I remember years ago, my wife and I had been roaming across the southern tier of Canada when we decided to go home, We were on a backroad in the middle of nowhere heading south when on the right hand side of the road up popped a large sign indicating that we were about to leave Canada. I looked for a Mountie or Canadian border patrol but there were none. Then, within seconds, there was a large sign on the left hand side of the road sitting next to what looked like a super large telephone booth. The sign read that I was about to enter the U.S. and that I should use the telephone in the booth to announce my presence. No one was present to make sure I used the phone. I had a cousin that lived in Vermont whose bedroom was in the U.S. but her living room was in Canada. That is not uncommon. If you want to enter the U.S. you need not present yourself at a ladder at the President’s wall or any official entry point in the South nor need you try to swim the Rio Grande River. The immigrant/security problem in the south today is that the poorest of the poor are crossing the immigration bridge not the terrorist. The terrorist and budding terrorist are not having that much trouble, for the truth be it told, many of them are already here. The Domestic Terrorist living next door to you. This is unsettling because for two successive sessions of Congress, a bill has been introduced by Senator Dick Dubin–called the Domestic Terrorism Prevention act of 2020, to authorize dedicated domestic terrorism offices within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to analyze and monitor domestic terrorist activity and require the Federal Government to take steps to prevent domestic terrorism. It remains mired in politics.
If you look internationally, the marvelous information site Memri, founded by my old friend Yiagl Carmon, reported that the Hizbullah Brigades issued a communique that read: “America, the first country of terrorism in the world, still violates the sovereignty of Iraq, demeans its dignity, and belittles its people and national [political] powers.” The Hizbulla statement said the group will continue “to pursue the path of resistance to humiliate America, its proxies and supporters,” pledging “not to allow the American occupation to stay in the land of the sacred sites as long as we [the Hizbullah Brigades] are alive.” That threat has not reached our shores. According to the Washington Post terrorist violence is escalating across a broad portion of West Africa. The Pentagon announced it forces have been pushed into the defensive, while France has dispatched more troops and asked its European allies for help. That threat has not reached our shores. The threat posed by returning foreign ISIS fighters to their countries of origin has been lower than anticipated, but there is still a significant number of militants unaccounted for. The question remains of what will happen to Islamic State members being held in detention camps throughout northeast Syria and elsewhere. Note all these conditions –the threats and activates do not indicate any threat in the lower 48 states. The threat we face today is from the domestic terrorist.
As I started to type this commentary, I read of those on the extreme left (yes, the left) who have entered the presidential political battle with threats of physical violence against those who don’t accept their ideology. As noted by my son-in-law we have advanced to a form of “ideological terrorism”– not fact based. I have stopped (sort of) noting my political thoughts on Facebook because of the remarks that have been left in response. What caught my attention was a bold, unsettling headline in the New York Times that read: U.S. Faces Thorny Task: Halting Domestic Terrorists As They Outpace Jihadists.
What seems to becoming a more and more accurate statement is that homegrown extremists or domestic terrorism has become pervasive throughout the United States. A regional office of Homeland Security reported that the domestic terrorist, especially the white supremacist, ranks the highest on their threat level while those from across the oceans rank the lowest of threat levels. Bidget Johnson noted in her article that “as of late America has bled more from the growing menace of domestic extremism.” And Brian Levin, from California State University testified before Congress that “more people were murdered domestically in 2019 by a handful of white supremacists than all of those killed in the whole calendar year 2018 in every extremist homicide event.”
Suzanne Gamboa of NBC news reviewed a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that found an increase in the number of white nationalist groups in the United States for the second straight year. The report, she reviewed, tracked the actions of the white nationalism movement, the white supremacy and hates groups and reported that there were 155 white nationalist groups in the U.S. last year, up from 148 in 2018. That is an immense 55 percent increase since 2017.
These groups have a common grievance—ethnic displacement, race mixing and their defining the immigrants as the invaders. Their overriding theme is that there is a demographic change in the U.S. and a white genocide is in progress. I came across a new word that I had not encountered before –“accelerationists”. It describes those who have come to believe that violence is the only instrument that can confront our common enemy — our “increasingly pluralistic, democratic governments.”
Surprisingly, during the increase in white nationalist groups, there was a dip in the number of hate groups from 1,020 to 940 last year, largely due to a collapse in the number of Neo Nazi groups and a decline in the Ku Klux Klan, Christian identity and neo-Confederate groups, reported SPLC senior researcher Howard Graves. But Mr. Graves notes that decline in the numbers of those groups and been substituted with a broader acceptance of white nationalist ideas under President Donald Trump’s administration. The FBI reported that 1 in 5 crimes were motivated by anti-LGBTO bias. And that number appears to be increasing.
The exacerbated problems we face from domestic terrorism was noted in an article by Matt Zapotosky “The Justice Department inspector general chided the FBI for failing to fully address weaknesses in how it assesses possible homegrown terrorists” More than 20 homegrown terrorist attacks in the United States have created havoc since Sept. 11, 2001. Several of those terrorists involved had been previously evaluated by the bureau as a potential threat but not fully investigated. In a 41 page report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote “that while the Bureau seemed to recognize its failings, it had “not taken sufficient action” to fix the problems. Of special concern are those areas in which officials have been attempting to improve their rate of successes at interdiction after several attacks by suspects previously known to law enforcement. The DHS reported “in addition to mainstream social media platforms, white supremacist violent extremists use lesser-known sites like Gab, 8chan, and EndChan, as well as encrypted channels” to expand and increase the intensity of their hate or broadcast their intents, such as we all read when Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers posted on line: “I’m going in” before his deadly attack.
But the white supremacist is not the only group on the FBI radar screen. In preparing this commentary, my targeting the white supremacist and domestic terrorism moments, I came across those misogynistic men who identify themselves as part of the “Involuntary Celibate” (Incel). “Incel” means “involuntary celibate,” referring to online misogynists who blame women for denying them sex. They, surprisingly to me, are not a new movement.— there was Elliot Rodger, who stabbed and shot to death six in 2014 in California before killing himself leaving us his self-styled “manifesto”, the “ incels bible”, describing his hatred of women and incomprehension at their refusing him sex. The Texas Department of Public Safety assessment of terrorism in 2020 included a warning of the Intels. “Once viewed as a criminal threat by many law enforcement authorities, Incels are now seen as a growing domestic terrorism concern due to the ideological nature of their recent attacks internationally, nationwide, and in Texas” of all places.
What presents itself to those who follow the terrorist world, is the realization that there is an enormous leap in attempting to understand the scope and enormity of the terrorist movements. It is not just the usual actors but those many other groups that have been flying under our usual radar screen. It is important to be able to distinguish between foreign and domestic terrorism and where they overlap. Horowitz wrote that an internal FBI document said the bureau had a “fundamentally incomplete understanding” of the threat posed by such extremists, and that deciphering whether suspects are merely consuming terrorist propaganda or planning an attack “is extremely complex.” He noted, that some FBI field offices “may not be fully aware of the investigative tools and techniques that can be used to thoroughly investigate counterterrorism assessment subjects.” That is upsetting.
A historical footnote: twenty-five years ago this month, Japanese terrorist attacked the Tokyo subway system with the extremely deadly saran gas. Many were killed, many more injured. The Japanese government at the time called it “urban terrorism”. The only thing that has changed in the ensuing years has been the title of the type of terrorism. In the process of defending us from any terrorist act, recognizing that the domestic terrorist is the most difficult to spot, we come down to the methods to be employed for interdiction. Solving a terrorist act after its commission is fairly simple but understanding the damage is irreversible–it’s been inflicted. To be able to foil the attack is, whatever the congratulatory headline, the prime goal. With this axiom we must employ the most effective tools at our disposal. At this moment the state and federal governments are imposing conditions limiting our movements in order to combat the coronavirus. None of us (with the very rare exception of those without an ounce of logic) are thinking that these rules are impinging upon their civil rights. None of us are claiming that these rules are a slippery slope to more stringent draconian measures. The prayer is: save me, protect me and my family, and friends. We don’t seem to take the same position when it comes to domestic terrorism and its deadly consequences.