The Domestic Terrorist Threat: Background and Issues for CongressCongressional Research Service
The emphasis of counterterrorism policy in the United States since Al Qaeda’s attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11) has been on jihadist terrorism. However, in the last decade, domesticterrorists—
commit crimes within the homeland and draw inspiration from U.S.-based extremist ideologies and movements
—have killed American citizens and damaged property acrossthe country. Not all of these criminals have been prosecuted under terrorism statutes. This latter point is not meant to imply that domestic terrorists should be taken any less seriously thanother terrorists.The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) do not officiallylist domestic terrorist organizations, but they have openly delineated domestic terrorist “threats.”These include individuals who commit crimes in the name of ideologies supporting animal rights,environmental rights, anarchism, white supremacy, anti-government ideals, black separatism, andanti-abortion beliefs.The boundary between constitutionally protected legitimate protest and domestic terrorist activityhas received public attention. This boundary is especially highlighted by a number of criminalcases involving supporters of animal rights—one area in which specific legislation related todomestic terrorism has been crafted. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (P.L. 109-374) expandsthe federal government’s legal authority to combat animal rights extremists who engage incriminal activity. Signed into law in November 2006, it amended the 1992 Animal EnterpriseProtection Act (P.L. 102-346).Five discussion topics in this report may help explain domestic terrorism’s significance for policymakers:
Level of Activity.
Domestic terrorists have been responsible for orchestratingmore than two-dozen incidents since 9/11, and there appears to be a growth inanti-government extremist activity as measured by watchdog groups in the lastseveral years.
Use of Nontraditional Tactics.
A large number of domestic terrorists do notnecessarily use tactics such as suicide bombings or airplane hijackings.
Exploitation of the Internet.
Domestic terrorists—much like their jihadistanalogues—are often Internet savvy and use the medium as a resource for their operations.
Decentralized Nature of the Threat.
Many domestic terrorists rely on theconcept of
This involves two levels of activity. On anoperational level, militant, underground, ideologically motivated cells or individuals engage in illegal activity without any participation in or directionfrom an organization that maintains traditional leadership positions andmembership rosters. On another level, the above-ground public face (the“political wing”) of a domestic terrorist movement may focus on propaganda andthe dissemination of ideology—engaging in protected speech.
Prison has been highlighted as an arena in which terroristradicalization can occur. Some prison gangs delve into radical or extremistideologies that motivate domestic terrorists, and in a number of instances, these