Homegrown Extremism after 9/11
Sources of Violence
Posted: August 26, 2011
With a population of over 310 million people, the United States has a number of fringe ideological, religious and social movements whose followers may be motivated to take violent action. During the past ten years, four extreme movements have contributed the most to domestic terrorism and criminal extremism:
- White Supremacists. The oldest source of domestic terrorism in the United States, white supremacists remain one of its mostly deadly, with adherents committing violent crimes ranging from hate crimes to major terrorist plots. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, white supremacist movements had receded from a six-year resurgence in the mid-to-late 1990s that had resulted in a spate of terrorist acts and conspiracies. During the 2000s, white supremacist terrorist acts tended to be narrower in focus and smaller in scope, such as pipe-bombs and letter-bombs. From 2008 onwards, however, white supremacists have experienced a resurgence that, while not matching its 1990s counterpart, has nevertheless resulted in increased acts of violence, especially shootings.
- Anti-Government Extremists. Even more so than white supremacists, anti-government extremists (especially the militia and sovereign citizen movements) have experienced a major uptick in both activity and numbers since 2008, a resurgence that has caused problems across the country, including lethal shootings and major plots to kill law enforcement officers and judges. The sovereign citizen movement, which does not acknowledge the legitimacy or authority of the government at all, has experienced the most growth and is causing the most problems in 2011.
- Domestic Muslim Extremists. In the past decade, domestic Muslim extremists have emerged as a significant terror threat, engaging in a number of major conspiracies and several lethal shooting incidents. As a movement, they are not fully formed, responding more to external influences (such as Yemen-based cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki) than to homegrown ones. They also constitute a textbook example of what terrorism analysts describe as a "high intent, low capability" threat. Most conspiracies emerging from this movement over the past decade were uncovered and broken up by law enforcement, often through "sting" operations, long before they could be carried out to fruition. However, were the movement's tactics to change, it could become more deadly.
- Environmental/Animal Rights Extremists. The extreme wings of the broader environmental and animal rights movements have perpetrated many violent acts during the 2000s, primarily through fire-bombings and arsons, some of which have caused millions of dollars of damage. Such was the frequency of the attacks—and the inability of law enforcement to find their perpetrators—that the FBI in 2005 declared them the nation's top domestic terror threat. Adherents traditionally abstained from attacking people, as opposed to property, rendering them less dangerous than the other extremist movements discussed here. Increasingly, however, scientists and others perceived as responsible for the mistreatment of animals or the environment are viewed by the movement as legitimate targets. Recent campaigns have been marked by militant rhetoric and, at times, acts of intimidation and violence deliberately targeting individuals. Nevertheless, major attacks are infrequent, no one has yet been seriously harmed as a result of crimes carried out in the name of animal and environmental protection, and investigations by authorities have led to a number of significant arrests and incarcerations in recent years.