By Danny R. Johnson
WASHINGTON – -Law enforcement officials and social scientists all agree that the threat of domestic terrorist attacks in the United States similar to the July 22 fatal bombing and assault in Norway is a sign that homegrown terrorists are active and growing.
San Diego County News’ research and investigation concludes that while extremist environmental groups also pose threats, those groups either have not tended to seek to kill or have only targeted individuals, according to law enforcement officials. However, extremist right-wingers — from Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to Kevin William Harpham, a neo-Nazi accused of trying to bomb a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade in Washington State in January — have shown a willingness to target the public.
Gary LaFree, director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, stated in an interview his belief that the greatest threat of large-scale attacks come from individuals and small groups of extremists who subscribe to radical Islamic or far right-wing ideologies.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Montgomery, AL, such groups are among the fastest-growing extremist organizations in the country. In a report released earlier this year, the center stated that right wing anti-government groups grew by 60% in 2010 over 2009, and they attribute much of the growth to mostly white dominated militia groups.
Anders B. Breivik, 32, the suspect in the Oslo, Norway bombings and massacre that killed 76 people, published papers on the Internet stressing “unity over diversity” and calling for a violent response to a policy of multiculturalism that he said was destroying European society.
“Despite the rise of anti-government militia groups and the sovereign citizen movement, whose adherents say they are not subject to U.S. taxation or law, highly organized white supremacist groups have suffered setbacks in recent years with some of the movement’s leaders imprisoned and others stripped of their resources by civil lawsuits,” said former CIA agent and terrorism consultant, Marc Sageman.
Sageman went on to say – “But as Terry Nichols and McVeigh showed in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in which 168 men, women, and children died, it doesn’t take a large group to pull off a devastating attack.”
Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, said most adherents to extremist ideologies are harmless. “Most of them are not going to do anything but rant and complain to anyone who will listen about the injustices that white people are experiencing,” he said.
Nevertheless, Levin sees a divisive political climate, often coupled with personal disappointments and a personality receptive to extreme views, can help turn believers into lethal terrorists willing to use violence to further their ideological beliefs. Levin added that he believes the greatest threat is not from large organized groups, but rather individuals or small cells.
Sageman stated that the “tragedy of the scores of Norwegians murdered can only be mitigated, however slightly, if we attempt to understand the fueling of people, including lone wolf domestic terrorists, though Breivik may have had accomplices, because it is never just them in the picture.”
Terrorists groups come from all races and nationalities
Under current United States law, set forth in the USA PATRIOT ACT, acts of domestic terrorism are those which: “(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
There are over a thousand or more antigovernment and militia groups, which have been labeled as terrorist organizations by law enforcement officials. Beside the white supremacy groups, there are Jewish groups who have been classified as terrorist organizations. One such group is the Jewish Defense League.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Defense League (JDL) was founded in 1969 by Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York City; with its declared purpose is the protection of Jews from harassment and anti-Semitism.
In a 2004 Congressional testimony, John S. Pistole, Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), described the JDL as “a known violent extremist Jewish Organization.” FBI statistics show that, from 1980 through 1985, there were 18 terrorist attacks in the U.S. committed by Jews; 15 of those by members of the JDL. Mary Doran, an FBI agent, described the JDL in the 2004 Congressional testimony as “a proscribed terrorist group”. Most recently, then-JDL Chairman Irv Rubin was jailed while awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy in planning bomb attacks against the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, CA, and on the office of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa.
The Black Liberation Army (BLA) is another group labeled as a terrorist organization by law enforcement officials. BLA is a splinter group made up of the more radical members of the Black Panther Party. BLA sought to overthrow the U.S. government in the name of racial separatism and Marxist ideals. The Fraternal Order of the Police blames the BLA for the murders of 13 police officers. According to a Justice Department report on BLA activity, the group was suspected of involvement in over 60 incidents of violence between 1970 and 1980.
To illustrate how difficult it is to identify who is a potential terrorist – take the case of a white AWOL U.S. soldier, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo. Pfc. Abdo was facing a court-martial and went AWOL. Authorities discovered that he was planning to detonate bombs sometime on July 28, 2011, outside the U.S. military base at Fort Hood, Texas where a gunman killed 13 people in 2009.
Killeen, Texas, police arrested Pfc. Abdo, 21, of Garland, Texas, on July 27, at a motel near Fort Hood, Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said . He was arrested without incident and was being questioned at the Killeen City Jail by police, the FBI and Fort Hood investigators.
Pfc. Abdosaid his mother is Christian and his father is Muslim, and that he decided to follow Islam when he was 17.
Americans must be vigilance in the fight against domestic terrorists
The threat from Islamic terrorism tends to get the lion’s share of media coverage, not to mention law enforcement attention, said Mark Potok, an expert on the American radical right and the director of the Intelligence Project of the SPLC.
“The sense that society is falling apart because of foreign influence is often a lure to people who become members of extremist groups, no matter where those groups fall on the political or religious spectrum,” Potok said.
“The notion that the political bonds that used to hold us together are falling apart will cause people to opt out,” he said.
Potok said in a July 27, 2011, article in The New York Times, that nationally, law enforcement has been focused since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 on the threat of Islamic terrorism, even as the threat from domestic anti-government groups has been growing.
“Some people believe we have taken our eye off the ball when it comes to domestic right-wing extremists,” Potok said.
In addition, some efforts to combat the problem have been controversial. For instance, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was forced to apologize in April 2009 after releasing to the public an Intelligence Assessment Review (IR) titled, Rightwing Extremism Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. The report surfaced warning law enforcement of the possibility that veterans returning from combat were susceptible to being radicalized by right-wing groups.
Some key excerpts from the April 2009 original report, which has been pull by DHS, but is still available on the Internet, listed the following intelligence assessments:
1. “…A recent example of the potential violence associated with a rise in rightwing extremism may be found in the shooting deaths of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 4 April 2009. The alleged gunman’s reaction reportedly was influenced by his racist ideology and belief in antigovernment conspiracy theories related to gun confiscations, citizen detention camps, and a Jewish-controlled “one world government.”
2. “…Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures. Anti-Semitic extremists attribute these losses to a deliberate conspiracy conducted by a cabal of Jewish “financial elites.” These “accusatory” tactics are employed to draw new recruits into rightwing extremist groups and further radicalize those already subscribing to extremist beliefs. DHS/I&A assesses this trend is likely to accelerate if the economy is perceived to worse.”
3. “…DHS/I&A assesses that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. These skills and knowledge have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists—including lone wolves or small terrorist cells—to carry out violence. The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today.”
State police agencies polled by START researchers in 2008 overwhelmingly reported the presence of potentially dangerous extremist groups across the political spectrum, with nearly 90% saying neo-Nazi, skinhead, militia groups and other right-wing groups were present in their state. About two-thirds reported radical Islamic groups.
However, they tended to rank Islamic terrorists as the greatest concern ahead of right wing groups in terms of the threat posed, LaFree stated.
“I think there’s a little bit of perceptual bias there,” LaFree observed.
Potok agrees with LaFree’s assessment: “Norway’s Oklahoma City came last week, when a man who saw himself as a contemporary Christian knight defending Europe against a new Muslim onslaught slaughtered 76 people, most of them young people attending an island youth camp”.
“After the Oklahoma tragedy, many commentators, reacting to the horror of the attack, predicted that right-wing antigovernment violence would decrease as dissidents found less bloody ways to register their protests. They were wrong,” Potok explained.
SPLC stresses that although the antigovernment “patriot” or “militia” movement did wane in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has roared back from 149 groups in 2008 to 824 in 2010, even as the number of hate groups reached more than 1000 for the first time since SPLC began counting them in the 1980s.
“It might be comforting to describe the Norwegian mass murder as the act of a madman or a lone wolf, an aberration in a largely peaceful society that surely will not be repeated, commented Potok, “But the experience of America and the radical right suggests otherwise.”
Danny R. Johnson is San Diego County News’ Washington, DC based National News Correspondent.