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SPECIAL: Domestic Extremist Threats Face Trump Admin

SPECIAL: Domestic Extremist Threats Face Trump Admin Homeland Security TodayThe incoming Donald Trump administration faces an array of extremist and terrorist threats aligned with varied ideological doctrines, and confounding domestic, homegrown, and foreign manifestations. The new administration will attempt to manage such challenges, but cannot eliminate them. After all, these forms of political violence have existed since time immemorial and will continue for generations.

The term domestic extremism means individuals or groups that follow a variant of ideologies that support the threat and/or use of violence for political, religious, or social objectives. One type of domestic extremism includes those who disdain others due to a person’s immutable characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity and disability. Such bias, as exhibited in criminal acts, has been termed hate crimes. Lone wolves and cabals inspired by hate-based ideology, as well as those formally linked to a hate group, perpetrate such crimes.

Increasingly troublesome are recent attempts to ignite a “race war,” in the United States, among them: the June 2015 Dylan Roof murder of nine parishioners at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina; October 2016 failed plot by a militia-hate aligned cabal that sought to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants in Garden City, Kansas; and the November 2016 planned attack by an African American couple to kill police in Trussville, Alabama.

In November 2016, the FBI released hate crime statistics for 2015, noting that there were “5,850 criminal incidents and 6,885 related offenses that were motivated by bias against race, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity.” About 48 percent of the perpetrators of these crimes were white, 24 percent were black, with the race unknown for the remainder. The most frequent types of bias attack were based on race/ethnicity/ancestry (59.2 percent), religion (19.7 percent), and sexual orientation (17.7 percent).

The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that in 2012 there was a 60 percent underreporting of hate crimes. Hate crimes are significantly underestimated due to victims not notifying police of such incidents andpolice departments failing to recognize the role of bias in selected crimes.

Those who advocate or threaten violence on behalf of single-issue themes—environmentalism, animal rights, and abortion rights, for instance—have been deemed domestic extremists. Too, individuals and groups aligned with antigovernment movements—be they militias, sovereign citizens, anarchists, or others—have been classified as American extremists.

Homegrown violent extremism (HVE) comprises U.S.-based individuals of whatever citizenship who are influenced by a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), but act independently of it. Presently, there are over sixty US government-designated FTOs that conduct terrorism internationally, and threaten US national security in one way or another. The majority of these FTOs are violent jihadists from the Middle East.

What does the future hold?

How the threat of extremism and terrorism will evolve in the coming years is somewhat unclear. On the home front, there is evidence to suggest that some hate-based supporters, including those aligned to white nationalism, seem emboldened by President-elect Trump’s victory. The alt-right movement, and some hate groups, claimed that Trump’s triumph was an affirmation of their ideals.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there were over 700 incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation in the two weeks since national elections. In a November 23, 2016, meeting the New York Times, President-elect Trump was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to energize the group [alt-right], and I disavow the group. It’s not a group I want to energize, and if it is energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”

Interestingly enough, SPLC’s figures show that the number of hate groups accelerated from 676 in 2001 to 926 in 2008 during the George W. Bush presidency. In 2000, the figure was 602. The number of hate groups actually fell overall during the Obama presidency. During his administration, there was an initial expansion of hate groups from 932 in 2009 to 1,018 in 2011. Those figures then declined dramatically to 784 in 2014, prior reaching 892 groups in 2015.

A white nationalist resurgence—political and otherwise—may spur other fringe elements of contrasting ideological spectrums to threaten or resort to violence.  An escalation of hate crimes against minorities—particularly blacks, Hispanics, Muslims and the LGBT communities—could result in militancy among segments of the population at large.

Environmental and animal rights extremists may accelerate their unlawful actions should they believe the Trump administration as buttressing corporate interests over their goals. Perceived support by the new administration of energy interests, including oil drillings (e.g., Dakota Access Pipeline), might lead to expanded aggressiveness by radicals aligned with environmental and indigenous interests.

Anarchist activity could escalate due to the election of a billionaire. Yet, the perceived anti-globalism stance of the incoming administration may soften such perspectives. It remains to be seen whether pro-life judicial appointments to the US Supreme Court would precipitate violence by those in support of pro choice.

Southern Poverty Law Center figures for the 2015 noted 998 antigovernment “patriot” groups, of which 276 were characterized as militias. The number of these groups increased during the Obama administration, rising from 512 patriot groups (with 127 militias) in 2008. In 2012, these figures reached an all-time high of 1,360 patriot groups (with 321 militias). By comparison, during George W. Bush’s presidency, the levels of patriot groups and militia groups declined from 158 patriot groups (with 73 militias) in 2001 to 149 patriot groups (with 42 militias) in 2008.

The impact of the election of Trump on militias and sovereign citizens is difficult to discern at this point. One train of thought is that Trump’s support of the Second Amendment may placate militias. However, anti-immigrant-focused militias may view President-elect Trump’s call for deportation of illegal aliens and the building of a wall with Mexico as a confirmation of their goals. Some within that camp may take that as carte blanche to proceed with their anti-immigrant pursuits. Others may forgo hate crimes and wait for the government to deal with those issues on its own.

Sovereign citizens will likely view the incoming administration as the latest example of an illegitimate, de facto government that infringes upon true citizens. The sovereign citizen movement will probably continue to experience natural growth, including a high frequency of belligerency and “paper terrorism,” against police and other government employees, including judges and prosecutors.

It is probable that HVEs—violent jihadists in the main—will be prompted by calls from FTOs to carry out attacks in the United States and against American interests abroad. What has been perceived as anti-Muslim rhetoric during the presidential campaign could fuel an attractive narrative that violent jihadist groups and propagandists will propagate offline and online. Nonetheless, absent this narrative, violent jihadists have been effective in carrying out terror attacks and attracting adherents for decades.

Analysis

There are many daunting domestic extremist and international terrorist threats that the United States and the global community will need to address in the coming years and beyond. These cataclysmic forces may challenge the very essence of governments, industry, non-profits, non-governmental institutions and the public at large.

Hopefully, President-elect Donald Trump and his national security team will succeed in managing the extensive perils that await them through effective policies in the political, diplomatic, military, economic, legal, law enforcement, strategic communications and other spheres. Additionally, it is possible that the Trump administration will face unexpected foreign policy and terrorism events akin to those that confounded President Bush (e.g., the 9/11 attacks) and President Obama (e.g., the Arab Spring).

If so, multiple policy options must be considered very careful as initial impulses for one approach may, in retrospect, prove less than ideal. Unfortunately, an errantpolicy may not be recognized for months or years afterwards, sometimes making a reversal in strategy quite difficult.

Dean C. Alexander is professor/director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University. He co-authored The Islamic State: Combating the Caliphate Without Borders (Lexington Books, 2015).

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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