You can’t handle the truth about terror
ANOTHER homegrown attack involving an American killing other Americans. This comes at a time when police officers are being killed, government properties occupied, and immigrants threatened. And the response is predictable. We are fixated on a foreign threat instead of the diverse ideologies breathing life into their adherents, and we ignore the fact that American citizens have committed 80% of the terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11.
Before the tragic massacre in Orlando, Democratic Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, and Bennie G. Thompson had scheduled an informal hearing to occur just days later about on the dangers of extremism on public lands. The session co-sponsored by the House Natural Resources and Homeland Security committees was meant to highlight the increasing frequency of attacks on federal land management officials and events like the armed 41day siege of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Research and reports on anti-government movements have documented trends and forecast events. However, they have been all but ignored and even rebuffed. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that white supremacist and violent anti-government groups, leveraging the real estate environment, unemployment, and the election of the first African American president, could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past. Amid an aggressive political attack on the report from the right, the DHS report was withdrawn.
Among other elements, the DHS report described the Sovereign Citizens, a movement based on conspiratorial beliefs about the legitimacy of the founding of the United States. The report contained valuable law enforcement training information useful for officer safety. Unfortunately, the report never reached West Memphis, where Arkansas officers Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans were killed by sovereigns during a traffic stop. Over the past decade, officers died in the line of duty at a rate of one every 59 hours, and many of those murders were precipitated by a violent ideology.
In a 2015 survey of state and local law enforcement, the threat from anti-government extremists ranked higher than the threat from radicalised Muslims. In fact 74% of 382 law enforcement agencies rated anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction. By comparison, 39% listed Muslim terrorist organisations as a top-3 terrorist threat.
The congressional forum shed a light on 998 active extreme anti-government groups in 2015, as compared to the last high of 858 groups in 1996, the year after the Oklahoma City bombings committed by Timothy McVeigh. Coincidentally, 2015 was also the deadliest year for domestic terror attacks in America since McVeigh’s attack. While we remain concerned about the Islamic State group and sleepers who would enter America as immigrants, a 2015 report of the domestic extremist-related killings in the US by perpetrator affiliation revealed 38% white supremacy, 37% domestic Islamic extremism, 19% anti-government extremism and 6% anti-abortion extremism.
In the bombings of the Boston Marathon by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the San Bernardino massacre by Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, and now the Orlando massacre by Omar Mateen, the attackers had no foreign fighter training, experience, or direction. These are considered Muslim-inspired attacks, yet facts regarding Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s anti-government conspiratorial beliefs and Holocaust denial, for example are rarely mentioned, further demonstrating the complexity of radicalisation.
Little could we know that a man born on Long Island would enter a nightclub in Orlando and come close to matching the domestic terror death toll for an entire year in one night. As we continue to focus on the threat of ISIS and its alleged nexus to immigration and concern regarding returning foreign fighters, perhaps recent events would suggest otherwise. The cold hard truth is that America has a homegrown terrorism problem, and holding up a mirror to our country offers a sobering notion of who tomorrow’s suspects may be. Without data, you are just another person with an opinion. The writer is a former FBI Special Agent and Director of Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy.