From Puerto Rican separatists who planted a bomb at the U.S. Capitol during the 1970s, to the Unabomber's mail bomb campaign of the 1980s; from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, to the fatal shootings of three police officers by a white supremacist in 2009, the United States is not immune to violent acts of domestic extremism.
Despite hundreds of domestic terrorist attacks within the past 30 years, U.S. counterterrorism efforts have been overwhelmingly focused on the transnational terrorist threat. U.S. authorities, however, have not fully recognized that violent extremism in the Homeland also poses a formidable threat to the U.S. that should not be ignored.
Unlike traditional acts of transnational terrorism such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks, domestic terrorism does not emanate from organized groups like al-Qaeda. Violent extremists in the U.S. utilize the terrorist tactics of leaderless resistance, small cells and lone offenders - something transnational groups are only beginning to understand. This makes domestic terrorism a formidable, unique threat - as potential terrorists are often difficult to detect and disrupt. They are often well-armed, well-trained and highly capable of committing deadly attacks.
Extremist ideology is the "life blood" of terrorist movements throughout the world and this is no different for domestic terrorism. U.S. efforts to combat terrorism have traditionally relied heavily on military operations and law enforcement and intelligence intervention. However, many counter-terrorism strategists mistakenly believe that fighting terrorism is limited to using bombs and bullets. They fail to recognize that terrorism is also a "war of ideas". U.S. officials have finally accepted this counter-terrorism strategy in fighting transnational Islamic extremism. Few, however, recognize that this counter-terrorism strategy also applies to the fight against domestic extremism. One particularly effective strategy for combating this "war of ideas" is counter-messaging.
The Internet, with its significant role in developed countries and global outreach, provides anyone (including extremists) with an instantaneous, far reaching platform to voice opinions and share ideas. Those who oppose extremism must also use the Internet to their advantage. Remaining silent allows extremism to grow and spread. Extremist ideology drives violent criminal behavior and terrorist recruitment. Countering their ideology is critical to providing an effective response as well as winning back the hearts and minds of would-be terrorists and potential violent criminals. Here are a few suggestions about how you can get involved: (1) educate yourself on extremism; (2) identify extremists in your area; (3) voice your opinion and views; (4) refute conspiracy theories; (5) challenge hateful speech; (6) remain vigilant to possible threats; (7) report suspicious activity; (8) take threatening behavior seriously, report it; (9) help another person in need; or, (10) befriend your neighbors.