A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Creation of a Database of U.S. Extremist Crime, 1990-2005


Creation of a Database of U.S. Extremist Crime, 1990-2005

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

This project resulted in the creation of a national data base on the perpetrators, victims, event, and group characteristics of crimes committed by the domestic far-right groups between 1995 and 2005. The project's goals for Year 3 were to continue working backwards to collect data on far-right criminal incidents from 1990 and 1995 and to "follow up" on missing information for 1995 and 2005 by collecting more data. This work ensured that the resulting data base is sufficiently complete to allow for valid analyses related to the behavior of right-wing groups in the United States.

This study built a national database on the perpetrators, victims, event, and group characteristics of crimes committed by members of the domestic far-right. More specifically, it focuses on illegal acts committed by far right extremists whose criminal activity span a wide variety of acts including: (1) tax refusal, (2) gun charges, (3) land-use violations, (4) false liens & financial schemes, (5) abortion-related crimes, (6) hate-crimes, (7) anti-government attacks, (8) anti-global strikes, (9) preparatory crimes (such as bank robberies, drug dealing, cyber-crime and identity theft), and (10) other crimes that further the group's survival or ideology.

This project is unique since it is broader than traditional "terrorist studies." Although these crimes vary considerably in their level of harm, all are the product of an extremist worldview. Limiting data collection to terrorist incidents would miss an important part of the picture. The study compiled a listing of known crimes from 1995 to 2005 in Year 2 and did the same for crimes from 1990 to 1995 in Year 3. Each case was assigned to a specific coder. Individual coders were charged with collecting open-source material (i.e., from existing terrorism databases, watch-group reports, and media reports forwarded by watch-groups that we printed) on that case (much of which we already possessed), and creating a hard-file of these data organized by source.  We simultaneously had a secure Internet site (which was continuously updated by one research assistant) that listed each case, its coder, and all the sources of information on it. This secure site acted as a clearinghouse and allowed coders to exchange case information and data across both coders and institutions as needed. Coders entered these data into an access database.  

In this study, our goal was to come as close as possible to the "entire universe" of cases that we are interested in. We recognized, however, that there would be cases with missing values. In year 3 the primary goal was to list all cases with missing data from 1995 to 2005.  We assigned personnel whose sole task was to "follow up" on missing information by collecting more data. We systematically conducted additional media searches, and/or review court data to fill these gaps. We also remedied many of the missing values by contacting key informants, such as journalists who reported an incident, law enforcement agents who investigated it, prosecutors who tried it, as well as movement leaders and members with knowledge about it. This long-term goal was achievable since the time period under investigation is relatively recent.

Primary Findings: 

The Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) uncovered over 4,000 criminal incidents committed by far-right extremists. These crimes range in important ways, such as the level of violence imposed on victims, number of suspects involved, and the motivational circumstances underlying each incident. For example, far-right extremist crimes include hate crimes, attacks on abortion providers, and foiled terrorist plots, as well as financial crimes and cases involving illegal firearms and other weapons. The research team coded the most serious crimes: homicides, attempted homicides, & incidents where the suspect was killed or committed suicide. 

(1) 275+ homicide incidents committed by at least one far-rightist

  • Number of homicides vary temporally: 1991 & 2003: 9 incidents; 1999: 23 incidents
  • 120 (44%) homicide incidents were ideologically motivated
  • 18 homicide incidents in detention facilities
  • 57% of incidents were committed with guns. Only 2% of homicides involved explosives (includes IEDs). However, included in the ECDB are a substantial number of cases where suspects were arrested with explosives/weapons & plots that were foiled due to effective law enforcement responses. Because no violence occurred these events have not yet been coded.
  • 462 of 628 (74%) suspects for homicide incidents were far-right, while the remainder of suspects were acting in concert with far-right.
  • 82% of far-right suspects were White; 16% unknown (likely White); 2% non-White
  • 91% of far-right suspects were male; 6% female; 3% unknown
  • 67% of far-right suspects were 30 or younger; 33% were older than 30 years old

(2) 13 suicide missions that killed 33 people 

(3) 522 homicide victims, 354 excluding 1995 attack in Oklahoma City

  • 35% White; 40% unknown (many likely White); 16% Black; 9% other minority
  • 91% male, 6% female, 3% unknown
  • Average age 36 (excluding the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing)

(4) From 1/1/90 to 6/30/09 at least 49 law enforcement (including 6 federal, 36 state, & local police, 3 correctional officers, 3 private security officers & 1 judge) were killed by at least one far-right extremist in at least 37 incidents.

  • Only 2 of 37 incidents involved federal agents
  • 90% of incidents involved guns
  • Less than 30% of the 54 far-right suspects were members of formal groups (instead most were lone wolves or acting informally with others)
  • 22% of incidents involved traffic stops; Other incidents involved routine calls for service (e.g., domestic dispute): Vast majority of incidents were unplanned

(5) 93 attempted homicide incidents (UCR's Hierarchy rule employed)

  • 113 of 165 (68%) suspects for attempted homicide incidents were far-right
  • 125 attempted homicide victims

(6) 32 solicitation to commit homicide or conspiracy to commit homicide incidents 

(7) 22 far-right suspects killed by law enforcement (8) 38 far-right suspects committed suicide

Methodology: 

The ECDB was developed in 3 stages:

1. Identifying Crimes Five types of sources were used to identify crimes: 1. Existing databases (E.g., GTD; Monterey; RAND) 2. Official sources - Congressional hearings, ATF, IRS, DOJ (press releases & links to court docs) 3. Scholarly & journalist accounts - Systematic literature review (320 studies) 4. Watch-group reports (E.g., ADL, SPLC, etc) 5. Systematic Media searches (E.g., 'skinhead & crime,' etc.)

2. Searching Crimes Each identified criminal incident was assigned to a specific researcher who searched 22 web-based search engines to uncover all publicly available materials on it: (1) Lexis-Nexis; (2) Proquest; (3) Yahoo; (4) Google; (5) Copernic; (6) News Library; (7) Infotrac; (8) Google Scholar; (9) Amazon; (10) Google U.S. Government; (11) Federation of American Scientists; (12) Google Videos; (13) Center for the Study of Intelligence; (14) Surf Wax; (15) Dogpile; (16) Mamma; (17) Librarians' Internet Index; (18) Scirus; (19) All the Web; (20) Google News; (21) Google Blog; and (22) Homeland Security Digital Library Uncovered open source information includes: Media reports; Government documents; Court records (injunctions, affidavits, indictments, appellate decisions); Movement materials; Books; Scholarly accounts; Videos; Blogs; Opinion pieces. Amount & quality of information varies by case, however more information on homicide incidents and other violent crimes is usually publicly available.

3. Coding Cases We began coding violent incidents- homicides, attempted homicides (those formally charged as so), suspect deaths/suicides. Each incident case assigned to a specific coder. We have 5 codebooks (incident, suspect, victim, group, victims & assessment of the quality of the open source information that we code in ACCESS) that contain over 350 variables considered important in prior literature. Coders first review the search files to decide how many incidents, suspects & victims to code. They next conduct their own search to insure original search did not miss important information. They also search 4 additional engines (to uncover prior & subsequent crimes): (i) Vinelink; (ii) The Inmate Locator; (iii) Individual State Department of Corrections (DOCs); (iv) Blackbookonline.info. Next, the coder reviews the open source information to fill in values in the ACCESS codebooks. After their initial coding of incidents, suspects & victims, coders conduct additional targeted open source searches to fill in missing values.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
June 2007 to January 2009

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