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Saturday, June 22, 2024

‘Rightwing’ Extremist ‘Hit List:’ Worrisome? Overblown? Or are Jihadis the Greater Threat?

On the heels of the February 5 report, Sovereign Citizen Extremist Ideology Will Drive Violence at Home, During Travel and at Government Facilities, prepared by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) and coordinated with the FBI, federal law enforcement officials are investigating the recent online disclosure of the home addresses of top past and present officials of the CIA, FBI, DHS, Defense Department and other agencies.

Federal law enforcement authorities said they believe the latest so-called right-wing “hit list” emanated from what they’re describing as an apparent, so far unidentified right-wing extremistgroup.

DHS said in a statement that, "The safety of our workforce is always a primary concern. DHS has notified employees who were identified in the posting and encouraged them to be vigilant. DHS will adjust security measures, as appropriate, to protect our employees."



What’s disturbing about the list is that it contains accurate home addresses of at least some top Intelligence Community, DHS and other federal law enforcement officials and political leaders – the compilation of which took some effort and monetary resources to obtain –which means some form of personal database access, which is what concerns federal investigators.

In the joint DHS/FBI “For Official Use Only” intelligence bulletin circulated in early February, the document declared on the first page that most sovereign citizens are nonviolent and that it focuses only on the violent fringe within a fringe—the people the bulletin’s analysts called "sovereign citizen extremists," or SCEs, whom DHS said it “defines … as groups or individuals who facilitate or engage in acts of violence directed at public officials, financial institutions, and government facilities in support of their belief that the legitimacy of US citizenship should be rejected; that almost all forms of established government, authority and institutions are illegitimate; and that they are immune from federal, state, and local laws.”

However, the joint DHS/FBI intelligence assessment said it described their violence as "sporadic," and did not expect its rate to rise, predicting instead that the violence will stay "at the same sporadic level" in 2015. The analysts who prepared the intelligence assessment said most of the violence consists of "unplanned, reactive" clashes with police officers, and not preplanned attacks.

When “sovereigns” do plan an attack in advance, the report suggested it tends to be "in direct response to an ongoing personal grievance, such as an arrest or court order." The intelligence bulletin argued sovereign citizens, or SCEs, are unlikely to pick a symbolic target—like, say, the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City that was bombed—and that in this way they are distinct from the killers who attacked two randomly selected cops in Las Vegas last year or the three Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at the Los Angeles International airport the year before.

While some police assessments of the “sovereignist” movement may give officers the impression that anyone asserting their rights or videotaping an encounter might be a sovereign citizen, the joint DHS/FBI report draws its distinctions very carefully.

The report also included an interactive map of 24 cases from 2010 to 2014 in which sovereign citizens planned, threatened or actively engaged in anti-government violence.

Reason magazine said the DHS report on sovereign citizen extremists was reported by CNN in a story that wondered out loud if "right-wing sovereign citizen extremists" posed an even "bigger threat than ISIS.” The network did not share the report, but Reason writer Jesse Walker noted that the words ISIS or right-wing aren’t anywhere to be found in the actual report on SCEs.

Walker detailed the 24 incidents the DHS/FBI intelligence bulletin report cited as examples of US-based extremists from 2010-2014, and concluded that, "In short, the DHS report presents sovereign-citizen violence as a fairly rare risk that officers should nonetheless be prepared for should it arise.”

The DHS/FBI assessment further stated that, “It does not claim thatthe threat to police is growing, it does not conflate the sovereigns with other anti-government groups, it makes no broad claims about terror on the right (the word ‘right-wing’ appears nowhere in the document), and it does not compare the sovereigns to ISIS or to any other foreign terrorists."

Hate group monitors vs DHS/FBI analysts

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), reported that, “We’ve just released our annual count of hate groups, and the good news is that the number has dropped by 17 percent.”

“But,” he noted, “This decrease is deceptive. The reality is that hatemongers are migrating from organized groups to the anonymity of the Internet, places like Stormfront, the Web’s largest hate forum. Its users have more than doubled since President Obama was elected.”

“Even more troubling,” he stated in a fundraising letter, “is the fact that domestic terrorism and racist violence from the radical right continues at a high level.”

Cohen said, “We found that the vast majority of these terrorist plots are hatched by ‘lone wolves’ or pairs of extremists who don’t belong to any organization. Often, their racist rage is fueled by websites like Stormfront.”

“Our new report,” Cohen said, “shows that over the last six years, a domestic terrorist incident has occurred, on average, every 34 days,” adding that, “These leaderless attacks – the hardest for law enforcement to prevent – have claimed 63 lives. They include longtime neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller’s murder of three people during an anti-Semitic rampage in Kansas.”

In an April 18 letter to its membership and media on the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, SPLC stated, “Today, the threat from extremists like [Timothy] McVeigh remains very real,” and that, “The SPLC has documented a powerful resurgence of the extremist movement that motivated McVeigh. In fact, the movement has spawned numerous acts of terror and violence in recent years.”

The group cited a litany of rightwing extremist terrorist acts in its report, Terror from the Right: Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages since Oklahoma City.

“After Oklahoma, it was no longer sufficient for many American right-wing terrorists to strike at a target of political significance — instead; they reached for higher and higher body counts, reasoning that they had to eclipse McVeigh’s attack to win attention.

The SPLC report stated that, “What follows is a detailed listing of major terrorist plots and racist rampages that have emerged from the American radical right in the years since Oklahoma City. These have included plans to bomb government buildings, banks, refineries, utilities, clinics, synagogues, mosques, memorials and bridges; to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians, civil rights figures and others; to rob banks, armored cars and other criminals; and to amass illegal machine guns, missiles, explosives and biological and chemical weapons,” each of which “aimed to make changes in America through the use of political violence.”

“Most contemplated the deaths of large numbers of people — in one case, as many as 30,000, or 10 times the number murdered on Sept. 11, 2001,” the SPLC report stated.

The plot SPLC referred to took place in early 1997. It said 3 Ku Klux Klan members were arrested “in a plot to blow up a natural gas refinery outside Fort Worth, Texas after local Klan leader Robert Spence gets cold feet and goes to the FBI. The three, along with a fourth arrested later, expected to kill a huge number of people with the blast — authorities later say as many as 30,000 might have died — which was to serve, incredibly, as a diversion for a simultaneous armored car robbery. Among the victims would have been children at a nearby school. All four plead guilty to conspiracy charges and are sentenced to terms of up to 20 years.”

DHS’s Different Perspective

In rather sharp contrast to SPLC’s declaration that the US faces a quickening clear and present danger from more Timothy McVeighs, the DHS/FBI bulletin actually stated its “key judgments” are that, DHS’s “I&A assesses that SCE violence during 2015 will occur most frequently during routine law encounters at a suspect’s home, during enforcement stops and at government offices.”

In addition, DHS’s “I&A assesses that SCE violence over the next year will remain at the same sporadic level, consisting primarily of unplanned, reactive violence targeting law enforcement officers during active enforcement efforts.”

While the intelligence bulletin noted that “Most sovereign citizens are non-violent …I&A assesses that most SCE violence will continue to occur most frequently at SCE homes, during routine traffic stops, or at government offices due to their perception that their individual rights are being violated.”

The DHS/FBI assessment further noted that “SCE violence took place in … three circumstances in 19 of the 24 instances of SCE violence since 2010. SCEs perceive that law enforcement efforts and judicial actions infringe upon key personal rights and individual sovereignty—such as the right to travel—most strongly during these circumstances. SCEs believe they personally can ignore laws and act according to their own sovereign citizen ideology. Consequently, when SCEs perceive government representatives directly infringing on their rights and freedoms in an irrevocable way—such as police serving a warrant or a judge ruling against legal filings intended to tie up court proceedings—SCEs resort to violence.”

Similarly, according to the DHS-funded University of Maryland-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which manages the Global Terrorism Database, “The two most common circumstances in which law enforcement officers are killed by far-right extremists are traffic stops (19 percent) and disturbance calls (19 percent).”

START reported that 50 federal, state and local law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty by far-right extremists between 1990 and 2013 in 33 separate incidents. More than two-thirds were killed during ideologically motivated attacks; the remaining officers were killed in non-ideological confrontations (e.g., while arresting an individual during a bank robbery). In addition, corrections officers, private security guards, and a judge have been killed during ideologically motivated attacks. Since 1990, more than 30 far-right violent extremists have been killed by law enforcement during violent encounters.

Continuing, the DHS/FBI bulletin said, “I&A assesses that SCE tactics differ from most violent extremists in that their attacks are reactive and personal, rather than symbolic. Other domestic terrorists typically attack symbolic targets to oppose laws and policies they disagree with rather than certain individuals.”

“By contrast,” the bulletin continued, “even when SCEs plot their violence over time or threaten attacks, it is often in direct response to an ongoing personal grievance, such as an arrest or court order. In almost all of the 24 incidents we reviewed, the targets were the specific individuals who the SCE perceive violated their rights, rather than public symbols or anonymous representatives of the government. While other domestic terrorists may be motivated by personal grievances as well as ideology, rarely do they target a specific individual.”

The latest DHS/FBI intelligence bulletin “assesses law enforcement officers will remain the primary target of SCE violence over the next year due to their role in physically enforcing laws and regulations. While judges and other government officials often earn SCE ire, SCEs typically—though not always—respond to judicial decrees and regulatory actions by disputing themon paper through extensive legal claims before engaging in violent plots, and rarely attack symbolic targets. By contrast, law enforcement actions often involve direct personal (and physical) confrontations that SCEs perceive as provoking an immediate physical response for ‘self-defense.’”

The DHS/FBI bulletin said, “Law enforcement officers were targeted in 83 percent (20 of 24) of violent sovereign citizen incidents between 2010 and 2014, according to a review of DHS, law enforcement and open source data.”

“Barring any significant change in SCE ideology,” the DHS/FBI bulletin said, “a major event, or a charismatic leader that advocates for more assertive violence in support of SCEs’ perceived rights, I&A assesses the sporadic pattern and level of violence at homes, traffic stops and government sites will continue through 2015. However, each individual is unique and may have different interpretations of SCE ideology, especially since there is no agreed-upon dogma or national leader. Some domestic terrorists may combine elements of SCE ideologies with other, more aggressive violent antigovernment perspectives—such as militia extremism.”

“Consequently,” the bulletin cautioned, “such individuals likely pose a greater threat of proactive violence than other SCEs.”

In August, 2012, Salon published a report that, in retrospect, seems to have hyped the threat of rightwing terrorism.

The report began by saying, “Daryl Johnson, architect of the infamous 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism, made headlines last year, when he accused Homeland Security of ignoring the growing threat of right-wing violence due to political pressure.”

“Fast-forward to 2012," the article said, "and the danger posed by right-wing extremists still exists, as demonstrated by the recent Sikh Temple massacre, in Wisconsin. Yet DHS continues to turn a blind eye, says Johnson.”

On August 5, 2012, 40-year-old Wade Michael Page, an admittedly avowed American white supremacist and US Army veteran, killed six people and wounded four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Page took his life by shooting himself in the head after he was shot in the stomach by a responding police officer.

Salon said, “Johnson’s 2009 report, Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, warned that the election of America’s first black president coupled with an ailing economy would cause a resurgence in right-wing extremism, which Johnson spent 15 years studying.

“The report concluded, ‘white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy — separate from any formalized group — which hampers warning efforts.’ Johnson also highlighted the potential for extremists to recruit military veterans, a prescient warning in the wake of the Sikh Temple massacre, where the shooter, neo-Nazi skinhead Wade Michael Page, was a military veteran.’”

According to a more recent START study, however, from 1970 through 2013, more than 2,600 terrorist attacks took place in the United States, resulting in more than 3,500 fatalities, and that “the vast majority of [the] attacks in which named organizations were identified were carried out not by rightwing extremists, but by violent extremist environmental and animal rights groups.

Indeed. Beginning in the 1970’s, nuclear power facilities were targets of attacks by ultra-leftwing terrorists — attacks that heralded the age of nuclear terrorism.

Beginning with the discovery in 1969 of a dynamite bomb near the University of Illinois, Urbana nuclear research reactor, and a pipe bomb found later the following year at the 497-megawatt Point Beach 1 nuclear power plant near Two Creeks, Wisconsin shortly before the reactor began operation, nuclear terrorism in the form of attacks on nuclear power plants in the US became a serious though now largely forgotten national security threat.

In November 1971, an arsonist struck the Indian Point 2 nuclear power plant at Buchanan, New York causing an estimated $10 million in damage. That same month, valves and switches were tampered with by an insider at Commonwealth Edison’s Zion Nuclear Station near Chicago, which had they not been discovered could have resulted in a “China Syndrome” event.

Severed cables and clogged helium filters were next discovered at the Ft. St. Vrain nuclear plant in Colorado, and later that summer an intruder entered the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant compound despite its security fences and guard towers, and wounded a night security guard before escaping.

On October 10, 1977, a bomb explodedat Portland General Electric Co.’s Trojan nuclear power plant in Columbia, Oregon. The Environmental Assault Unit of the New World Liberation Front claimed responsibility.

Beginning on March 25, 1973, terrorists began attacking nuclear power plants around the world. It began with 15 members of the People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP) attacking the Atucha Atomic Power Station 60 miles north of Buenos Aires. The group overpowered the plant’s five guards, seized firearms from security posts and began to break into the power plant itself.

Two plant officials managed to summon police, who arrived quickly and were able to repel the terrorists, all of whom escaped. The attack was part of a campaign of terrorism by the ERP in Argentina which later included several other unsuccessful attacks on nuclear power facilities.

In 1976, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency belatedly disclosed that there had been more than 100 bomb threats directed at nuclear power sites in America. Over the next 12 years, dozens of incidents of terrorism targeting nuclear power plants were carried out around the world prior to the International Task Force on Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism convening in late 1985 to address the issue of terrorists “going nuclear.”

Throughout the 1970’s, dozens of terrorist attacks were carried out against nuclear facilities worldwide. In 1978, the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs held hearings on the Omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act introduced by the late Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-NY). Committee chairman Rep. John Glenn (D-Ohio) prefaced the hearings by pointing out there had been no less than 44 serious nuclear threats made in the United States since 1977.

Statistical differences between rightwinger and jihadi plotters

According to START’s terrorism database, between 1990 and 2013, there were 155 ideologically motivated homicide events committed by far-right extremists in the United States, about 13 percent of these were anti-government in nature. When including the singular Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 individuals, far-right extremists killed 368 individuals during ideologically motivated homicide events between 1990 and 2013.

According to the START report, Violence Perpetrated by Supporters of Al Qaeda and Affiliated Movements (AQAM): Fatal Attacks and Violent Plots in the United States, violent incidents and plots committed or attempted by supporters of Al Qaeda and affiliated movements who targeted the United States between 1990 and 2013, there were 35 homicide events and 196 violent plots perpetrated by AQAM-related supporters during this time period.

Eighty percent of lethal attacks occurred on or following September 11, 2001. Fifty-three percent of the identified plots were planned by lone actors, while the remainder were planned by multiple offenders, the DHS-funded research revealed.

US counterterrorism authorities’ perspectives also must be given considerable weight. Several interviewed by Homeland Security Today on background noted that the statistics do not include the “undoubtedly thousands – or more – who would have been killed by jihadists” had their plots not been thwarted. “And look at today in the wake of the rise of ISIS and AQAP – we’ve been uncovering more and more jihadi-inspired lone wolf and small cell plots,” one of the counterterrorism officials emphasized. You want my opinion – ultra-rightwing extremists are not the major threat today!”

In 1985, the Philippine-based New People’s Army attempted to sabotage the island nation’s first nuclear power plant. Islamist members of the New People’s Army would later assimilate into Philippine jihadi organizations like Abu Sayef, which is supported and guided by Al Qaeda.

The START report, Financial Crime and Material Support Schemes Linked to Al Qaeda and Affiliated Movements (AQAM) in the United States: 1990 to June 2014, said there were 98 material support schemes and 52 financial schemes linked to AQAM were committed by 286 perpetrators between 1990 and June 2014. The majority of schemes involved material (65 percent) or monetary (19 percent) support for Islamist-linked terrorism. More than 95 percent of material and monetary support schemes linked to AQAM were motivated by ideology, while 52 percent of other financial schemes were committed for a non-ideological goal, such as profit or greed.

Not the only jihadi ‘hit list’

The online publication of senior US law enforcement and intelligence officials by what’s believed to be an ultra-rightwing, anti-government group comes within a month after Islamic State (ISIS) supporters issued their own English language hit-list of 100 US military personnel, including photos and addresses of some. The list – which Homeland Security Today reviewed and reported — began to be circulated on jihadi forums and social media on March 21.

Similarly, as with the earlier ISIS “hit list,” DoD and counterterrorism intelligence officials who spoke to Homeland Security Today on background because they aren’t authorized to discuss the matter, said although no DoD computer systems containing personally identifiable information on military personnel had been breached, some of the information in the “hit list” that was made public on jihadi social media sites by an outfit calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division (ISHD), was most likely obtained by scouring publicly available information on the Internet, as well as purchasing specialized public databases and other online public information services that provide the sorts of details on individuals that is contained on the service members included on the jihadi list.

In its introduction to the list, ISHD warned, “With the huge amount of data we have from various different servers and databases, we have decided to leak 100 addresses so our brothers residing in America can deal with you.”

An estimated two-thirds of the military personnel on the list are featured on publicly available DoD websites, including the Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System (DVIDs), a single site that contains literally thousands of photos and identifiable information such as names and service affiliations.

Accurate home addresses, though, had to be obtained through other means, intelligence sources said.

“Whoever put this list together spent considerable time, money and resources to compile the personal information” on the service personnel on the list, as one of the sources explained.

The ISHD document did note, however, that, “A few of the addresses may not be current due to some of the database entries being outdated.”

The Pentagon was forced last month to notify about 100 service members who appeared on an the ISIS "hit list," and bases where the personnel are stationed contacted local law enforcement agencies in an effort to increase police patrols in the neighborhoods where they live.

ISIS has urged its followers and sympathizers in the US to kill American service members on the list, some of whom were identified with names, photos and addresses.

Pentagon officials said the list appeared to be drawn from public sources — everything from newspaper interviews to Facebook pages that connected them, sometimes incorrectly, with the war against ISIS.

The hit list is much like the hit list Al Qaeda supporters circulated on jihadist social media sites in June 2011 which Homeland Security Today first reported. The difference is, the current list provides the home addresses of most of the service members named on the new list, including top officers in very important command positions.

An even earlier jihadi ‘hit list’

In June 2011, Emmy Award winning journalist William Scott Malone and this reporter first exclusively reported that 11 of the nation’s top military leaders were among 58 past and present military, corporate and civilian officials who’d been identified by members of the Al Qaeda-linked Ansar Al Mujahedeen jihadist forum as infidels who should be murdered, according to the jihadi “hit list” that accompanied a June 6 Florida fusion center bulletin obtained by Homeland Security Today.

At the time, the Florida fusion center bulletin coincided with an unusual flurry of similar alerts that were issued by the FBI, Department of Defense (DoD) and DHS, and which came on the heels of then FBI Director Robert Mueller telling the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that one of the early assessments from intelligence seized at Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan is that Al Qaeda is committed to continuing attacks against the United States.

While some officials downplayed the “hit list” as wishful thinking by Al Qaeda-sympathetic jihadists, other counterterrorism authorities went on high alert in response to the jihadi forums’ members’ disturbing talk of assassinating top US military and corporate leaders, especially in light of testimony a few weeks earlier in a federal terrorism trial that revealed a senior Al Qaeda official had ordered the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin be assassinated because his company manufactures UAVs used by the US military in strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Al Qaeda leadership targets in Yemen and in special operations in Somalia.

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Homeland Security Today
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.
Homeland Security Today
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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