Following the news of the recent terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota, Donald Trump swiftly denounced President Obama’s plan to accept more Syrian refugees into the United States. The Republican nominee’s opportunistic accusation echoed the theme he’d been sounding through the campaign and has repeated each time a terror attack shakes Americans’ sense of security. Trump’s linking of terror to Muslim immigration is simple, blunt and—with a certain crowd—politically effective. It also manages to ignore a critically important fact about the attacks: Neither perpetrator had anything to do with Syria. They weren’t even from Middle Eastern communities.
The two recent attacks were by a Somali-American and an Afghan-American. The fact remains that a Syrian-American has yet to commit a domestic Islamist terror attack anytime in the country’s history, according to an exhaustive cross-checking of the Global Terrorism Database. To Donald Trump, there may be no political difference; his larger theme is fear of Islamic radicals. But in ignoring the facts about just who commits the attacks, he’s also missing one of the most important insights about the problem, and the one that may give us the most powerful tool to think about homegrown terrorists: Even among Muslim communities, radicalization is very unevenly distributed.