1. Domestic terrorism in the US.

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  • Author Dr. Mustapha Kulungu
  • Published March 31, 2021
  • Word count 2,857

Domestic Terrorism in the United States

Mustapha Kulungu, Ph.D.

ILM Foundation Institute of Los Angeles


Domestic terrorism involves violence against the civilian population or infrastructure of a nation- often, but not always, by citizens of that nation. The main agenda behind this is to intimidate, coerce, or influence national policy. There is a need to explore and understand domestic terrorism in the United States, including various organizations and anti-government extremists. It is noted that there is increased political extremist groups in the United States. However, in the 21st century, technological tools have affected domestic extremism recruitment. A July document from the FBI estimated that there were roughly 15,000 websites and web forums that support terrorist activities. Around 10000 of them maintained plots, and attacks by foreign-inspired homegrown violent jihadists have earned more media attention. The US government reacted significantly, enhancing its counter-terrorism efforts.

My analysis of the level of extremism in the United States and future trends and threats as it relates to domestic extremist groups

Extremism is primarily used in a religious and political sense to refer to an ideology that is considered to be far outside the mainstream attitudes of a society. FBI’s public formulation of extremism suggests two components. First, extremism involves having a particular ideology. Second, it also includes a criminal activity to advance these ideologies. A few issues make it hard to grasp the breadth of domestic terrorism activity in the US. First, counting the number of terrorist plots, in general, has been difficult. Second, there may be ambiguity in the investigative process regarding exactly when the criminal activity becomes domestic terrorism. Third, the federal government appears to use the terms 'terrorist' and 'extremist' interchangeably when referring to domestic terrorism (Doosje et al., 2013). Finally, and most importantly, which specific groups are and should be considered domestic terrorist organizations? The US government does not provide a public answer to this question. Instead, the federal government defines the issue in terms of "threats," not groups.

Recent studies, investigative reports, and intelligence products show that non-Islamic domestic terrorist groups, militias, and sovereign citizens may pose a more significant threat than the Islamic extremist groups. A January 2009 I&A report states that left-wing extremism activities, particularly cybercrimes, will increase over the next decade. Also, a report from April 2009 on domestic right-wing warns of increasing recruitment and radicalization. The second group is the Violent Domestic Islamic Extremists are a growing threat –foreign fighters train and recruit Americans to fight for their cause either overseas against fellow Americans or by returning home and continuing their terrorist activities. It is estimated that 100-200 American individuals travel to Iraq and Syria to join a dissident organization. The third group, Active shooters and lone wolf offenders, most successful and most feared as the standard method of attack is the use of firearms.

Domestic terrorist strategies incline to prefer strikes that evade active countermeasures and capitalize on the weaknesses. The strategies chosen by domestic terrorists have become more deadly gradually, a drift that could linger for many years to come if nothing robust is done to counter it. Additionally, the Internet is a double-edged sword in the fight against terrorism because all terrorists have maximized its use for their advantage (Brennan et al., 2015). Consequently, social constructs and sentiment, and high-tech vicissitudes will meaningfully continue to impact the overall character of the domestic terrorist threat.

The existing research on domestic terrorist occurrence categories stipulates that ideology categorically plays a significant role in an offender's kind of attack. In the United States, right-wing domestic terrorists have commonly targeted those they believe as responsible for threats related to religious, political, or racial issues (Hewitt, 2003). Right-wing domestic terrorists have used various forms of attack that are likely perpetrating damage against individuals or locations that they common, including armed assaults, bombing/explosion attacks, and so on. In essence, the danger of domestic terrorism in the United States will result in augmented counterterrorism participation for all branches of government, from local, state to federal law enforcement, and every citizen to work together in eradicating the threat of religious extremism (Pratt, 2010).

In summary, the domestic terrorism situation in the United States is dynamic and encompasses far more threats and extremist groups than in the past. Combating the domestic terrorist is complex. Entities such as the federal government, Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Homeland security (DHS) should focus more on prevention, detection, investigation, interdiction, and mitigation of domestic terrorism in the United States.

What has contributed to the rise of political extremist groups in the United States? Why do individuals feel they are disenfranchised from their government?

Political extremists also referred to as either far-right terrorism or right-wing terrorism aims to overthrow governments and replace them with nationalist or fascist regimes. Far-right attacks include using simple to acquire, easy to use, and requires little preparation. Political extremist groups often take inspiration from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, although the groups frequently lack a rigid ideology. The number of terrorist attacks by far-right perpetrators rose over the past decade. It is growing more than quadruple from 2016. People feel disenfranchised from the government when the political voice is limited and experience economic precariousness (Doosje et al., 2013). The expression and mobilization of political views have been much facilitated by the extraordinary growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Estimated three-quarters of the world population, the United States included, now have access to 'right to information laws.

Several factors may have contributed to the growth of Far-right attacks. First and foremost, right-wing extremists are increasingly using the Internet and social media to issue propaganda statements and organizing travels to attend and other events, raise funds, recruit members to coordinate training (including combat training), and communicate with others. The Internet and social media provide an unpatrolled opportunity to reach a broader audience (Taylor et al., 2014). One Islamic State defector noted, "The media people are more important than the soldiers…" The Islamic State, other Salafi-jihadist organizations like al-Qaeda, have used social media to recruit.

Secondly, the proliferation of Lone wolves, like ISIS, has encouraged more supporters to carry out their US attacks. When individuals feel oppressed, and under economic pressure, they get disenfranchised. This feeling, either economically or socially disenfranchised, is the biggest recruiting tool for extremist groups (Jasko et al., 2017). When a generation spends more time alone than the previous cohort, they get eager for connection and meaning. This causes vulnerability to rhetoric that promises them a sense of belonging, purpose, and a way to contribute to a cause more significant and better than themselves. Third, right-wing extremism is increasingly traveling overseas to meet and exchange views with like-minded individuals. For example, several Rise Above Movement members (RAM) traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy to celebrate Adolf Hitler's birthday and meet with other members of the European white supremacist group (Gruenewald et al., 2013). These foreign connections provide US-based groups with an opportunity to improve their tactics, develop better counter-intelligence techniques, harden their extremist views, and broaden their global networks.

Why do individuals feel they are disenfranchised from their government? The feeling of being forgotten is just another means to convey Americans' entrenched suspicion about the federal government. There is growing frustration with politicians in Washington, and nearly every poll illustrates the resentment. Consequently, the federal government's doubt relates to the logic that politicians — liberals and conservatives — are incapable of working together by finding the middle ground on issues that matter to most of the working class of Americans (Horgan, 2008).

To sum up, stopping right-wing extremism will require a multi-pronged solution. The Us government should emphasize increased law enforcement solutions. Remind people what the core values of democracy are and what it means to live in an inclusive democracy — school programs and educational initiatives that increase empathy and cross-cultural understanding.

The radicalization process of individuals into extremist groups

McCauley and Moskalenko (2008) Radicalization, from the point of descriptive view, refers to the change in beliefs, feelings, and behaviors that justify intergroup violence and the demand for sacrifice in defending the group. Religious violence is violence motivated by, or in reaction to, religious precepts, texts, or doctrines of a target or attacker. Ranstorp (1996) found the extent to which people experience deprivation as individuals and as a group member predicts the radical belief system's determinants. One of these determinants is perceived injustice, which in this model indicates perceived societal disconnectedness, defined as a perception that an individual does not belong to society's mainstream, an idea that feeds violent attitudes.

Hogg and Adelman (2013) postulate that people are motivated to reduce self-uncertainty, specific feelings of uncertainty about their lives, future, and uncertainty about themselves and their identity. One way to solve this problem of self-uncertainty is group identification. Individuals use the groups that they are part of to define their self-concept. The radicalization process starts with an individual grievance that they have been personally wronged or victimized and seeks revenge for experiences (Triandis, 2008). They combine personal grievances with political grievances –an individual seeks to revenge or protect a group in response to political trends viewed as threatening that group. The slippery slope represents gradually after an individual engages in increasingly radical behavior as he/she integrates into a radical group or organization. Then joins the radical group, also known as the power of love: an individual joins a militant group due to the pull of romantic or comradely love and participates in the group's activities to sustain those relationships (Wikström et al., 2017).

Islamic religion all over the world has been alleged as the gravest architect of religious violence vis-à-vis terrorism. Therefore, Senghal (2003) suggests that Muslims continue to push their communities into medieval practices, and as such, they pose a challenge to communal harmony and perpetuate the backwardness of their community. Therefore, the clash of civilizations is being provoked by Islamists in many parts of the world. In this direction, Avolos (2005) asserts that religions cause religious terrorism or that religion creates an imagery supply of sacred resources over which human being contends.

Within the radical group, high-risk behavior, if successful, offers a pathway to status; this is known as the Risk and Status stage. Individuals are motivated to become radicalized based on an opportunity to increase their economic and social rank within the community. Extremist groups are offered compensatory employment, protection, and protection from local violence. The unfreezing stage, the final step: loss of social connection opens an individual to new ideas and a new identity, individuals may begin to associate with, unlike parties.

The relation between the various religions of the world has often been hostile. Hard to miss the news about conflicts between Jews and Muslims, between Muslims and Hindus. Islamic faith all over the world has been alleged as the gravest architect of religious violence vis-à-vis terrorism. Muslims continue to push their communities into medieval practices, and such, they pose a challenge to communal harmony. Therefore, the clash of civilizations is being provoked by Islamists. Christianity had had a fairer share of religious tensions in human history. Hence, Christians have persecuted Jews and fought wars against Muslims. Within Christianity, there have been internecine wars, mainly between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

To put it briefly, now having incriminated most of the world religions with the act of violence and terror, most people's opinion is that the contemporary facade of terror against humanity is essentially religious. However, to merely close, the matter at this point will violate the spirit of democracy in our time. Therefore, we turn our attention to the opinion of the minority or, instead, the unpopular argument.

How do 21st technology tools such as social media affect and impact domestic extremism recruitment, membership, and sustained impact?

Technology is the foundation of modern society, it governs its dynamics, and therefore, it is also expected that terrorism will benefit from it. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies worldwide are warning about possible terrorist attacks in the major cities. Cyberspace is an environment without boundaries, a privileged place where terrorists find resources, make propaganda activities, and from which it is possible to launch attacks against enemies everywhere in the world. The experts explained that in 1998, the number of websites containing terrorist material was twelve. In 2003, they counted 2,650 sites, and in September 2015, the total amount reached 9,800. The data leaves no doubts: the terrorist organizations are looking with increasing interest to the Internet.

A commonly voiced public concern is the process of internet/social media radicalization, which has emerged as a finding in some research (Aly, 2014; Haider, 2015). However, they also question why there is no more radicalization; if so, many people are introduced to radical ideas online. Brennan et al. (2015) find that internet radicalization is viable in conjunction with other factors, but not alone. Some have found that observing gory propaganda films online in a group leads to radicalization (MPAC, 2014; Bartlett & Miller, 2012)

The Internet offers simple access to the global stage; terrorists can reach the masses or targets specific groups of individuals. The use of the Internet is cheap –terrorists can arrange and carry out efficient propaganda campaigns without economic struggle, meaning with a very low budget (Taylor et al., 2014). The Internet, and generally speaking technology, could be exploited by terrorist organizations for several purposes, such as propaganda, recruitment, mobilization, fundraising, data mining, secure communication, cyber-attacks software distribution, buying fake documents, and training.

Groups like ISIS demonstrated a great mastery of the technology and an in-depth knowledge of communication techniques. New social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and media services such as YouTube are manipulated to send images of high emotional impact to specific audiences. The language they use is direct. The messages are accessible even to the young generation. This aims to influence their think and choose to be new members of the groups. On the Internet, it is possible to find any training material, including manuals to prepare chemical weapons and bombs (Lake, 2002). Experts have also discovered documents containing the instructions for kidnappings and techniques of torture. Once again, the technology assumes a crucial role for terrorists that also share manuals for optimizing the use of social media and communication platforms, avoiding monitoring operated by Intelligence agencies.

Experts from the Ghost Security Group discovered a new Android App for encrypted communication that integrates other mobile applications specifically developed to share propaganda content and recruiting material (Ghosh et al., 2009). In many cases, the members of groups of terrorists also use a mobile app available on the market and implement end-to-end encryption, including simplified messaging chats like Telegram or Signal. ISIS is trying to recruit hackers and experts to involve them in their hacking campaigns.


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My Short Bio

Dr. Mustapha Kulungu is the Principal Researcher at the ILM Foundation Institute of Los Angeles, California. He graduated from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, California.

He has previously published with Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses (CTTA), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.

Also, he frequently publishes with Eurasia News and Analysis on various subjects.

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