Thomas A. Salisbury
Survey of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
Professor Erick Stone
January 22, 2012
Domestic Terrorism in the United States
Domestic terrorism is a real threat to this country. This type of attack is nothing new to this country but until the threat of international terrorism became prominent, there was not a large focus on domestic terrorism. With a look at history, domestic terrorists are a greater threat to security than international terrorists. Some of these threats are easily preventable and others are more difficult to see coming. The Department of Homeland Security needs to focus on domestic terrorist threats with the same effort as they do for international threats. The official definition of terrorism according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation is “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social goals”. (Smith, 1994 p6). This definition guides how the FBI takes defines possible terrorist organizations and takes action against them.
Terrorists may be left or right wing, from any religious background or any race. This is what makes identifying these groups of people very difficult. While law enforcement would like to say that a typical terrorist is a young, affluent, white male, for example, it is impossible to make that distinction. There is no profile that would fit terrorists in their entirety. It is possible for a terrorist from a certain group to fit a certain profile. A white supremacist group would have a certain type of person as a member. A black militant group would have a totally different type of person. With this being the case, it is important to identify the group of people rather than the individual. Some groups focus on a single issue such as anti-nuclear power or anti-fur trade while others call for greater changes in politics or ideology. A single, lone terrorist or small cell is the most difficult to detect and stop.
In the history of this country, there have been numerous cases of domestic terrorism. Most people were unfamiliar with domestic terrorism until the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. This is because most cases of domestic terrorism do not involve such a large loss of life. In many cases, the loss was financial and casualties were low, if any at all. Animal-rights groups have targeted fur dealers by setting fires in vehicles and buildings to destroy these businesses. The Ku Klux Klan may have killed people but the tended to do so one at a time. This does not create as much of a media buzz as a bombing that kills dozens. By doing this, some of these groups may stay out of the spotlight but in reality, they are more deadly than a single bomber.
When unions were forming early in the twentieth century, there were incidences of terrorism on both sides. Strikers were attacked and factories were sabotaged. Some of these incidents resulted in the loss of life and almost all involved financial losses. Sometimes, these conflicts are taking place today. Political change is the aim of some of these groups. Communist organizations wanted to make the United States a Marxist country. Organizations also united under a common cause such as in 1981 when the Weather Underground (WU), the Black Liberation Army (BLA) and the Black Panther party united to form the May 19th Communist Organization (M19CO). (Smith, 1994). This group robbed armored cars to fund operations that resulted in the deaths of security officers. A crime that is in the headlines may actually be a terrorist attack used to gain money. Law enforcement must investigate fully to find out why the crime took place.
A look back in history may show that terrorists were active even during the Revolution. The Boston Tea Party was staged by colonists who were protesting taxes imposed by the English. (Les Benedict,...