In May 2021, two members of the Family Values, a white supremacist prison gang, allegedly killed a member of the rival Southwest Honkeys prison gang over a longstanding beef. Three months later, a New
But a closer examination of the statistics compiled by the ADL – which did not respond to multiple requests for comment – casts doubt on their use as evidence that African Americans or any other Americans are under increasing or serious threats from racist white zealots. The report was publicized in a month of back-to-back massacres by mentally disturbed young men, the latest by a member of a heavily Hispanic community in Texas, which suggest mass killings defy such pat analysis.
Critics cite other problems with the ADL report. Like other organizations tracking extremism, the ADL rarely offers context to claims regarding extremist murders by comparing them to broader homicide statistics. During the same 10-year period cited by the ADL in its 2021 report citing 244 murders by white supremacists, there were at least 165,000 murders in the U.S., meaning those the group attributes to white supremacists accounted for .001% of such violent deaths in that decade.
That statistic pales in comparison with those of major cities that have seen shocking increases in bloodshed, with recent annual murder totals breaking or nearing records set in the 20th century. Chicago had 797 murders in 2021, the highest total in 25 years, while much smaller Minneapolis, one year after George Floyd died in police custody there, had 96 murders, one shy of the city’s 1995 record. Huge jumps in murders also occurred in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other metropolitan areas.
“The FBI has not issued the official number of murders in the U.S. in 2021, but it is expected to exceed the number of murders in 2020: 21,570 -- of which, according to ADL, 23 were committed by extremists,” Carl Moody, an economist at the College of William & Mary who studies crime, told RealClearInvestigations.
“The data presented by the ADL could also be characterized as follows: the number of murders committed by extremists is very small, only 29 in 2021, of which less than half were committed by white supremacists,” Moody said. “It is also 63% lower than the maximum number (78) in 2016, so extremism is down since 2016. In 2020, according to the CDC, 1080 people were killed falling out of bed. Therefore, you are 47 times more likely to be killed by a bed than by an extremist.”
“It’s important that we get the numbers right and in perspective,” said John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. “And we’ve had mainstream narratives that make it sound like they are all like the Buffalo killer. But there are very specific circumstances to a number of these shootings. If there is a significant threat to blacks from these kinds of mass attacks they need to know that. Otherwise, you’re creating divisions that don’t need to be there.”
Crime experts also note that many of the killings cited by the ADL – such as the slaying committed by Shawn Lichtfuss, the New Jersey man who killed his wife, or John Hilt and Justin Murphy, the allegedly lethal members of the Family Values prison gang – were not hate crimes aimed at terrorizing blacks or other minorities.
At the same time, critics say the ADL overstates the percentage of white supremacist murders because it omits some high-profile crimes committed by non-whites. Lott provided eight examples of mass killings – traditionally defined as those with four or more fatalities – excluded by the ADL in its decade-long tally. One of those was the 2016 attack a black man launched against white police officers in Dallas that killed 5 and wounded 11.
The ADL report also does not include the more recent carnage in Waukesha, Wisconsin, last November when a black man with a history of racist social posts drove into a mostly white crowd in a Christmas parade, killing six and injuring 62. For 2021, the ADL lists just two murders by people it classifies as “black nationalists.” If the Waukesha victims were included, black racist murders would account for 23% of extremist murders (8 of 35) for 2021.
"The Wisconsin car attack is one that is very hard to miss," Lott said. "It is such an obvious and well-known case that you have to wonder if they omitted it because it goes against 'their narrative.'"