United States Domestic Terrorism
Terrorism is a tactic, " … to coerce or intimidate governments or societies to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives", while an insurgency is an organized para-military movement aimed at the overthrow of a constitutional government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. Within insurgency, terrorism one of many tactical tools.
Terrorism is frequently the first stage of an insurgency, but an actual insurgency would consist of larger scale operations against government forces. Most terrorist groups do not survive past their first few years of existence. All terrorist groups face a constant existential threat: discovery of their activities, personnel, and plans by government law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Pot-boilers are irritants, low-level attacks where the aim is to cause inconvenience and aggravation as a niggling reminder to the psychological target or targets that the terrorists are a problem which will not go away until they have got what they want. The aim of irritants is to keep up a constant minimum level of aggravation and inconvenience. Spectaculars are attacks intended to cause serious damage and distress.
Between 1970 and 2010, there had been over 1300 terrorist attacks in the United States — an average of more than 36 attacks per year between 1970 and 2007. Prior to the Oklahoma City attack in 1995, the United States experienced an average of 48 attacks per year, ranging from aerial hijackings to political assassinations to attacks on religious facilities; since 1995, the average number of terrorist attacks in the United States has declined to 19 incidents per year.
Of this total number of attacks on US soil, 9.5% resulted in at least one fatality. Terrorism in the United States resulted in 3340 fatalities (2994 of which occurred on September 11, 2001), in addition to more than 2000 injured since 1970. Before 1995, the United States averaged more than 4 fatal terrorist attacks per year. Since Oklahoma City, the United States averaged 2 fatal attacks per year.
In the immediate aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attack, some warned that if only five percent of US Muslims supported al-Qai'da, the group would have 100,000 sympathizers in the US. This would imply America faced a domestic Jihadist insurgency, with seekers of martyrdom hopping out of man-hole covers across the country. This did not happen.
Those who spawn and foster terrorist activities are becoming increasingly sophisticated in obtaining and transferring financial support and in planning future terrorist attacks. Despite the continued use of conventional weapons by terrorists, the possibility exists that unconventional weapons of a chemical, biological or nuclear nature could be employed in future attacks with devastating results on citizens, police, and emergency “first responders.”
The terrorism threat has evolved from one defined by complex, large-scale attacks directed by foreign terrorist groups to mostly self-initiated attacks by homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) using relatively simple tactics.
Since 9/11, there have been 28 Sunni violent extremist attacks in the United States yet only three were directed by a foreign terrorist organization, underscoring that these groups continue to be able to target and radicalize vulnerable members in American communities. Groups like ISIS continue to use social media and online platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter to post terrorist propaganda to project their radical narratives for Western audiences. These groups also use encrypted messaging applications to skirt intelligence and law enforcement monitoring efforts, and to disseminate English-language propaganda and tactical directions for choosing targets and carrying out attacks.
While the HVE threat remains a top priority for intelligence and law enforcement communities, they must not lose sight of the heightened threat posed by violent domestic terrorism extremists. The current political climate has brought many violent extremists out to participate in, co-opt, and counter-protest at politically-motivated rallies throughout the United States.
Lone actors and small cells within the white supremacist extremist movement are likely to continue to pose a threat of lethal violence . The often spontaneous and opportunistic nature of these particular acts of violence challenges prevention efforts. The threats posed by domestic and international terrorist actors remain persistent, yet they continue to evolve over time.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|