FILE - Demonstrators shout during a "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2015.
FILE - Demonstrators shout during a "Freedom of Speech Rally Round II" outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, Arizona May 29, 2015.

The deadly mosque shootings in New Zealand last week by a gunman who promoted an anti-immigrant manifesto coincide with a surge in the incidents of right-wing extremist killings in the U.S. 

Last year, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., up from 37 murders in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which tracks such murders. The last five years have produced a higher number of extremist-related murders than any other five-year period since 1970, according to the ADL.

Mark Pitcavage, a senior fellow at the Center on Extremism, said that every one of the perpetrators of last year’s murders had ties to at least one right-wing movement.

The majority of the murders were committed by white supremacists, with a smaller number perpetrated by anti-government extremists and extreme misogynists who identify as "involuntary celibates" or incels, Pitcavage said.

While a few high-profile incidents such as the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers by white supremacist Robert Bowers at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October have been widely reported, others have received scant attention. 

First responders are seen at the Tree of Life Synagogue where a shooter opened fire, In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Oct. 27, 2018, causing multiple casualties.

Just two months before the synagogue shooting rampage, another man espousing white supremacist views, Joden Rocco, stabbed a 24-year-old black man outside a bar in Pittsburgh. In an Instagram video posted before the killing, Rocco said that he was trying to see how many times he could use a racial slur for African-Americans before getting kicked out of bars. 

"Every year there are a number of incidents like this where one person dies or sometimes two people die, but it was not something where there were mass casualties … or attracted a lot of attention, but it was an extremist killing someone," Pitcavage said. "Someone died. There was a victim. A life was lost."

Among other underreported incidents:

  • In January 2018, Samuel Woodward stabbed to death Blaze Bernstein, a gay Jewish college student. Investigators later found homophobic and neo-Nazi material on Woodward's cellphone, including content related to the violent hate group Atomwaffen
  • In October, Gregory Bush, a 51-year-old unemployed white resident of Louisville, Kentucky, killed two African-Americans ages 67 and 69, at a supermarket. While the ADL excluded Bush from its list of extremist-tied murderers due to a lack of evidence, other organizations have counted the murders as related to right-wing extremism
  • In November, Scott Paul Beierle, a man who had posted sexist and racist videos online, killed two women and injured four others at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida

In addition to ADL, other research organizations have also reported increases in extremist-related killings last year, though in smaller numbers. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino tracked 22 ideologically driven murders in 2018, including 17 carried out by white supremacists, up from 15 the previous year. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, said at least 40 people were killed in the U.S. and Canada by "individuals who were either motivated by or attracted to far-right ideologies." SPLC said 2018 was the deadliest year for victims of right-wing extremism. 

FILE - A neo-Nazi attends a rally in Newnan, Georgia, April 21, 2018.

"We're just seeing a whole lot of violence from people who are influenced by white supremacy and that kind of extremism," said Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s intelligence project.

President Donald Trump said recently that he did not think white nationalism was a growing problem following the New Zealand rampage by self-styled white nationalist Brenton Tarrant that killed 50 Muslim worshippers at two mosques. 

But the SPLC said white nationalism is on the rise. The Alabama-based legal advocacy organization recently reported that the number of hate groups in the U.S. rose to a record 1,020 last year, boosted by increases in the number of both white and black nationalist groups. 

Shooting Synagogue
US Hate Crime Laws Explained

Robert Bowers, the Pennsylvania man accused of carrying out a mass killing at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, has been charged with multiple counts of hate crimes and other criminal offenses under state and federal laws.

Among the 28 counts of federal crimes Bowers faces are 15 brought under a federal hate crimes statute that allows for the death penalty. The 35 state criminal charges against him include 13 counts of "ethnic intimidation" brought under the state's hate crime law.

Hate crime laws are essentially "penalty enhancement" tools in the hands of prosecutors.

Not all white nationalists are violent. But those who commit acts of violence in the name of white nationalism do so out of fear that immigration into Western countries is sowing the seeds of "white genocide," experts say.

"If you look at the man who killed all those people tragically in New Zealand, he talks constantly about white people being displaced in their home countries," Beirich said. 

With demographic fears driving the violence, Beirich said the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. 

"The demographic trends that they view as destroying them are not going to shift," Beirich said.