An “Alternative Fact:” Muslim Refugees Are Not a Threat to America


During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Less than a month into his presidency, Mr. Trump attempted to uphold this promise by signing an executive order prohibiting immigrants and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for 120 days. This also included the indefinite suspension of resettling Syrian refugees. The countries included in the order are Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. White House officials attempted to justify the order by citing the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the San Bernardino, CA shooting rampage; none of these attacks were perpetrated by people born in the seven named countries. Further, the White House’s own list of 78 terror attacks that targeted the West does not include any individuals from Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, or Yemen, four of the seven countries named in the ban. Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani claimed the ban focuses on “the areas of the world that create danger for us … it’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there is substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.” As numerous legal battles and massive protests in airports from Los Angeles to Chicago to New Jersey show, the executive order was quite politically and legally contentious.

Despite claims to the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, that there is a minuscule chance any refugee intends to engage in terrorism in the U.S. According to the Washington Post, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) issued a joint statement expressing concern that the executive order could “become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.” Muslim extremists have on average killed 9 people per year since 9/11; while guns kill over 12,800 people on average per year. Since 9/11, Muslim-American extremists have caused 123 fatalities, while during the same period over 240,000 Americans were victims of gun violence. In fact, according to the Cato Institute, zero Americans have been killed by foreigners from the seven listed countries in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in the past 40 years. Omar Mateen, the individual responsible for the deadliest terror attack in the US since 9/11, which killed 49 of the 54 fatalities in 2016, was an American citizen.

Citizenship of U.S. Terrorists
Citizenship and immigration status of U.S. terrorists.

Americans are at a significantly higher risk of dying at the hands of a fellow American due to gun violence or by homegrown violent extremists. Between 2002 and 2014, 85 percent of terrorist attack victims were killed by guns. This makes perfect sense, as guns are far more accessible than other weapons like explosives or biological weapons. If even a fraction of the budget spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the so-called War on Terror was spent on pragmatic gun control policies, the US could address a real threat to Americans. Though gun control is also a contentious issue among Americans, according to Gallup, large majorities of Americans agree with at least using more thorough background checks on gun purchases and banning gun sales to individuals on the no-fly list.

deaths by gun violence vs. terror

If President Trump wants to live up to his promise of protecting Americans from terrorism, he might also consider focusing on homegrown right-wing extremists. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, carried out by anti-government extremist and American citizen Timothy McVeigh, killed 168 people, making it the second deadliest terrorist attack in US history. From the KKK and white supremacists to neo-Nazis, anti-abortion attackers, and sovereign citizens, these right-wing extremists actually pose a threat to Americans, while refugees fleeing violence and persecution do not. Local law enforcement officials have been aware of this domestic threat for years. In a 2015 survey of 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide, roughly 74 percent listed anti-government violence as the biggest violent extremist threat to their jurisdiction, while only 39 percent listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence. According to the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.

As evidenced above, the threats of gun violence and right-wing extremists far outweigh the threat of jihadist-inspired terrorism in the US. Banning refugees and thoroughly vetted immigrants from entering the US is not only futile in the fight against terrorism, but could have serious consequences to counter-terrorism efforts. Setting aside the obvious humanitarian and safety implications, President Trump’s hypocritical statements, and the blatant xenophobia embedded in the immigration ban, the “evidence” on which the order is predicated is simply untrue.

Image Source: Andres Kudacki, AP.