domestic terrorism

Report: Domestic Terrorism Is Still a Greater Threat Than Islamic Extremism

The Tree of Life Synagogue, where a far-right domestic terrorist killed 11 people in 2018. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

For the past several years, reports have indicated that domestic terrorists — specifically acts of mass violence by white men — are a far greater threat than actions perpetrated by Islamic extremists. According to the Washington Post, the trend continues: Internal FBI figures reviewed by the paper show more domestic terror suspects were arrested in 2018 than “those allegedly inspired by international terror groups.”

According to FBI data, 150 Americans were arrested for planning to engage in acts of domestic terrorism in 2017, compared to 110 international suspects; in 2018, the ratio was 120 to 100. An FBI official claims that the decrease in the arrests of potential terrorists inspired by ISIS or Al-Qaeda in 2018 can be attributed to a growing number of Americans attempting to join the Islamic State abroad.

The bureau investigates thousands of Americans for charges related to terrorism every year, though, as the Post notes, the public only is aware of dozens of the high-profile suspects charged with violent crimes, or the plans to carry them out. “Sometimes, it’s the violence that motivates someone more than any particular ideology,” an FBI official told the Post. It’s a theory that certainly applies to the most recent high-profile case of domestic terror: Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson, who was arrested for stockpiling weapons for a domestic terror plot targeting journalists and politicians, including Chris Hayes, Ilhan Omar, and much of the 2020 Democratic field. “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the Earth,” Hasson allegedly wrote.

Most alleged terrorists don’t actually face terrorism charges — rather, like Hasson, they’re arrested for relatively minor drug and gun charges, including the use of firearm silencers and possession of a controlled substance. Like a mob figure charged on a RICO predicate, it’s much easier to prosecute a gun charge or a federal hate-crime statute than to convict on an official charge of terrorism. Notoriously, there is no federal crime for domestic terrorism.

The rise in domestic terrorism — as profiled in a captivating New York Times Magazine report from 2018 — is largely driven by an uptick in far-right extremism. Of the 263 acts of domestic terrorism that occurred between 2010 and the end of 2017, 92, around a third, were committed by Americans on the far right. “If you have politicians saying things like our nation is under attack, that there are these marauding bands of immigrants coming into the country, that plays into this right-wing narrative,” Gary LaFree, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, told the Post. “They begin to think it’s okay to use violence.”

With the increase in right-wing terrorism has also come an increase in hate crimes: FBI statistics show that these acts have been growing for the past three years. Anti-Semitic attacks are driving the increase of hate crimes in New York City, which, in February, were up 72 percent compared to that month last year.

Domestic Terror Still Greater Threat Than Islamic Extremism