To stop terrorism against Americans, Donald Trump should ban Americans from America


Among the raft of executive orders Republican President Donald Trump is widely expected to issue, one particularly controversial edict would reportedly ban refugees and suspend visas to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries.

The idea, as suggested by an apparent draft copy obtained by the Huffington Post, would be "to protect the American people from terrorist attacks committed by foreign nationals admitted to the United States."

One of the provisions in the document would entirely suspend "immigrant and nonimmigrant" visas for citizens of countries designated to have an elevated threat of terrorist activities; the Huffington Post and others reported that the Trump administration was considering Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for the list.

This sweeping plan, though, is not a serious national security program. For a number of reasons, it wouldn't do much to stop Islamic extremists or other terrorists from carrying out violent acts within the U.S. It even stands a good chance of making the problem worse. And while discrimination against Muslims and foreigners is abhorrent in and of itself, Trump's plan doesn't make sense even on its own premises — and thus can only be understood as a ploy to appeal to Islamophobic bigotry, not to make Americans safer.

Terrorism in America is mostly by Americans

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Terrorism in the U.S. is a primarily homegrown phenomenon. Trump's order does nothing to counter this.

In 2015, the New York Times reviewed the backgrounds of 20 Islamic extremist attackers in the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, and found that half of the assailants were born in the United States. An additional five attackers were fully naturalized citizens, while just three were in the U.S. with green cards and one held a tourist visa.

Since 2015, the trend hasn't changed in high-profile attacks. Omar Mateen, the man who opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, killing 49 and wounding 53, was born in New York. Ahmad Khan Rahami, the man who detonated bombs which wounded 29 in New York on Sept. 17, was born in Afghanistan in 1988 but was a naturalized citizen since 2011. Esteban Santiago Ruiz, the 26-year-old U.S. military veteran who killed five and wounded six others at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6, was a U.S. citizen.

Of the high profile terror attacks in 2016, only 18-year-old Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the Ohio State University student who wounded 11 people in a Nov. 28 rampage, might have been impeded by Trump's order — but only by preventing him from entering the country while he was a child, long before he was radicalized. According to NBC News, Artan was a Somali refugee who fled that country in 2007, "lived in Pakistan and then came to the United States in 2014 as a legal permanent resident."

The 9/11 attackers are okay, though

The Sept. 11, 2001, suicide attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Somerset County, Pennsylvania, which killed 2,996 people, were the touchstone of Trump's reported executive order draft: "While the visa-issuance process was reviewed and amended after the Sept. 11 attacks to better detect would-be terrorists from getting visas, these measure did not stop attacks by foreign nationals who were admitted to the United States," the draft says, to justify the measures that follow.

Yet none of the countries whose visas would be categorically rejected by the executive order were represented among the Sept. 11 attackers. Of the 19 total perpetrators, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two came from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon.

Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia are nominal U.S. allies; with Lebanon, it's complicated (the U.S. does give the country massive military assistance). But these are where the Sept. 11 terrorists came from, and Trump didn't include any of these places on his list.

Why? We can't know for sure, but New York University professor Ian Bremmer pointed out on Twitter that Trump's list conveniently ignores all countries where he has business interests.

Right-wing white Americans do terror, too

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According to the think tank New America, while Islamic extremist terror attacks have killed 94 people in the U.S. since Sept. 11, 2011, right-wing terror attacks have killed 50 — and for a number of years were the nation's number one terrorist threat. Other estimates put the number of right-wing terrorism victims much higher, in the hundreds.

In June 2015, the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported, based on surveys of 382 law enforcement organizations, that "law enforcement agencies in the United States consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face." Right-wing terror threats include neo-Nazis, Christian Identity extremists and other white supremacists, armed militias and "sovereign citizens," people who believe themselves above the jurisdiction of federal, state and local authorities.

Americans are, in general, far more likely to be killed by the country's rampant gun violence than foreigners, yet Trump has curiously not proposed dramatic limitations on the freedoms of citizens to bear arms. Between 2001 and 2013, CNN reported, firearms in the U.S. killed over 406,000 people. All terrorism in the U.S. came to just 3,030 people — far too many, to be sure, but minuscule compared to guns.

Maybe counterproductive

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The vast majority of Muslims lead peaceful lives. What's more, Muslims comprise almost 90% of the victims of worldwide terror attacks by Islamic extremists. But none of that has stopped skyrocketing discrimination against people of the Islamic faith, with the Washington Post reporting in 2015 that Islamophobic hate crimes remained five times more common since 9/11 than before. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups across the country, reported in 2016 that Islamophobic groups were growing in power and influence across the country, and tracked 315 anti-immigrant and 112 anti-Muslim hate incidents in the month after Trump's election alone.

Since most U.S. terror attacks are committed by homegrown extremists, not foreigners, and perceived persecution is a commonly cited motivation among terror suspects, Trump's order could do little to prevent attacks but perpetuate the narrative of civilization-scale conflict that groups like the Islamic State, also know as ISIS, rely upon to radicalize new converts. 

That's unnecessary, wrong and dangerous, and could leave everyone in the U.S. less safe in the long term. But Trump, who has pushed one of the most Islamophobic administrations in memory, may not care.