Let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good conspiracy about violence

We all know that we live in an era where facts are in grave danger.  When the leader of the world’s most powerful nation regularly dismisses news as ‘fake’ whenever it goes against his bizarre view on, well on anything, you realise we are in trouble.  No longer do people rely on certain sources of information, like Walter Cronkite or Peter Mansbridge or the BBC, as credible and accurate.  Instead we are blessed (cursed?) with a near infinite number of Web sites, some of which are very good, but many of which are dubious at best.  I too read The Onion, and the very good Canadian equivalent The Beaverton, regularly but I can keep those sites apart from what I consider to be purveyors of real and useful news.  I wonder if others can.
For some the mishmash of real and not so real might not matter.  But it does when it comes to our perception of levels of crime and terrorism, for false interpretations can lead to fear and social tension.  Here is a good example.
One thing that Trump among others constantly lie about is the risk from immigration, especially those coming in from Latin America.  A constant false trope is that many members of violent gangs, such as MS-13 from El Salvador, infiltrate the US and contribute to a disproportionate level of crime in large cities.  Thanks however to a recent Washington Post article, we can talk about this issue using facts and not made-up conjecture.  Among the findings were:
– despite claims that the very violent MS-13 gang is well-organised and controlled from El Salvador, it turns out that the gang is only loosely organised in the US and most of its activities and criminal dynamics seem to be more determined by local conditions.
– despite claims that the gang is sending people north to bolster local cells, only a ‘minuscule’ share of undocumented immigrants who have entered the country in the past few years are linked to MS-13.
– despite Trump’s calls to stop immigration to bleed the group of new members, most MS-13 living in the US joined the gang in the US, because of social conditions or life events.
– despite Trump’s claims that MS-13 has “literally taken over” US cities and  has “brought violence, fear, and suffering to communities” nationwide,  MS-13 is not a large street gang and is not even among the biggest in the country.
These are the facts, derived from actual social science studies and qualified researchers, not Fox News anchors.  Facts are facts, even if we can debate their meaning or some of the details on the fringes.  Provided they are gathered in a way that is transparent and examinable we need to base our opinions and decisions on what we can see and test rather than what some loudmouth tells us on TV.
The same could be applied to terrorism.  There are those who argue that we must limit immigration to stop the entrance of violent extremists with evil  intent or even ban all immigration from certain countries that happen to be Muslim majority (no points for guessing who proposed that one!).  These views are based on fear and prejudice and not facts and should be countered.
This is not to say that there are no instances where terrorists have used the immigration system to travel and carry out attacks as there have clearly been such occasions.  When, however, we line these people up against the millions who immigrate and become contributing citizens of their new societies, not to mention those born and raised in our lands who opt for terrorism,  it turns out that the bad guys who cross our borders constitute a number so small as to be almost undetectable.  Rather than a wave of rabid hordes of terrorists, we are faced with a rare occurrence best handled by our security intelligence, law enforcement and border agencies.  Equating the odd (VERY odd) foreign terrorist with the vastly more representative hardworking keen newcomer is an abomination.
In closing, facts are important.  The UK newspaper The Guardian is indeed very left-wing and there are times when I have a hard time reading it.  Nevertheless, it has a great header that is ascribed to its editor way back in 1921, C P Scott, which reads “Comment is free…but facts are sacred.”  If only more of us could take those words to heart.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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