It is the unfortunate truth that the violent act of terrorism has become a very familiar concept to most Americans and undoubtedly throughout the world. Because of the magnitude of 911 it has become tempting for Americans to assume that most terrorists are international in origin. Americans have come to view the typical political terrorist as being a person of Middle-Eastern descent, one who is a dedicated disciple of Osama Bin Laden or some other Muslim militant, and one who seeks to destroy the United States in the interest of waging holy war, or Jihad, against Western culture, government or economics (Levin, 14).
This wrongful assumption made by Americans poses two distinct problems, one of which this paper will focus on. The first problem is that this assumption causes humiliation and alienation amongst all people who fit this profile, and surely they are not all terrorists. This humiliation and alienation at both the personal and national levels of these people allows the actual terrorist to use this as a major factor in their fight to make America a primary target (Stern, 62).
The focus of this paper and the other major problem with Americans making this wrongful assumption is this distorted perception may cloud American's judgment as to the true nature of the terrorist threat that faces them. The FBI's Report on Terrorism in 2001 indicated that almost two-thirds of all acts of political terrorism in the United States between 1980 and 2001 were home-grown, left-wing, right-wing, or special interest. They originated not in Iran, Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, but in the anger and hostility of American citizens.
Americans makes false Assumption: Oklahoma City Bombing
A prime example of this misperception was carried out in April 1995 when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed by Timothy McVeigh, and his accomplice Terry Nichols. This tragic terrorist event killed 168 people, including men, women and children. Initially many Americans thought this catastrophe was carried out by Middle Eastern terrorists, as the media initially reported after the bombing that the two men who were seen leaving the scene were Middle-Eastern-looking men with dark skin and beards (Anthony, 20). When McVeigh and Nichols were identified as light-skinned, clean-shaven men who were citizens of the United States, this left many Americans shocked because they had become convinced that all terrorist acts originated from foreign soil, mainly the Middle East. It was at this point when many Americans began to realize that a fellow citizen of their own country could perpetrate such a gruesome act.
Although there has been an enormous amount of publicity given to the 911 attack, the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States have actually been committed not by people from the Middle East, but instead by our fellow American citizens. Therefore while it is crucial that we bring intellectual understanding to the new threat of global terrorism that is now facing the world, we should also place equal emphasis on domestic terrorism as well. Many experts predict that domestic terrorism will become more dangerous in the future as groups adopt looser organizational structures, similar to that of the al-Qaeda network, therefore enabling them to plan larger attacks and consider turning to weapons of mass destruction (American Military Extremist, 2005).
In order to have a firm concept of the severity of domestic terrorism, one must understand the definition of terrorism itself. The term terrorism has no exact or widely accepted definition, and is hard to pin down. However, the lead federal agency dealing with domestic terrorism, the F.B.I., has defined it as “the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or its territories without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (American Military Extremists, 2005). Terrorism can consist of acts that are considered to be classic examples of crime, such as arson, murder, or the use of explosives, but they remain very different because they are used with the “deliberate intention of causing panic, disorder and terror within an organized society” (Kegley, 16).
Although terrorism has become a household word within the last century, it is not a new concept. Terrorism in response to some political ideology or power is not a new a phenomenon. While the concept has been around since almost the beginning of human history, the nature of it has changed over time, developing from localized and domestic activities to regional and, in recent years, international events.
The Sicarii terrorist organization originated in A.D. 66, and is recognized as one of the first terrorist organizations (Ross, 15). Some of the prominent features of this group include they were very much religious in character and they lasted longer, and were more destructive than the terrorist groups we recognize today (Ross, 14).
In a sense domestic terrorism is a bit less complex than global terrorism, because unlike global terrorism, much of domestic terrorism can be linked to the organized left- or right-wing groups. Those who belong to these groups unite and plan terror events to carry out the political objectives of their radical belief. Most political ideologies, political parties and organizations want change or progress, but they fluctuate on the methods for achieving it and the rate at which it is achieved. Left-wing groups also are referred to as liberal, leftist, and the political left, and those considered to be right-wing groups are conservative, rightist, and the political right.
The period between the 1960's and the mid 1980's are when left-wing terrorist groups were most prominent and posed the most serious domestic terrorist threat to the United States. Most of these political extremists were from Marxist-communists, militant minority groups, socialists, and Puerto Rican nationalists who supported revolution (Levin, 18). The Left-Wing terrorist groups tended to be young, well educated, upper-middle-class minorities from urban areas.
This group of terrorist generally professed a revolutionary socialist doctrine and viewed themselves as protectors of the people against the "dehumanizing effects" of capitalism and imperialism. They aim to bring about change in the United States through revolution rather than through the established political process (Freech, 2001).
The majority of their acts of terror were devised to bring attention to national policies that they considered to be immoral, and they wanted to bring change to it.
The Weather Underground
During the 1960's and 1970's, Left-wing terrorists found a large amount of support and encouragement from college students for their revolutionary activities that were based on things such as women's liberation, civil rights, and the anti-war movement. In the 1970's, one of the most prominent left-wing terrorist groups known as the Weather Underground declared war against the United States government. The Weather Underground started as a splinter faction of Students for a Democratic Society, and they held the belief that the need for change within the United States was so great that only violent action could bring it about (Ryan, 2004). This group was responsible for bombing the Capitol, the Pentagon, and police and prison buildings and many other familiar symbols of American freedom and democracy. Furthermore, they murdered many people while committing robberies.
The Weather Underground proved that their goal was to destroy the United States by executing terrorist acts at key landmarks-in the same manner that the 9/11 terrorists did just over give years ago. It was during their reign that Americans understood the physical and psychological damage this domestic terrorist network was capable of, and Americans feared the Weather Underground destroying the United States.
The Symbionese Liberation Army
This terrorist group also known as the SLA, was a 1970's multi-racial militant group with the broad slogan, "Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people." The group was founded in the Berkeley California area in 1973, by Donald DeFreeze, who escaped from San Quentin Prison in1973 (Paperless Archives). Although this terrorist group was relatively small, never having more than a dozen or so members, they were very successful in promoting fear in America by committing violent acts.
This group committed a number of murders and assaults, and perhaps what they were most notorious for was the kidnapping of 19-year-old Berkeley student and heiress Patricia Hearst. After being abducted by the group, she was tied up and blindfolded and put in a closet for almost two months. Ironically, she later became a member of the group, and was noted for railing against the “fascist establishment”. After being sentenced in court for the crimes she committed as part of the organization, Patty's argument was that she was brainwashed by this terrorist group (Brussell, 1974).
It was left-wing terrorism that resulted in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, America's thirty fifth President. This assassination was executed on Novermber 22, 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, because he believd that the assasination would represent an opportunity to move the United States away from its fascist tendencies while advancing the Communist Cause (Levin, 19).
Left-wing terrorism has evolved from individuals who are dedicated to securing independence for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. There are varying reasons as to the issues that these people hold against the United States regarding Puerto Rico, but some extremists of the group seek full and complete independence from the United States, and that is the motivation behind the group's terrorist activities. The FBI reported that the only left-wing domestic terrorist groups that are still alive in the United States are those of this particular group who are known as the Puerto Rican separatists, but even their activists have been scaled back (American Military Extremists, 2005).
A group called Puerto Rican National Liberation (FALN) was associated with this independent movement, and they were responsible for more than 100 bombings in Chicago and New York City, which resulted in 5 deaths, 83 injuries and more than 3 million dollars in property damage (Levin, 27). This group also provoked fear in the American people by trying to kill President Truman.
The majority of left-wing revolutionary groups present in America, with the exception of the Puerto Rican separatists no longer exist. Their reasons for non-existence vary, some of them were defeated by the authorities, others alienated their supporters with their choice of tactics and targets, and with their continuous doctrinal debates (Ross, 34).
Americans who have committed acts of organized domestic terrorism since the mid 1980's have largely been from the right-wing extremist causes. The history of the American far right has shown a considerable degree of migration, cross-fertilization of ideas, overlap and cross-membership between the Patriot and racialist segments. The terrorist incidents from the right-wing groups often involve hatred towards the federal government, and/ or a belief that the white race is superior, also termed “white supremacy”, as well as extremist Christian groups. These right-wing terrorists can be best understood if they are regarded as vigilantes who are on a mission to maintain the current state of affairs as they believe it to be, or to retreat to what they consider an earlier, more secure period in history (Levin, 29). There is no specific number as to how many must be within in each group, because these terrorist groups can operate efficiently with small groups of people working in each cell, or alone, as well as large groups.
Ring-wing terrorism developed similiary to left-wing terrorism, in the sense that largely those who were involved with it were disturbed with governmentnal issues. The difference between the two was that the right-wing terrorists had entirely the opposite problems with the government that the left-wing terrorists did. The members of these groups despised a number of things including communists, United Nations, minorities, and were proponents of what they considered to be a “one-world-order” (Levin, 30).
Civilian militia groups greatly contributed to the rise of this right-wing terrorism movement. These militia groups appeared to some Americans to be similar to private armies. These groups would persuade others to join them by using arguments such as, communism was taking over America, and the soverignity of the United States was under attack, and they would also argue that revolution was going to happen soon (Levin, 30). These groups posed a large threat to America by stocking dangerous weapons, building shelters, and rehearsing for war against the federal government.
These militia groups were able to reach their peak of success in terms of recruitement during the middle of the 1990's, because of the economic recession that had been occuring throughout the 1980's. Many individuals, particularly those in rural areas, blamed their economic misfortune on the government, and were thus easily swayed by the anti-government militia rhetoric.
However, many of these groups started to lose potential members after the bombing of Oklahoma City. As discussed earlier in this paper, Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols felt compelled to strike out against the government in this horrific terrorist act, and their former supporters felt that it went too far. This event brought attention to the militia movement, and it was yet another reminder that right-wing domestic terrorism was a serious issue in America.
In 1996, America realized the severe threat right wing terrorism posed even in small numbers, when Eric Rudolph began his string of right wing terrorist events. Although Rudolph is known as the “Atlantic Olympics Bomber” he was involved in a number of other bombings in the U.S., including abortion clinics and gay nightclubs. He has been linked to the right-wing groups known as “Christian Identity” and “Army of God” among others (Stephen, Ebscohost).
One of the greatest threats to the peace and tranquility of America is the possibility of biochemical warfare, which will accumulate mass destruction and a high casualty number if carried out properly. Right-wing terrorism is often noted for having few people involved in their horrendous acts, and because the only requirements needed to execute this type of terrorism method is someone who has the money to purchase the material and knowledge in microbiology, this method is very appealing to many right-wing terrorism groups (Marty, 2006).
Anthrax is a serious infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, and if transmitted to human beings it can be fatal (Marty, 2006). In 2001, just after 911, anthrax spores, in powder form were sent through the mail in seven letters from New Jersey to two senators and five media outlets. This particular incident was aimed at killing the recipients, but instead killed 5 individuals (including 2 postal workers), and infected an additional 18, as well as forcing 35,000 people to take prophylactic doses of antibiotics (Levin, 36).
Although a massive investigation was put on by the FBI to identify the bioterrorist responsible for this anthrax attack, no one has been found. Again in this situation, assumptions were made that a foreign terrorist was responsible, but over time, most observers including the FBI believe that it was in fact a right-wing American terrorist, who had problems with the liberal senators and media personnel that these anthrax spores were intended to be delivered to.
Right-wing terrorism may not currently threaten every member of America's population, but this type of terrorism enhanced by the huge coverage of modern media, represents mainly a political and pscychological danger to the stability of America, and all democratic societies. If the United States does not wish to see proliferation of a new, more powerful kind of right-wing terrorism, then our government must act quickly and forcefully against the individual perpretrators and also against the ideological and propaganda infrastructure which breeds the phenomena.
Finding a solution on how to end right-wing terrorism will pose some difficulty, due largely in part to legal reasons. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives Americans many protections regarding their civil liberties, and because of this the government does not officially have the authority to disband extremist groups or forbid extremist speech just because they may advocate unpopular ideas. Therefore, this allows right-wing terrorists the ability to coax others into joining their cause with relative ease with new technology advances such as the internet, and limited government intrusion.
The future of America is unpredictable, and while most Americans who are dissatisfied with our national leadership and government instititutions would never commit a terrorist act, as history has shown it only takes a very small number of domestic terrorists to create a crisis. Federal agencies are becoming more aware of the threat of domestic terrorism, and need to become extra vigilant in their efforts to counteract terrorism. Furthermore, individual American citizens can help to minimize domestic terrorism themselves. Although most Americans often feel powerless regarding federal policy, the truth is that if we begin at the grassroots level in detecting domestic terrorism, we may be able to repair the credibility of our governmental institutions. Americans need to venture back into the mainstream, and realize that each individual person fighting domestic terrorism presents a great deal of help.
Although America may not have the capability of stopping terrorism at this point, a number of changes should be put into place to minimize the possibility of terrorism and reduce the amount of injuries, deaths and property damage when attacks do occur. Instead of waiting for another terrorist attack, America should invest the financial resources into more rigorous and sophisticated research into understanding domestic terrorism along with global terrorism.