American Sociological Association

Ideology and Threat Assessment: Law Enforcement Evaluation of Muslim and Right-Wing Extremism

Does ideology affect assessment of the threat of violent extremism? A survey of law enforcement agencies in the United States in 2014 offers a comparison suggesting a small but statistically significant effect: Political attitudes were correlated with assessment of threats posed by Muslim extremists, and threat assessment was not correlated with the number of Muslim Americans who had engaged in violent extremism within the agency’s jurisdiction. By contrast, the perceived threat of right-wing terrorism was correlated with the number of incidents of right-wing violence and not with political attitudes. These findings reflect the context of growing polarization of attitudes toward Muslims in the United States as well as the challenge of bringing counterterrorism policies into proportion with the actual scale of violent extremism.