Written by: Gacee Ezekiel
Since the 9/11 attack, domestic terrorism and violent extremism have not received as much attention as it deserves in the United States. Part of the problem is that the nation is also facing major international terrorist groups. However, counterterrorism law enforcement agencies could be facing a more significant challenge about domestic terrorism after a report by the FBI in 1999 indicated that local extremists conducted a vast majority of terrorist attacks in the U.S. After the September 11 attack, the United States reacted swiftly and enhanced its counterterrorism strategies.
This paper analyzes how domestic extremism fits into the U.S. counterterrorism efforts while at the same time enhancing the understanding of how internal terrorist groups inspired by foreign ideologies continue to carry out deadly attacks against the nation. Currently, it is challenging to understand just how largely domestic extremism has penetrated society. Some say that internal counterterrorism efforts have not received as much attention as foreign threats from a larger picture. Beyond such challenges, the current administration has an outreach-driven strategy to discourage radicalization in the United States.
The Scope of Domestic Terrorism in the United States.
As Kushner (2008) stated, domestic terrorism may not be among the top priorities by counterterrorism agencies. Still, it is slowly becoming a primary concern and needs that the Government needs to address soon. In 2011, the Los Angeles area was experiencing targeting by white supremacist groups, black separatists, and animal-rights terrorists. Possible contributors to the domestic terrorism threat are individuals who ideally do not use tactics associated with major terrorist groups such as plane hijackings or the use of bombs; this does not mean that such individuals are not domestic terrorists.
There have been numerous cases of hostage situations that end in violent shootings in public institutions such as schools and other public places. While it is the terrorist activities by foreign-inspired jihadi groups that continue to draw media support today, domestic extremists have been busy. Worth noting is that a domestic terrorist attack comes second after the 9/11 attack in terms of casualty levels. On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb inside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, claiming the lives of 168 people while over 500 people were injured.
There are indications that most of the attacks that have taken place since the 9/11 attack are carried out by domestic extremist groups. The last few years have seen a rise in anti-government extremist activities since, unlike the foreign jihadi groups who rely on heavy weaponry, domestic terrorists are often internet savvy hence the reason they utilize this medium to carry out deadly attacks. Prisons highlight some areas where recruitment and radicalization of people into extremist groups take place. For example, white supremacists groups continue to play a vital role in gang-related activities in most prisons, a situation that inspires domestic terrorism.
A specific ideology often inspires terrorists. Concerning this, domestic terrorist groups’ modus operandi consisting of different issues and philosophies. Such terrorist groups can be motivated to carry out deadly attacks based on ideologies, such as the need for animal rights or opposing abortion. The problem comes in when the issue is opposed or proposed and constitutionally protected. Unaware of the line between constitutionality and criminality, extremist groups often find themselves in the middle of fighting issues that can openly be opposed and legally binding.
According to Bush, extremists who carry out violent attacks are often distinct from those who theorize and craft specific ideologies that others use to support violent attacks (2009). There are certain sects or terrorist cells that draw ideological sustenance but not necessarily a particular direction from propagandists preaching ideas in the free market.
White Supremacist Extremists
White Supremacist extremists are individuals who commit violent attacks based on a supremacist ideology. This ideology hangs on the notion that the white race is superior to any other competition today. In the U.S., various white supremacist extremist groups are ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to the racist skinheads. As observed by Piaza, (2010), these groups operate in an organized way with several structures and elaborate operational schedule that includes membership fee and media wings. Ideally, white supremacist groups work by dividing the world into whites and the rest of the races. However, their primary focus is on African Americans and the Jews in society.
According to scholars, the white supremacist groups believe that the society has discriminated against them over the years and that the white race has lost so much ground and civil rights infringed upon by successive governments. This ideology appears to be far from the truth since most minority groups also claim that the supremacist groups are after preferential treatment and hardly advocate for equity.
A slogan best known as the Fourteen Words by David Lane, a member of a terrorist group in the early 80s, has become synonymous with most white supremacist groups. The slogan states that “We must secure the existence of our race and a future for white children.”
Neo-Nazism, inspired by Adolf Hitler, also forms a large part of the white supremacist component in the United States.
Conspiracy and Conflict.
Apart from racial superiority, other significant views continue to shape the concept of white supremacy in the United States. Counterterrorism analysts argue that most domestic terror attacks are motivated by conspiracy theories that tend to portray the world as being anti-white supremacist. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, white supremacist groups are frequently anticipating war with what they consider as being hostile groups; this means that such groups are ever-ready for deadly attacks with the least provocation.
The Church of the Creator, created by Ben Klassen, has always been seen as advocating for white supremacy. Klassen, who later committed suicide in 1993, states that the whites have fewer options than to wage war against the non-whites. Some other terrorist groups draw their ideology from Norse mythology to justify violent attacks against religious and racial groups.
National Socialist Movement.
The National Socialist Movement is one of the most active domestic terror groups in the United States today. According to Berlet & Vysotsky, (2006), the growth of this white supremacist group is based on the fact that smaller hate groups have declined to form one single organization driven by a supremacist agenda against other groups. In the early 2000s, the NSM utilized the growth of the internet industry to recruit members and spread propaganda. Many feel it is a descendant of the American Nazi Party.
One strategy that the National Socialist Movement applies to encourage membership is by allowing its members to also belong to other white supremacist groups. Some influential members of the National Socialist Movement face terrorism-related charges. For example, “Joseph Benjamin Thomas was indicted with drug possession while Samuel J. Johnson, who was the group’s party leader in Minnesota, was charged with illegal possession of weapons” (Berlet & Vysotsky, 2006). At some point, the two would later form their white supremacist group, where they acquired weapons meant for attacks on government institutions.
Currently, the National Socialist Movement is one of the most active neo-Nazi group in the United States. What started as a small white supremacist group has grown over the years to a preeminent national group. Despite several defections from some of its prominent leaders, NSM remains a powerful social movement that advocates for white supremacy, only falling short of adopting the ideologies of the Third Reich. The action is responsible for organizing mass protests and violent acts such as the Toledo, Ohio mass protest in October 2005 that ended in extreme alterations with security agencies.
Ideology and Objectives.
The National Socialist Movement came from the traditional National Socialism ideologies. The ideologies of socialism movements across the world come from a mixture of racism, xenophobia, anti-communism, and anti-Semitism. All these ideologies come from an overall objective of whites’ supremacy. In the United States, the National Socialist Movement aims at denying fundamental rights to non-whites, Jews, and same-sex partners. Also, the National Socialist Movement advocates for the deportation of illegal immigrants, the militarization of the America-Mexican border, and alienation of Israel as a global partner.
Symbols and Leadership Organization.
The symbols and patterns identified with the National Socialist Movement are similar to those associated with the Third Reich’s Wehrmacht and
The Waffen S.S. In particular, the emblems worn by National Socialist Movement followers are identical to those on Nazi Germany police officers’ military regalia. The NSM also tends to use symbols similar to those used by Nazis in its propaganda. Regarding the organizational structure, the NSM has adopted a paramilitary structure with a structured chain of command.
Some national officers are at the helm of the movement, regional leaders, and subordinate members referred to as the Stormtroopers. The NSM has structured its chain of command to resemble that of Nazi Germany, including creating a Propaganda Ministry, Office of Foreign Affairs, and Office of Information. Jeffery Schoep is the National Commander who recently shifted his base of operations from Minneapolis to Warren, Michigan.
Membership and Financial Support.
Even though the NSM has membership from all over the country, an estimated half of their group comes from the Midwest, particularly in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan. There is also a significant number of NSM members operating in Arizona and Nevada. All active members of the NSM are required to make monthly contributions towards the movement while recruits also contribute to help sustain the organization’s activities. NSM also draws financial gains from racist music, videos, and sponsoring white power rock concerts.
In January 2011, William White, a member of the National Socialist Movement, was convicted after soliciting violence against a jury foreman in the case of the U.S vs. Mathew Hale. However, a federal judge would later reverse the conviction in April 2011 after the court established that the prosecution could not, to its entirety, prove that White had intended to harm the jury foreman. In the ruling, the federal judge stated that the First Amendment protected the writing on web posting by White seen to solicit violence against the jury foreman. In an unrelated case, White was convicted for issuing threats and intentionally delaying testimony by African American witnesses.
The Significance of Domestic Terrorism.
Brooks (2011) observes that while assessing domestic terrorism’s threat, it is appropriate to conclude that none of the internal terror attacks has even come to a near-devastation as the 9/11 attack. However, it is in the record that the second most devastating attack in U.S. soil was Timothy McVeigh’s bombing that claimed 168 lives and wounded over 500 people; this is one of the reasons why domestic terror attacks are featuring prominently in the recent past and have become a significant concern by security agencies. In a study commissioned by state and federal law enforcement agencies, most police agencies reported increasing domestic extremist groups within their areas of jurisdiction.
Domestic Terrorism Incidences.
Currently, records of all domestic terrorism-related attacks are not available, making it extremely difficult for one to assess the actual threat that the country is facing. However, a study conducted by the New America Foundation in conjunction with Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy found out that there have been over 114 individuals across all states facing indictment for non-jihadi terrorist activities. The study was not limited to any specific domestic terror group but extended to sovereign citizen groups, separatist groups, and animal rights extremists.
The Internet and Domestic Terrorism.
One of the most significant concerns in the counterterrorism world is how terrorist groups are increasingly using the internet to coordinate violent attacks and propagate hate messages and propaganda. A recent study by Homeland Security established that there were over 657 hate websites since 2010. Such sites are used by smaller extremist groups to create some form of identity and recruit new members. For example, the information contained on such websites focuses on attracting new adherents.
White supremacist groups have been at the forefront of internet use to communicate and perhaps coordinate violent attacks. Such extremist groups are the greatest beneficiaries of online recruitment, which explains why members of such groups are often internet savvy, and membership forms are on the websites. The internet has created a new challenge for counterterrorism law enforcement agencies since it becomes even harder to track what new ideologies extremist groups are disseminating. The presence of terrorist-driven websites also shapes how other people perceive certain groups; for example, some groups go to the extent of claiming that they don’t sponsor terrorism.
A Decentralized Threat.
From the analysis above regarding how domestic terrorism has evolved, some say that terrorist activities by groups within the U.S. are decentralized threats. While it is easier to monitor sizeable foreign terror organizations, monitoring the activities of small terror cells with non-articulated leadership structures could prove to be more challenging in the coming years. Even independently acting terror-groups, are not entirely devoid of shared ideology or leader.
There are instances where some groups are the so-called lone rangers, often draw their inspiration from larger groups. While the smaller terror cells appear to disavow violent behavior, some ideological cues from larger groups can influence the decision by specific individuals to carry out deadly attacks. Worse still is the fact that there is a thin line between acts protected by the constitution and those that are considered criminality. The dynamics and interplay between different groups are why no single counterterrorism strategy can adequately address domestic terrorism.
The Theory of Leaderless Resistance.
Within the realms of domestic terrorism is a concept of leaderless resistance circulated by a white supremacists leader known as Louis Beam in the early 1990s. Louis Beam encouraged white supremacist groups to ignore leadership structures but rather have anonymous leaders, making it harder for law enforcement officers to infiltrate. This concept helped lone wolves carry out violent attacks, yet no group would come forward to claim responsibility. Assuming that a group such as the National Socialist Movement has a website, but no leader’s names are on the site, it becomes easier for such a group to distance itself from terror-related activities even when a member of the group perpetuates violence.
The Terror Threat by Lone Rangers.
Just as their name suggests, lone wolves are ideally people operating independently to carry out violent attacks. Lone wolves present a unique challenge to law enforcement agencies because it is difficult to assess the threat posed by such individuals. It becomes even more challenging to singularly identify people within the society who are ready to turn their ideological beliefs into action by carrying out a terrorist act.
The logistical nightmare for law enforcement agencies is that a lone wolf’s operational capability is not understood until an attack has taken place; this means that before an attack, security forces have little or no knowledge on how well a person is with explosives, firearms and surveillance systems. Lone wolves hardly rehearse their schemes but use con-conspirators to carry out attacks; this means that their activities can go unnoticed without attracting any attention before an imminent attack; however, this does not imply that lone wolves are not lethal, according to the current data.
According to records, the far-right movement extremists were responsible for the death of 42 law enforcement officers between 1990 and 2009. One such example is the case where Richard Poplawski shot dead three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009. The lone wolf is a white supremacist, as he had earlier posted anti-government messages on a racist website.
Counterterrorism experts have singled out prison facilities as some of the areas where potential radicalization is high; this is one of the issues that has continued to loom among international counterterrorism experts with questions on how best to fix the problem the major paradigm shift from the traditional external threats concerns. Prison radicalization scholars argue that spending time in jail is always the first step into radicalization. The argument behind this notion is the fact that prison is a controlled environment hosting disaffected people who, in one way or another, can become receptive to antisocial messages.
After some time in prison, prisoners often find themselves trying to gain some identity or a sense of belonging. “It is at this point that some of them could become susceptible to terrorist ideas in an attempt to establish links with like-minded people” (Jenkins, 2008). There are specific gangs in most prisons that advocate for radical ideologies that ultimately motivate domestic terrorism. Most of the doctrines by such groups create cohesion between the members-only that the end-game revolves around creating cartels and criminal enterprises in prison.
In the United States, several white supremacist gangs have thrived under the motivation of groups such as the racial skinheads and the National Socialist Party. An extremist group formed by prison members and with a national presence equal to the likes of the National Alliance is the Aryan Brotherhood. “According to the California Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Aryan Brotherhood has approximately 15,000 members spread across prisons in California” (Sauter & Carafano, 2011).
There are several issues that Congress can consider to contain the threat of domestic terrorism.
- Assessing the scope of the threat.
- Improving intelligence gathering on domestic terrorism.
- Assess how domestic terrorism fits in the current Government’s strategy in combating terrorism activities and radicalization.
Scoping the Threat.
This report points out that three policy factors make it more challenging to form a baseline evaluation of domestic terrorism in the United States. According to Freilich & Chermak, the reason for this is that different counterterrorism law enforcement agencies have varying terminologies regarding what a real terror threat is (2014). In addition to this, there is no clear way of describing groups that are involved in domestic terrorism. Whereas the Government has stepped up the war against local and international terrorism, there is still a lot to discover in terms of intelligence gathering and counterterrorism efforts.
Since the September 11 attack, there have been renewed efforts on intelligence gathering focused on international terrorist groups; however, domestic terrorist activities. According to Lafree & Dugan, worse still, domestic terrorism is not a feature in the Director of National Intelligence’s National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF) (2007). The counterterrorism security agencies should be more pragmatic regarding how to handle domestic terrorism cases. Since there is no standard strategy applied by investigators at both the state and local levels, Congress might opt to analyze how intelligence is gathered and suggest proposals meant to harmonize the entire process, the lowest level, and the overall counterterrorism strategy in the United States.
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