Explainer: Why the ADL Believes the US is Experiencing an ‘Age of Extremist Mass Killings’ Features
Norm_Bosworth / Pixabay
Explainer: Why the ADL Believes the US is Experiencing an ‘Age of Extremist Mass Killings’

In 2022, domestic extremists killed at least 25 people in 12 separate incidents in the US, according to a report published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which highlights the growing concern over extremist-related mass killings. In this explainer, we review the ADL’s findings and their recommendations for a future marked by less extremist violence.

What were the key findings of the ADL Report regarding extremist-related killings in the US in 2022?

Domestic extremist-related killings in the US decreased in 2022 to 25, comparable to 2020 and lower than 2015-2019 levels, though two high-casualty shooting sprees accounted for 60% of the deaths, with only 10 deaths occurring outside of those incidents. The ADL Report found that domestic extremists killed at least 25 people in the U.S. in 2022, representing a drop from the thirty-three deaths reported in 2021. These extremist-related killings are rare relative to the total killings in the U.S. each year. However, the ADL Report noted that “extremist killings can have a disproportionate impact on communities, or even the entire country, especially when they take the form of a hate crime or a terrorist attack.” The ADL Report found that the killings this year gave rise to disproportionate impacts: “Every one of the 25 murders documented in this report had ties to forms of right-wing extremism, including white supremacy, anti-government extremism and right-wing conspiracy theorists.”

Were these killings all inspired by the same or similar motives?

Not all of the murders were committed for ideological motives: the ADL Report determined that 18 of the 25 extremist-related murders appear to have been committed in whole or part for ideological motives, while the remaining seven murders either have no clear motive or were committed for a non-ideological motive. The two most serious incidents that were spurred by ideological motives took the form of shooting sprees: the attack on Club Q, an LGBTQ+ bar in Colorado Springs in November 2022, and the attack on the Tops supermarket in Buffalo in May 2022. In fact, sixty percent of the extremist killings in 2022 came from just these two incidents. Absent these shooting sprees, there would have been only ten extremist-related deaths in 2022.

How has the frequency of mass killings changed in recent decades?

The ADL Report described the attacks in Colorado Springs and Buffalo as mass killings — with the latter defined as an event that leaves four or more people dead. The ADL Report found that there were 21 mass killing incidents in the 2010s, which represents at least three times the total from any previous decade. In 2021 and 2022 alone, there were five incidents — as many as there were during the whole decade of 2001-2010.  The 26 mass killing incidents over the past 12 years exceeded the 20 incidents from the previous 40 years. Given this data, the ADL Report stated, “It is not an exaggeration to say that we live in an age of extremist mass killings.”

What is the ADL’s perspective on the correlation between mass killings and gun violence in the US?

The ADL Report further noted that approximately 93% of the 2022 killings were committed with firearms, which the ADL attributes to “the country’s failure to take meaningful action to deal with gun violence.”

What are the ADL’s recommendations for a safer US?

Given its findings, the ADL Report recommends government policy action to address the threat of domestic violent extremism.

These recommendations include the following:

  • Prioritizing the prevention and countering of domestic terrorism;
  • Allocating government resources according to the threat;
  • Opposing extremists in government, law enforcement, and the military;
  • Taking public health and other domestic terrorism prevention measures;
  • Ending the complicity of social media in facilitating extremism;
  • Creating an independent clearinghouse for online extremist content; and
  • Targeting foreign white supremacist terrorist groups for sanctions.