We hear the argument continually from Trump and others that if we don’t shut off our Southern border, terrorists could infiltrate the country that way. Richard J. McAlexander did a study of immigration patterns and terrorist acts around the world and finds that immigration does increase terrorism, but mostly by nativist groups who hate immigrants and see them as a threat.
The study focuses mostly on Western Europe, which has seen a huge influx of immigrants, especially Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, fleeing war, starvation and persecution. One would think, in this country at least, that more Muslim immigration, in particular, would lead to more terrorism by those immigrants, but despite isolated examples the overwhelming majority of terrorist acts that have taken place in those countries since they began receiving so many new Muslim immigrants have been done by right-wing, anti-immigrant extremists.
Many people think that more immigration into Western countries leads to more terrorism, because immigrants from non-Western cultures are more likely to be terrorists. My research finds a very different kind of relationship. Immigrants aren’t committing terrorism in Western Europe. Rather, native citizens appear to be committing terrorism because of their hostility to immigrants.
My study, published in the Journal of Global Security Studies, argues that grievances toward immigrants plausibly drive right-wing attacks. I began investigating this issue by studying the relationship between immigration and terrorism over the past couple decades in eight Western European countries: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. I quickly found a strong pattern: When immigration levels to a country increase, the total number of terrorist attacks increased in that country as well…After a closer examination of the data, I found this association is only present when looking at terrorist attacks by right-wing groups and individuals. There is no association between immigration and other forms of terrorism, including left-wing terrorism and terrorism by separatist groups, such as the IRA or ETA, the Basque separatist group. I found a similar relationship when using other data sets and measures of right-wing terrorism…
This suggests that those on the far right commit terrorist attacks when there are more immigrants because they resent the increases in immigration. Moreover, many right-wing terrorist attacks are against immigrants themselves. More immigrants offer more targets for right-wing terrorism. Right-wing terrorism is quite frequent, both in the United States and Europe…
Notably, this relationship is stronger when the immigrants come from Muslim-majority countries. Right-wing terrorism does not seem to rise when there is higher immigration from other European countries. Other research shows individual support for far-right parties and policies increases when someone has more resentment against immigrants. All of this suggests right-wing terrorism is a reaction to an out-group.
Unfortunately, Muslims are hardly the only ones seen as an out-group, especially in American society and even more especially by the right-wing. They view all non-whites as an out-group. And the truth is that the overwhelming majority of terrorist acts committed in the United States over the last decade come from right-wing extremists, especially white supremacists who hate immigration and immigrants (if they’re not white and European, of course). In 2018, for instance, every single terrorist act that happened here came from right-wing extremists, not Muslims or immigrants or anyone else. If we’re looking for the cause of terrorism in this country, we’ve found it.