Are there twice as many terrorist incidents in the U.S. as in Italy?

Dear Cecil:

A few years ago, a powerful bomb exploded at the University of Maryland computer center and killed a visiting scholar from the People's Republic of China. The year before that, the home of a prominent Baltimore physician who was also a Zionist was twice fire-bombed. A couple years before that (according to an official account), an ex-CIA agent ate his lunch, rowed himself into the middle of the Chesapeake, hog-tied himself, donned cement overshoes, and, again according to official reports, pushed himself overboard. My Italian literature teacher, who is visiting from the University of Bologna, tells me that there are 2,000 terrorist incidents a year in the U.S.--twice as many as there are in Italy. Is he right?

Cecil replies:

Dear Chris:

No. There is no such thing as uniform reporting of terrorist incidents–for one thing, nobody can agree on a definition of terrorism–but such studies as there are suggest that terrorist violence is far worse in Italy than in the U.S. A book published in 1979 by two researchers for Stanford University’s Hoover Institute totes up roughly 140 bombings in the U.S. since 1969 by such groups as the Weather Underground, the New World Liberation Front, and the Puerto Rican FALN. A considerably more thorough tally put together by CIA analyst Edward Mickolus lists 288 incidents in the U.S. during the period 1967-1977, ranging from antinuke bomb threats to the Patty Hearst kidnapping. By contrast, the Stanford folks note that Italy reported more than 2,000 incidents during the height of Red Brigades terror in the period 1977-1978.

Then again, it’s all a matter of definition. At least 300 incidents involving the Ku Klux Klan were reported in 1981, for instance , including one aborted attempt by a handful of Klansmen and Nazis to invade the predominantly black Caribbean island of Dominica. And we ought to point out that when it comes to international terror, the U.S. seems to provide an inordinate number of victims–1,471 during 1968-1977, according to Mickolus, compared to 108 Italians. Keep your heads down, kids.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

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