Is DHS right domestic extremists more dangerous than foreign terrorists?
- On Tuesday, June 15, 2021, Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas stated that domestic violent extremism was a greater threat to the US than foreign groups like al-Qaida, the Islamic State, and other radical jihadi groups.
- In March 2021, an intelligence and law enforcement review was released stating the two lethal threats to domestic terrorism are racial extremists advocating for whites and militia violent extremists. Because of the review, President Biden released an official statement addressing a national strategy for countering the impact of terrorism in the US.
- A 2020 report by the Department of Homeland Security mirrored the same sentiments; White supremacists were listed as the “most lethal threat’’ through early 2021.
- In the US, between 1994 and 2020, there were 893 terrorist attacks and plots. Right-wing terrorists made up the majority at 57 percent, compared to 25 percent committed by left-wing terrorists.
- “9/11” is known as the most infamous terrorist attack in US history, carried out by al-Qaeda; 2,977 people were killed from 93 nations: 2,753 people were killed in New York; 184 people were killed at the Pentagon; and 40 people were killed on Flight 93.
When a foreign terrorist attacks the United States, it is because they hate Americans, our country, and what we stand for. They have no regard for the US whatsoever. Domestic extremists, however, despite their beliefs, still love this country and want their vision of the best for it, which means they do have a limit to what they'll do that could harm it—foreign terrorists do not.
Extremists are different from terrorists. Extremists are exactly what they're called: extreme. They believe something passionately and will protest and fight to make it happen. Terrorists cause terror, destruction and threaten our way of life. These are two very different types of people. Due to the difference in the number of domestic extremists and foreign terrorists, there are more potential threats from foreign terrorists as well—there are simply more of them, and we can't account for or track all of them as we can with domestic extremists.
Actions taken by the extremists never weigh as heavily as those taken by terrorists. In recent US history, extremists have done things like protest and march (which in some cases has lead to violence) and riot at local and federal buildings, including the Capitol. Months after that happened, talk of it has died down a bit. However, events caused by international terrorists, such as 9/11, are still very much talked about today, despite being two decades ago, and have forced us to do things such as change airport security laws and go to war. Cyber terrorism and attacks are also a threat that comes most often from foreign terrorists. Extremist actions such as the Capitol Riot have not pushed us to take the same level of action because they're not as much of a threat.
Solitary but extremely tragic instances such as 9/11 may make a bigger impression in the minds of Americans. Still, if we examine the data, we see that domestic terror attacks have been a bigger problem in terms of frequency than attacks from foreign terrorists and that such acts of domestic terrorism are increasing. Drafts of the recent DHS report indicate that '2019 was the most deadly year for domestic violent extremists since the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995.' The DHS report concludes that 'white supremacist extremists conducted half of all lethal attacks, resulting in the majority of deaths.' The FBI and other organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have been warning of the rise of White supremacy in the US for some time and have noted that part of what makes the movement so dangerous is its decentralized nature. The ADL points out that 'Most white supremacists do not belong to organized hate groups, but rather participate in the white supremacist movement as unaffiliated individuals.' This makes it hard to pin down the number of those involved in the greater movement, which consists of 'a number of different components,' including gangs and more loosely organized groups.
Especially troubling is the infiltration of law enforcement agencies by white supremacists. Former FBI agent Michael German notes in a 2020 interview with The Guardian that the 'negligent response' to this problem empowers the movement further, encouraging the 'most violent elements' to 'believe that their conduct is sanctioned by the government.' Between the lack of solid data and this perceived legitimacy, it is easy to see why the DHS made its determination.