Back at the end of January, CNN announced a job opening for a Senior Writer dedicated to uncovering Fake News. So when on Feb. 4th an article by Reza Aslan entitled, “Facts still matter on US terror threat,” appeared on CNN’s website, I wondered if this article would be one of the first to be exposed by the nascent Fake News department.
In the article, Aslan makes the claim that “Americans are almost seven times as likely to be killed by a white extremist than by an Islamic one” and he links this stat to a New York Times article entitled, “The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat.” First off, I’m not exactly sure how he got to this number. Here is what I think happened: The New York Times article Aslan links to references a few studies, two of which are important here. One is a 2013 study by Arie Perliger, published when he was with the Combating Terrorism Center, that tracks right wing violence in America. The other is a 2015 study by UNC’s Charles Kurzman that tracks Muslim-American violence. The former study claims American right wing extremism was responsible for 254 fatalities in the “decade after 9/11.” The latter study claims Muslims Americans have been responsible for 50 fatalities since 9/11, a stat which covers the time period from right after 9/11 to 2014. Then the average fatalities per year were calculated for each group: 254/10 years = 25.4 fatalities per year caused by right wing extremists and 50/13 years = 3.85 fatalities per year caused by Muslim Americans. 25.4/3.85 = 6.6. Thus, the stat offered by Aslan that “Americans are almost seven times as likely to be killed by a white extremist than by an Islamic one.”
This of course, is horrific statistics and completely dishonest. In statistics this is called “discarding unfavorable data,” and “data manipulation.” First, he uses selective time frames for each group. For right wing extremists, he chooses a study covering year 2002-2011 and for Muslims he chooses a study that covers post-9/11 to 2014. In both studies, the number of people killed is calculated starting after 9/11. Now it’s silly that we aren’t including 9/11. Can data not occur in clusters? This is not how stats work. If we include the victims of 9/11, deaths caused by right wing extremists are dwarfed when compared to deaths caused by jihadists.
Then, the New York Times article, and studies therein, that Aslan’s article links to is from 2015. More jihadist attacks have been perpetrated since the studies came out that the article references, such as the Orlando nightclub shooting and the San Bernardino attack.
The New America Foundation, a source behind some of Aslan’s information, actually now list the post-9/11 kill count at 94 perpetrated by jihadists to 50 by right wing extremists (the disparity in violence by right wing extremists between studies has to do with the liberal way in which Perliger’s study defines “right wing extremist”). So, Aslan’s information ignores at least 44 fatalities caused by Islamic jihadists. In all, Aslan gets his stat by starting his count after 9/11 and then eliminating any attacks that have happened after the beginning of 2015, despite his article coming out in February 2017.
By the way, what I think actually happened is this: after a quick Google search, whoever did Aslan’s research for him, or Aslan himself, found this article from Think Progress, also from 2015, which has the “7 times” statistic in its headline and references the same New York Times article Aslan references. Aslan then bypassed the Think Progress article and linked the “7 times” stat in his article directly to the New York Times article. Now you see how fake news is made.
Of course, none of this takes into account that Muslims make up a tiny percentage of the population compared to white people. Non-Hispanic whites make up about 63% of the American population. Meanwhile Muslims make up about 1% of the U.S. population. So, if the New America Foundation numbers are correct then despite the number of white people in America being 63 times larger than the population of Muslims, Muslims have killed almost two times as many people in America since 9/11. Even if you assume Aslan’s stat is true, that white extremists are 7 times more likely to kill you than Muslim extremists are, white extremists kill at a much lower rate than their population percentage would predict when compared with Muslims. Now, if you throw in 9/11, as we should, Muslims cause fatalities at a laughably higher rate than white extremists (according to this study it’s 62 to 1 in favor of jihadist-caused fatalities, despite Muslims only making up 1% of the American population).
And none of this even begins to closely critique Perliger’s study which is behind the right wing extremist statistics given in Aslan’s article. Aslan quotes the statistic, “Right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.” And yet about half of the attacks counted in the study (covering years 1990-2012) are non-physical in nature, ranging from vandalism to intimidation.
Reza Aslan didn’t read the primary sources behind his own article, he didn’t do the work, and he most certainly doesn’t have the facts. Or he just lied, I don’t know.
I’m not saying that either side of the political spectrum has a monopoly on truth. But leftists seem to like condemning conservatives for using “alternative facts,” when in fact they don’t have the facts themselves. From now on every time Reza Aslan accuses a conservative of not having the facts, he will have to look in the mirror.