There is a broad consensus in the U.S.’ two major political parties that in order to save Americans’ lives, individuals should sacrifice their civil liberties: such as their reasonable expectation of privacy, and their right to be secure in their personal belongings.
This appears like an unassailable premise. And if it followed that violating people’s rights actually protected all Americans from terrorism, then perhaps a reasonable expectation of sacrifice could be argued without pointed counter-argument.
As with many things dealing with government, there are questions of trade-offs and if the U.S. government is being extreme in assuming that it has a blank-check to fight the “war on terror.”
Let’s take a look at a few charts, and add a bit of commentary.
1. Terrorist Attacks and Fatalities are Down Since 1970s
These are attacks and fatal attacks: 9/11 attacks and Oklahoma City bombing are 5 total events.
2. Fatalities Worldwide Spiked Big-Time in 2012 – But Remain Part of a Trend Since 1982
3. Environmentalist Groups Common Offenders, Myth of Deadly Right-Wing Terrorist Groups
As one can see, the KKK was responsible for one non-fatal attack and the one terrorist attack in this cherry-picked top ten carried out by a bonafide “right-wing” terror group was carried out by Minuteman American Defense – which killed two. Islamist terrorism is by far the most deadly; the other types of group-type terrorism pale in comparison to the threat it poses.
4. U.S. Terrorist Fatalities Driven by Two Outlier Events
The 9/11 attacks (4 events) and the Oklahoma City bombing, which tragically took place on just two days, are responsible for well over 99% of the fatalities occurring from terrorist attacks. Events that shake people tend to be etched in the memory and elicit the response: Never again. This is a major reason why terrorism may work: it manipulates human emotions to push for political, social, or religious change.
5. The Seen and the Unseen: Unsuccessful Terrorist Attacks
The number of unsuccessful attacks since the 1970s, and particularly the 1980s, although it has flucturated on a yearly basis, has remained mostly constant over time – based on unclassified data from the Global Terrorism Database.
6. U.S. is a Frequent Target of Terrorism, But Fatality Numbers Driven by a Few Major Events
These data run from 1970-2007. For more recent data and analysis, see here.
7. North America is Not a Hotspot for Terrorist Events by Comparison
There’s been a huge decrease in North America since the 1990s.
8. Bombings are Responsible for Overwhelming Majority of Terrorist Fatalities – Not Guns
So, does disarming law-abiding civilians help fight terrorism? The answer is so obvious it doesn’t merit further commentary.
9. Odds of Being Killed in Terrorist Attack Miniscule Compared to Everyday Accidents
Conclusion: Terrorism is an extremely serious threat. However, the majority of terrorist attacks in the U.S. are carried out by environmentalist extremists, though they are predominately non-fatal. The unquestionable majority of deadly terrorist attacks are carried out by Islamist extremists.
The overwhelming majority of fatalities from terrorism occurred on two tragic days in American history. This is nothing to dismiss or belittle. They were truly terrible days for the families involved and for the nation as a whole. But the odds of dying in mundane accidents, from illnesses or from criminal attacks dwarf those of dying from terrorism.
Does this quick-and-dirty big picture look at terrorism warrant blanket surveillance of innocent Americans, intrusions into citizens’ persons and property, a lack of transparency in government, and treatment like each person is a suspected criminal? You be the judge.