When someone says the word "terrorist," most Americans probably think of an Arab man chanting verses from the Quran with a suicide vest under his shirt.
This picture of terrorism is not just racist, but also highly misleading, according to a recent count by Washington think tank New America.
Since September 11, 2001, jihadists have killed 26 people in seven separate attacks. Right-wing and anti-government extremists, like Charleston shooter Dylann Storm Roof, however, have killed nearly twice as many people, with a death toll approaching 48 spread out over 19 separate attacks.
That means that in the nearly 14 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, people living in America have been more likely to die as the result of domestic terrorism waged by the far-right movement than that of Muslim extremists.
Average Americans may not realize anti-government militias, self-declared "sovereign citizens," racists and skinheads pose as great or greater a threat to public safety as al-Qaida and its brethren. But Ryan Lenz, senior editor for the Southern Poverty Law Center's HateWatch blog, told Mic, "This is not a fringe movement anymore. It is everywhere, and it is dangerous."
According to an upcoming University of North Carolina and Duke University poll of 382 police and sheriff's departments around the country, the New York Times reported Wednesday, 74% of officers rank anti-government violence among their top extremist threats, compared to just 39% who did the same for "al-Qaida-inspired" activity.
It's a problem the right would rather ignore: In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security released a report arguing that fallout from the Great Recession, mental health issues among veterans and reactionary racism in response to the election of President Barack Obama was fueling a surge in right-wing extremism. It also argued "the advent of the Internet and other information-age technologies" was enabling said extremists to more easily gather supplies, intelligence and weaponry.
Republicans reacted with outrage, labeling the report an thinly-veiled attempt to paint right-wingers as terrorists. According to Think Progress, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner and others demanded to know why the DHS was using the term "terrorist" to "describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation."
As a result of the criticism, former DHS analyst Daryl Johnson told the SPLC, the DHS withdrew the report and "gutted its domestic terrorism analysis unit."
Lenz says the U.S. is "seeing a lot of right-wing Republican politicians take up causes that have traditionally existed exclusively on the fringe ... what it does is legitimize the extremist right in a very real way."
The implications are clear — far-right extremists now do serious damage on a regular basis, while the shootings in Charleston are just another example of a problem that has been allowed to grow out of control.