Poll: Young Americans Worry Over Extremist Threat

Dallas police officers shield bystanders after shots were fired during a Black Lives Matter protest on Thursday evening. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
Dallas police officers shield bystanders after shots were fired during a Black Lives Matter protest last month. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

The threat of violence by people inspired by foreign extremists invokes fear in a majority of young Americans across racial groups. But for young people of color, particularly African Americans, that fear is matched or surpassed by worries about violence from white extremists.

A new GenForward poll of Americans age 18-30 shows widespread anxiety among young people about attacks from both inside and outside the United States.

Sixty-two percent of young African Americans and 55 percent of Hispanics surveyed said they were very concerned about the threat of violence committed by white extremists, compared to one-third of whites and 41 percent of Asian Americans.

GenForward is a survey by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago with the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll is designed to pay special attention to the voices of young adults of color, highlighting how race and ethnicity shape the opinions of a new generation.

Gregg Higgins, 27, was one of the whites who said he was very worried about violence by extremists in his own race. In fact, he said he was more concerned about “the homegrown white extremists” than the threat of violence from people outside the United States or people inspired by foreign extremists.

A social worker in Pittsburgh, Higgins said the growing political tension during the current election cycle has “shown a really ugly part of our past coming through and being more heard.” He described it as “white males who are angry and who aren’t now afraid to show that anger.”

“That fear of loss of control and loss of privilege is what’s inspiring this vitriol and this hate,” Higgins said.

Worry about attacks from people currently living in the U.S. who are motivated by foreign extremists spreads more evenly across racial groups, with at least half of whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics describing themselves as very concerned about that threat.

Violence committed by people from outside the country also caused unease, especially among Hispanic young adults. Fifty-six percent of Hispanics polled said they were very concerned, compared to 49 percent of African Americans, 40 percent of Asian Americans and 41 percent of whites.

The angst comes after a spate of mass shootings. Nine black people were shot and killed last year at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white man who officials say talked of starting a race war. In June, a gunman born in the U.S. to Afghan immigrants opened fire at a crowd in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. An autopsy report identified him as a white male.

Last month, five police officers in Dallas were killed by a black gunman during a protest against police shootings of black men, and three law-enforcement officers in Baton Rouge were shot and killed by a black man who, authorities said, appeared to be targeting people wearing a badge.

Terrorism concerns have young Americans across racial groups largely in agreement that some rights and freedoms should be sacrificed in efforts to prevent an attack. Eleven percent of all young adults polled said they believe such sacrifices are always necessary, while 54 percent said they’re at least sometimes necessary.

But most young people said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s calls to temporarily ban Muslims from coming to the U.S. goes too far.

More than two-thirds of those surveyed said they oppose a temporary prohibition on any Muslim who isn’t a U.S. citizen from entering the country: 64 percent of whites, 66 percent of Hispanics and 79 percent of African Americans and Asian Americans.

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