even though the SPLC tabulation counts all sorts of groups and ideologies.

Suppose that white supremacists number 150,000, then they’d be killing 22 people a year (1.5 x 14.4), if they were murdering people at the same rate as occurs in the general population as initiated by adult males. If they number 100,000, the estimated number is 14.4. They actually killed about 7 a year. If there are 48,611 white supremacists, then their murder rate comes out to be the same as in the general population.

If you were willing to believe a priori that white supremacists do not murder at a different rate than other males, then you could turn the results around and estimate that there are about 48,611 white supremacists in America. If one motive for murder is as powerful as another, you might take this stance.

The media have not asked the appropriate question: Are the white supremacists more murderous than the general adult male population? If they asked that, then they’d be asking how many white supremacists there are. They wouldn’t be satisfied with counting the names of groups. If the number of white supremacists is anywhere near 50,000 or higher, there actually is no evidence that they murder people at a higher rate than adult males in the general population. This means that there would be no evidence that white supremacists are an outsized threat to commit murder.

If we stick strictly with murders attributed to white supremacists, then we can eliminate 43 murders credited to others (Neo-nazis, anti-government type and skinheads). This reduces the white supremacist murders from 106 to 63. The murder rate becomes 4.2 per year over 15 years. Assuming there are only 25,000 white supremacists, which number produces the highest rate attributable to white supremacists, the rate based on that of the non-supremacist population of males is predicted to be 0.25 x 14.4 = 3.6 murders a year. This is probably not statistically significantly different than 4.2, given the measurement difficulties. With 50,000 supremacists, the rate of 4.2 is well below the non-supremacist rate of 0.5 x 14.4 = 7.2.

The statistical significance of these calculations is unknown. Judging from what we have, however, we still conclude that there is no evidence that white supremacists are any more murderous or any more of a threat to our safety than adult males who are not white supremacists.

A further word of caution is in order. If white supremacists target particular sub-groups (Jews, homeless, gays, pedophiles, people of color) and concentrate on attacking them, then those groups may experience much less safety than would those not in those groups. By the same token, if adult males who kill focus on certain groups like marriage partners, then they too will be less safe than the whole population.


9:50 pm on November 1, 2018