This paper explored the effect American citizens’ risk perceptions of terrorist events have on public policy outcomes. To answer this question we first examined data collected in the GfK Group Lone Wolf Terrorism Risk Perception Report conducted in 2016. Then we compared and contrasted the National Strategies for Counterterrorism (CTS) under the Obama and Trump administrations. This policy analysis compares the perceptions of 1,730 adults (61% response rate) voiced in this Report to the policies of the administrations to reveal how citizens’ perceptions align with the actions of the administrations. Our analysis shows that citizens’ perceptions did not necessarily line up with the policies enacted by presidential administrations. These differences are detailed in the full report. For access to the survey used in this paper please contact the Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy at The Bush School of Government and Public Service, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The terrorist attacks that struck three targets in the United States on September 11, 2001 changed American citizens’ perception of what had been considered the greatest threat to our collective security. Overnight the long existing threat posed by rival nations fell to second place. The coordinated attacks launched by al-Qaeda catapulted the threat of the transnational Salafist-jihadist movement to the forefront in the minds of Americans. A complicating factor not recognized by the general population is the different nature of terrorism compared to violent crimes. Violent crimes are attacks carried out by perpetrators with no terrorist affiliations. While all such acts result in damage, casualties, and psychological anguish, determining the motivation behind such an attack is of critical importance from a law enforcement and public policy standpoint. But the public does not necessarily differentiate between the two types of actions.
To explore citizens’ perceptions of terrorist threats this paper analyzed data collected by the Lone Wolf Terrorism Risk Perception Study that the GfK Group compiled on behalf of Texas A&M University in 2016.[i] The study consisted of 31 questions and examined the risk perceptions related to domestic terrorism. Respondents were asked about their understanding of issues related to terrorist attacks, the risks of those attacks, and their government policy preferences. The targeted population for the study were English speaking adults, over 18 years of age, and residing in the United States. To sample this population, GfK group sampled households using its KnowledgePanel, a probability-based web panel intended to be representative of the United States as a whole.[ii] The survey had an initial sample size of 2,831 individuals. The survey was completed by 1,730 respondents, giving the survey a response rate of 61 percent. The data was collected over the period of May 5, 2016 to May 17, 2016. This paper gauges the relationship between American citizens’ risk perceptions of terrorist events and national public policy outcomes.
In order to understand the risk perceptions of citizens we examined four significant domestic attacks, two terrorist actions and two violent crimes, carried out in the United States prior to the survey. Each of these attacks had significant press coverage. The terrorist attacks selected are the Boston Marathon bombing and the attack in San Bernardino, California. The incidents at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut are the violent crimes reviewed.[iii] It should be noted that the GfK survey made reference to the terrorists attacks in Paris in November 2015, and Brussels in March 2016.[iv] These large scale attacks, although on foreign soil, had an influence on respondents’ risk perceptions.
CATEGORIES OF ATTACKS
Two brothers, Tamerlan and Dhozkar Tsarnaev, on April 15, 2013, set off two bombs at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and more than 260 were wounded. In the course of the subsequent manhunt, the brothers shot and killed an MIT police officer. The Tsarnaev brothers had been self-radicalized through online jihadist propaganda including speeches and videos from Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric who was considered the Osama bin Laden of the Internet. Tamerlan had a copy of “Join the Caravan”, written by Imam Abdullah Azzam, a founding member of al Qaeda. Azzam is regard as the father of al Qaeda-style jihad. The older brother, Tamerlan, traveled “back home” to Dagestan, known for its Chechen terrorists. Tamerlan came up on the Russian’s radar and his activities were shared with the FBI. The brothers’ motivation was belief in the Salafist-Jihadist version of Islam.[v]
On December 2, 2015 a husband and wife, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people and wounded 21 others with AR-15 rifles in San Bernardino, California. The attack took place at the Inland Regional Center where employees of the county health department, including Malik, were having a holiday party.[vi] After the attack, Malik pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on Facebook.[vii] The couple, inspired by Islamic State propaganda, had self-radicalized and carried out their attack without any support from foreign or domestic groups.[viii] The couple was motivated by their belief in the Salafist-Jihadist version of Islam. Next, we examine two event that although they resulted in horrific acts and large losses of life were not terrorist events.
The following two violent incidents considered took place prior to the survey. On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, went to his Mother, Nancy Lanza’s home, killed her and took three guns, an AR-15 and two pistols. Lanza dressed in black fatigues and a military vest, drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He then shot and killed 20 students and six adults.[ix] The attack lasted 11 minutes, then Lanza shot himself. Lanza left no indication of his reasoning for the mass murders. And the subsequent investigations into the attack found no sign of Lanza’s motivation.[x] Lanza’s motivation – unknown.
Another violent attack was perpetrated by 20 year old Dylann Roof on June 17, 2015. Roof opened fired and killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof made racist statements during the attack and told his victims that they (African Americans) were “taking over the country and raping our women”.[xi] Following the attack, Roof wrote in a jailhouse journal that he still felt the attack was worthwhile because of the wrongs that originated from the black community. Authorities labeled Roof’s attack as a mass shooting that was a racially motivated hate crime.[xii] Roof’s motivation – hate.
DISCUSSION – TERRORISM VERSUS VIOLENT CRIMES
Events like the four outlined above have shaped the perception of what citizens regard as terrorism. But most citizens do not understand the difference between these two categories of violent attack, terrorism and violent crime. The difference is significant given that primary responsibility for responding to terrorism falls to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and overseas, the Department of Defense. When a violent crime is committed, it can often fall under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement. When an incident occurs, most individuals do not focus on what motivates the act. In order to be better informed, the public needs to understand the difference between these two categories of crimes.
For this paper, we use definitions from the FBI to define terrorism and violent crimes. The Bureau’s definition of terrorism is “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.[xiii] The definition of a violent crime is “composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. Violent crimes are defined in the FBI’s Unified Crime Reporting (UCR) Program as those offenses which involve force or threat of force”.[xiv] Mass killings, sniper murders, and serial killings are also considered violent crimes, but they can be perceived as terrorism. Although these types of incidents often have similar results, the motivation behind such assaults characterizes them as terrorism or a violent crime.[xv]
These definitions are the foundation of a shared understanding between subject matter experts and the general public. Acts of terrorism can be distinguished from violent crimes by the motivation behind an attack and what the end goal or end state a given actor or set of actors wishes to create.[xvi] If an act is motivated by religious, political or other ideology this distinction is the first step in defining an event as terrorism. If the actor has the purpose of societal or political change then this purpose together with the motivation factor can deem an act as terrorism and not a violent crime.[xvii] When an attack takes place, cooperation between local, state, and federal authorities always follows. The motivation of an attack determines which authority works as the lead agency.
The examination of the National Strategies for Counterterrorism (CTSs) for both the Obama and the Trump administrations provide an idea of the overall policies that the administrations pursued regarding terrorism. The CTSs released by Presidential Administrations do not specifically address violent crimes because they are not part of national defense. Violent crimes are the responsibility of law enforcement not the United States Military. Therefore, when discussing these strategies, it must be understood that violent crimes, although they appear similar to terrorist attacks are not addressed by CTS. We will use the differences and commonalities in these strategies to help explore the purpose of this paper, which is, to explore the effect American citizens’ risk perceptions of terrorist events had on public policy outcomes.
NATIONAL STRATEGIES FOR COUNTERTERRORISM
A comparison of the strategies of both the Obama administration’s 2011 CTS plan and the Trump administration’s 2018 plan provide an overview of counterterrorism policy and how these polices have changed. We chose to examine the CTSs because they are the Executive Branch’s main strategy dealing exclusively with counterterrorism. The Obama administration’s CTS laid out U.S. policy prior to the rise of Islamic State. The Trump administration inherited a conflict with an established Islamic State possessing significant conventional military forces and controlling vast parts of two nations. It was under these conditions that the Trump administration developed its CTS.
The top national security priority in the Obama administration’s CTS was “disrupting, dismantling, and eventually defeating al Qaeda and its affiliates”.[xviii] The administration concentrated on being at war with one specific organization, al Qaeda. The plan identified groups affiliated with al Qaeda including terrorist organizations in the Middle East, East Africa, Northwest Africa, Central Asia, and Southwest Asia. The Obama administration outlined the guiding principles that drove this priority mission.[xix]
Four main principles guided the U.S. counterterrorism efforts under President Obama: United States core values, security partnerships, assuring the use of appropriate anti-terrorism tools, and creating a culture of resilience. U.S. core values that outlined counterterrorism efforts included human rights and responsive governance. Maintenance of security partnerships focused on joining with allies around the world to share the burden of collective security. Assuring that U.S. counterterrorism methods were appropriate to counter current threats required the tools and capabilities of the anti-terror campaign to be continuously evaluated. The final principle set out to foster a culture of preparedness and resilience in order to prepare the country to resist and respond to terror attacks. These four principles focused the government’s efforts against al-Qa’ida and later the Islamic State and were used to work toward the administration’s goals.[xx]
The Obama administration devised objectives to evaluate the effectiveness of the U.S. counterterrorism mission. The prioritization of threats included: 1) the American people, the Homeland, and American interests; 2) South Asia, Arabian Peninsula, East Africa, Europe, Iraq (AQI), Maghreb, Southeast Asia, Central Asia; and 3) combatting the spread of radical information and ideas. The top prioritization the homeland, included investing in the aviation, maritime, and border-security and information sharing capabilities to harden the country.[xxi] The strategy concluded with a short section on “other terrorist threats” including Hizballah, HAMAS, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, and the leading state sponsors of terrorism Iran and Syria. Over time these other threats would take center stage for the first half of the decade with the Iranian nuclear deal and Iran’s expansion of power in Iraq and Syria, the civil war in Syria, and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[xxii]
The roots of the Islamic State’s reside in the ideological and organizational structure of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQ-I) founded and led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq during the period of 2002 through 2006. Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces in June 2006 resulting in AQ-I leaders renaming the group the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). U.S. forces killed two of ISI’s top leaders in 2010, weakening the organization, but not completely destroying the Islamic State of Iraq by the time U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011.[xxiii]
To understand the Islamic State, the terrorist organization’s many names must be differentiated. The terrorist group has been called by four different names, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State (IS), and by Daesh or DAISH which is an acronym for Doulet al-Islamiyah fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham.[xxiv] This translates as “to trample down and crush” or depending on how it is conjugated “a bigot.”[xxv] Reports indicate that ISIS has such distain for the name Daesh that it has threatened to cut out the tongue of any person caught using the name.[xxvi] Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, the former commander of U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Syria, said that Daesh is used because “it’s a term that our partners in the gulf use.”[xxvii] The name is used in an effort to delegitimize the Islamic State by omitting the word “state” to signify that it is a terrorist organization and not a state.[xxviii] Daesh eliminates the word “Islamic” to signify that they do not stand for all of Islam.[xxix] The consistent use of these different names and acronyms for the enemy has never materialized.
Following the U.S. withdraw and “Under the leadership of former U.S. detainees Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al Badri al Samarra’i (aka Abu Bakr al Baghdadi), Taha Subhi Falaha (aka Abu Mohammed al Adnani), and others”, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) worked to rebuild their capabilities from 2010 onward. During the first months of 2013, ISI began performing multiple deadly attacks each month in Iraq and started operations in Syria. In June 2014, the Islamic State leaders self-declared their own caliphate and ordered that all believing Muslims provide support. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi was named as caliph and imam or simply the leader of all Muslims and the Islamic States. The U.S. withdrawal was one of the leading reasons for the rise of the Islamic State and their 40,000 strong army, the U.S. left prematurely before the threat was completely neutralized.[xxx]
General Raymond T. Odierno, who served as Chief of Staff of the Army from 2011-2015, stated in 2011 that if the U.S. would have kept a residual force in Iraq, then U.S. forces could have fortified Iraqi Security Forces and likely stopped the Islamic State’s capture of much of Iraq.[xxxi] Substantial U.S. involvement in the country could have increased the effectiveness of Iraq’s command structure and helped keep Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish conflicts in check.[xxxii] Non-involvement resulted in the collapse of Iraqi Security Forces.[xxxiii] The Iraqi army lost 74,000 of its 165,000 troops from combat attrition and desertion.[xxxiv] In response to the caliphate, the Obama administration launched Operation Inherent Resolve to defeat the Islamic State on August 8, 2014.[xxxv] The objectives of the Operation Inherent Resolve were “destroying ISIL’s parent tumor in Iraq and Syria, combating its worldwide spread, and protecting all homelands”.[xxxvi]
President Trump inherited ongoing conventional military operations in Iraq and Syria that were lessening the threat from the Islamic State and had recaptured much of the land held by the caliphate. The Administration’s actions against the Islamic State are largely a continuation the Obama Administration’s “partnership-based approach to the conflict”, while President Trump has made changes to U.S. military operations.[xxxvii] A review of the Trump administration’s CTS will illustrate how his approach is both similar and different.
The Trump administration’s CTS was released in October of 2018. The strategy is built on four objectives. Objective 1 – defeat global terrorist networks and their affiliates and those backed by state sponsors, while defending against homegrown threats inspired by terrorist propaganda. Objective 2 – use all available U.S. power to inhibit the ability of terrorists to mobilize their fighters, finance operations, travel, communicate, and attain new recruits. Objective 3 – protect critical infrastructure and educate the public on how to prepare and respond to attacks. Objective 4 – specifically defeat radical Islamic terrorists, expand the number of tools available to fight terrorism and to dial back the Iranian terror network and influence in the Middle East. To meet these revised objectives the administration changed the strategies that had been employed by the Obama administration.[xxxviii]
President Trump’s CTS changes President Obama’s policy to end the use of enhanced interrogation techniques which started by issuing an executive order, mandating that all U.S. interrogation practices must comply with international law reflected in Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the closing of Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.[xxxix] President Trump changed U.S. strategy by effectively using the Law of Armed Conflict and Detention to be able to remove terrorists from the battlefield and enhance the ability to gather intelligence. A key factor in accomplishing this goal is the continued use of detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.[xl]
To realize these new strategies, the Trump administration outlines six methods. The first method is to utilize the military, intelligence communities, law enforcement, cyber operations, and strategic communications. The second method is the non-military capabilities of the United States. These tools include diplomatic engagement, financial tools, intervention in terrorist recruitment, minimizing the appeal of propaganda, and the ability to build social resistance in both the United States and abroad. Method three, is to speak out forcefully against hateful ideology around the world. Fourth is to encourage international partners to do more in combating terrorism. Fifth, to review the effectiveness of counterterrorism plans through independent assessments to ensure that programs are meeting the goals of the counterterrorism strategy. Lastly, American strength and influence needs to remain a force of good in the world — all of these tools and power that the United States holds are required to defeat the main threat that the country faces, radical Islamic terrorists. [xli]
In the current CTS, the primary terror threat to the United States resides in the regions where radical Islamists settled after the defeat of the Islamic State. These groups take advantage of weak governance, conflict, instability, and grievances that present an opportunity for terrorist groups to amass support.[xlii] The goal of radical Islamists is to remake Islamic society, establish a worldwide caliphate, and eliminate western influences in the world.[xliii] At the writing of this paper, May 2019, the Islamic State is essentially eliminated. But, the Salafist-jihadist movement is still strong in many parts of the Muslim world. Several of the Islamic State affiliate groups are still militarily viable in their various regions. Between 2011 and 2017, jihadists, some former members of the Islamic State military and some inspired by their ideology, took advantage of weak European Union borders and established operative cells. They then launched significant and coordinated attacks in Europe. A different pattern developed in the United States. Here, attacks were carried out by homegrown terrorists inspired by the Islamic State.
The threat posed by homegrown terrorists inspired by radical Islamists ideology triggered responses in the Trump administration’s and the Obama administration’s CTSs. The difference is, in 2011 al Qaeda was inspiring homegrown terrorism. Seven years later, the Islamic State was the most prominent radical Jihadist terror organization. And it was calling for believers, wherever they were to attack the infidel including in the United States.[xliv] President Obama’s CTS argued that homegrown terrorism was a growing threat because al Qaeda’s leadership was under pressure in Afghanistan and Pakistan by the American led military forces.[xlv] Leaders of al Qaeda sought to increase attacks inspired in their name within the U.S. to improve their overall position.[xlvi]
The Trump administration’s CTS points out that the Islamic State and al Qaeda have taken advantage of vulnerable people that are susceptible to their messages.[xlvii] From 2015-2018, the Islamic State was the main inspiration for attacks by homegrown terrorists because the group was working from notoriety and a successful position. And the Islamic State was good at using social media and manipulating the mainstream media to promote and distribute their messages and attract recruits.[xlviii] This explains why attacks inspired by the Islamic State are expected to be the main form of radical Islamist terrorism in the United States.[xlix] President Trump’s plan points out very little about the threats posed by domestic terror groups not motivated by radical Islamists ideology and offers no strategy for lessening or addressing these groups.
Over the closing months of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, the threat posed by the jihadists has again changed with the defeat of the Islamic State. The caliphate’s territory has been eliminated and its military capabilities defeated. The ideology behind the movement is still viable and surviving adherents have been dispersed to other areas. Over five years, around 10,000 Americans, including 8,000 troops and 1,600 contractors fought the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, with at least 74 American deaths since the start of operations in 2014. On March 23, 2019, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, with the assistance of U.S. Special Forces, airstrikes, and combat service support, captured the village of Baghouz in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzour province, the last territory held by the Islamic State.[l]
Statements made by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of the U.S.-led coalition, highlight that although the territorial defeat of the Islamic State is an accomplishment the threat is not over. “Make no mistake, Daesh is preserving their force…They have made calculated decisions to preserve what is left of their dwindling personnel and capabilities by taking their chances in camps for internally displaced persons and going to ground in remote areas. They are waiting for the right time to re-emerge”.[li]
President Trump’s decision, to remove all 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria has led to the concern that Islamic State leadership and resources that have not been killed will rise again. The decision to pull all U.S. troops completely, has been criticized by U.S. allies, commanders, and resulted in former U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to announce his resignation in December of 2018. The Trump administration has since decided to leave a small residual force in Syria. Even with the United States’ continued presence the problem of Syria’s failed governance and the inability to police its own territories will keep the threat posed by radical Salafist-jihadists an ongoing concern. This combined with the threat of Iranian backed militias means the region will be in flux for the foreseeable future.[lii]
This paper uses graphs to illustrate the percentage of respondents’ support or opposition to policy issues regarding combatting terrorism. Thirty-one questions made up the GfK Group Lone Wolf Terrorism Risk Perception study. We selected the questions most pertinent to the issues and policy stances that we found in the CTS’s for the Obama and the Trump administrations. Questions 25 and 28 found in Appendix 1, Lone Wolf Terrorism Risk Perception Questions were selected for analysis. For each question, respondents were given multiple statements and asked to what degree they supported or opposed each statement. We chose to focus on six statements that are highlighted in the questions in Appendix 1.
The number of the respondents who supported or opposed specific actions in these questions were used to determine if those views aligned with the policy differences between the two administrations. For the purpose of our analysis, regarding question 25, we considered that any response that was “somewhat agree”, “agree”, or “strongly agree” was associated with a respondent agreeing with a statement. “Do not agree” was considered to be as a contrary view to the statement. For question 28, we considered “strongly oppose” and “somewhat oppose” to represent disagreement with a statement. “Somewhat support” and “strongly support” were used together to display support for a statement. The results are reflected in the following section.
U.S. BORDER WALL
In Question 25, respondents were asked to, “Indicate your level of disagreement or agreement with the following statements about ways to deter terrorist attacks”.[liii] The first statement questioned if “Building a wall along the United States-Mexico border is not an effective way to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country”.[liv] Respondents to the survey were overwehlmingly in agreement with this statement as shown in Figure 1. Of respondents, 69.7 percent either “somewhat agree”, “agree”, or “strongly agree” that a U.S.-Mexico border wall would not be an effective way, while 27.2 percent thought that it would be effective to deter terrorist entry. It is interesting that the responses to this question go directly against the Trump administration’s border wall priority.
Figure 1: Quantity of responses from question 25 statement d)
The Trump administration’s policy focused on the Islamic State and al Qaeda’s ability to target people susceptible to terrorist recruitment and inspiration.[lv] These susceptible individuals could potentially be turned into homegrown terrorists who might possibly use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in attacks. It is the administration’s contention that an unsecure border is a vulnerability that could allow WMDs to enter the United States. Improved border security, including physical barriers integrated with technology is represented as deterrence against the possibility of WMDs.
The discrepancy between citizens’ perceptions in the survey and the Trump administration’s border wall policies is a good representation of today’s political environment. It reflects a similar division that was shown during the 2016 national election. The 2018 mid-term elections was a split verdict with Democrats winning the House of Representatives and Republicans holding the Senate.[lvi] Exit polling done by Zogby Analytics for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) found that 53.3 percent of swing voters in the 2018 midterm elections supported the construction of a border wall border wall to stop illegal immigration.[lvii] Forty-seven percent of all midterm election voters supported the creation of a border wall. This seems to signal a change from the 2016 GfK Group survey response on a border wall. It must be noted that the question was posed diferently, illegal immigration contrasted with terrorism being the focus.
A physical barrier, along with technology and human activity no doubt increases security against illegal entries of any kind.[lviii] Given that the construction of a “border wall” is a constantly debated issue in today’s political environment, and because it is a part of the Trump admionistration’s CTS, we concluded that the citizens’ perception that the border wall is ineffective at preventing terrorist entry does not line up with the Trump administration’s strong support of the wall’s construction.
ECONOMIC CAUSES OF TERRORISM
When asked if “more attention should be paid to address the economic causes of terrorism in other countries” the majority of respondents 72.4 percent “somewhat agree”, “agree”, or “strongly agree” that more attention should be paid to the economic concerns as shown in Figure 2.[lix] Of respondents, 23.9 percent “do not agree” that more attention should be paid to the economic causes of terrorism. This is not congruent with the Trump administration’s de-emphasis of economics as a primary cause of terrorism. The policies of the previous administration stated otherwise.
Figure 2: Quantity of responses from question 25 statement e)
In terms of international security, the Obama administration gave economic causes a limited role in relation to terrorism. Primarily, international security was seen as an obligation to our allies.[lx] The Obama administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS), released after their CTS, did specify that improving economic opportunities for youth and women needed to play a central role in combating terrorism.[lxi] This policy did not line up with the results from survey respondents. The sentiment of improving economic opportunities to decrease terrorism is found in the Obama administrations NSS but not in the Trump administration’s policies.
In regard to international security, the Trump administration hypothesized that in the absence of U.S. leadership, dangerous actors can fill the resulting void. The administration does not give weight to the economic causes of terrorism.[lxii] The administration points to stronger economies as providing American entities with commercial opportunities not as tools for combating terrorism.[lxiii] Although the Islamic State had an economy of sorts, it was direct military action that sealed the caliphate’s defeat in 2019. Clearly the perceptions of respondents calling for more attention to economic causes of terrorism are not reflected in the current administration’s policy.
INCREASED SURVEILLANCE OF MUSLIMS
Respondents’ answers to “the government should increase surveillance of Muslims” indicate that the majority 61.7 percent “somewhat agree”, “agree”, or “strongly agree” that there should be an increase in the surveillance of Muslims.[lxiv] Thirty-four point nine percent of respondents “do not agree” that there should be increased surveillance of Muslims. In Figure 3, it is seen that the majority of respondents’ have some agreement with the increased surveillance of Muslims which is mimicked by the Trump administration’s policies on the surveillance of foreign enemies. Our analysis of the CTSs revealed that President Trump’s policy reversed President Obama’s actions to end the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.[lxv]
Figure 3: Quantity of responses from question 25 statement h)
The Trump administration altered U.S. strategy by using the Law of Armed Conflict and Detention to remove terrorists from the battlefield and gather intelligence.[lxvi] Although this change in policy did not directly increase the surveillance of Muslims who are citizens of the U.S., it did increase intelligence gathering from enemy combatants and individuals who are not U.S. citizens. Candidate Trump’s campaign rhetoric mentioned increasing surveillance of Muslims in the United States, similar to the monitoring of selected mosques during the George W. Bush administration.[lxvii] Although this was Trump’s campaign rhetoric, since assuming office no significant policy changes have been made to increase surveillance of American Muslims.
The Trump administration did signal an increase in information sharing with other countries regarding potential terrorists from predominantly Muslim populations and areas.[lxviii] The current administration’s CTS emphasizes that increased utilization of intelligence community assets is essential in the fight to defeat radical Islamic terrorists.[lxix] This stopped short of explicitly stating increased surveillance within the U.S. or in Muslim communities. But overall, we can conclude that the Trump administration’s increased surveillance of foreign enemies does somewhat align with the respondent’s agreement for increased surveillance.
INTERVENTION IN HUMANITARIAN CRISES
Figure 4 shows the responses to the statement, “the government should militarily intervene in humanitarian crises overseas if that might decrease the threat of terrorism in the United States” the majority of respondents 69.0 percent “somewhat agree”, “agree”, or “strongly agree”.[lxx] The survey found that 27.6 percent of respondents “do not agree” with the statement. The Obama administration’s CTS stated that human rights were one of the principal American values guiding the strategy of the United States.[lxxi] The Trump administration referred to humanitarian assistance as a priority action.[lxxii] Both administrations articulated that American principles must inform terrorism policies. Although these principles guide the actions of the United States, neither policy requires foreign nations to adopt U.S. principles.[lxxiii]
Figure 4: Quantity of responses from question 25 statement i)
The nation’s ability to intervene militarily in humanitarian disasters, particularly those resulting from terrorism, is important to our security posture. Obama’s CTS called for a smaller military while still retaining its dominance.[lxxiv] The current administration’s CTS calls for a larger, modernized military and states that a larger force is the only way to regain or maintain dominance.[lxxv] Obviously the size of the military has implications on the effectiveness of any possible intervention. Since the majority of survey respondents support intervention in terrorist created humanitarian crisis, we can conclude that the respondents’ perceptions of terror threats in this area line up with current and past U.S. policy.[lxxvi]
TEMPORARILY HALT OF IMMIGRATION AND STOPPING ALL REFUGEES
In Question 28, respondents were asked “A number of policy options have been proposed to manage risks from terrorist attacks”.[lxxvii] They were then asked how much they would support or oppose each policy option. The first was a “temporary halt of immigration to the United States”. As shown in Figure 5, a slight majority of respondents, 38.6 percent “somewhat support” or “strongly support” the action, compared to 30.2 percent who “strongly oppose” or “somewhat oppose”. The second policy stated “stop all refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States”.[lxxviii] Again a slight majority of respondents, 41.7 percent “somewhat support”, or “strongly support”, while 28.6 percent “strongly oppose” or “somewhat oppose” the action as shown in Figure 6.
In the responses to both statements, “temporary halt of immigration to the United States” and “stop all refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States”; both reflected fairly high “neutral” responses, 28.0 percent in Figure 5 and 26.7 percent in Figure 6. When compared to the other questions and statements compared in this analysis, responses to Question 28 are the closest between those who support and oppose these policy options. Given these high “neutral” response rates and the similar percentage of those who support and oppose, it seems to reflect a very divided opinion in the areas of “temporary halt” and “stop all refugees from Syria and Iraq” in the United States.
Figure 5: Quantity of responses from question 28 statement d)
Figure 6: Quantity of responses from question 28 statement e)
A year after the GfK Survey two executive orders signed by President Trump in January 2017 demonstrate the tightening of the administration’s policies towards refugees and immigrants entering the United States and border security. President Trump signed Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States which halted refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States. It should be noted that all the nations included under the order have sever internal security problems. The executive order was temporarily suspended by Judge James L. Robart of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle, Washington and later denied restoration in the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth and Ninth districts leading to a showdown in Supreme Court.[lxxix] The Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s executive order in June of 2018 with a 5-4 vote citing that the order was within the scope of Presidential authority.[lxxx]
As discussed in the analysis of responses to the effectiveness of a border wall, the divergence between citizens’ perceptions in the survey and the Trump administration on immigration and refugees represents the current political environment. In a poll conducted on behalf of CBS in February 2017, 51 percent of Americans disapproved and 45 percent approved of the executive order temporarily halting refugees from several countries. The differences fell along partisan lines; of Republicans 85 percent approved, among Democrats disapproval was an equal 85 percent. This divide seems to have continued through the 2018 mid-term election.[lxxxi]
Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements issued on January 25, 2017, called for the Border Patrol to hire 5,000 and ICE to hire 10,000 agents.[lxxxii] The increase in agents demonstrates the administration’s alignment with many citizens’ perceptions that there is a terrorist threat on the border and allocation of more resources to enhance border security is prudent.
Both of these policy actions signal that a broken immigration system and unknown refugees are a threat to the security of the United States. With a majority of respondents supporting the temporary halt of immigration and ending all refugees from Iraq and Syria from entering the United States, we can conclude that the respondents’ perceptions reflected in Figures 5 and 6 line up one side, “for”, of a three-way divided range of perceptions “for”, “against”, and “neutral”.
This paper explored the effect of citizens’ risk perceptions of terrorist events on public policy outcomes. To answer this question, our paper used data collected from the 2016 GfK Group Lone Wolf Terrorism Risk Perception Report and compared the perceptions of its respondents to the National Counterterrorism Strategies (CTS) of the Obama and Trump administrations. The Obama administration’s policy was guided by “strong and sustainable leadership” and stated that America should lead. The policy questioned how the nation was to lead when compared with prior administrations. The emphasis was on collective action and stressed not applying the use of force as “the principal means of U.S. engagement abroad”.[lxxxiii] The Trump administration’s strategy is guided by “principled realism”.[lxxxiv] This policy describes that the good of the nation and the world depends on strong and independent nations that treat their citizens well and work among each other for peace abroad. One of the leading ideas is that American principles are “a lasting force for good in the world”.[lxxxv]
The administrations also differ in who they define as the enemy. The Obama administration defined the enemy as violent extremists, while the Trump administration more narrowly defines the enemy as jihadist terrorists.[lxxxvi] The Trump strategy calls for a larger and modernized military force. President Obama’s policy decreased the size of the military.[lxxxvii] Both administrations addressed the threat posed by homegrown terrorists inspired by radical Islamists.[lxxxviii] These items demonstrate the overall stances of the administrations.
After comparing the outcomes of the GfK survey against both administration’s CTSs, it is clear that respondents’ perceptions of the terrorist events have generally matched policy outcomes in four areas and did not align in two. First, respondents’ perceptions aligned with the Trump administration policy of increasing the surveillance of foreign enemies and continuing the use of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. This was counter to the Obama administration’s policies in the same areas. Second, U.S. intervention in humanitarian conflicts if it might decrease the threat from terrorism; lined up with public perception and the policies of both administrations. Each administration had cited alleviating human suffering as part of the reason for intervention in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State.
The third and fourth policy areas where agreement was found included the temporary hiatus of immigration and the halting of refugees from Iraq and Syria to increase security. Although there was agreement in this area, the high number of respondents that were neutral and the close number of respondents who support or oppose the actions signaled a significant divide in attitudes toward refugee and immigration policy. One side of the perceptions of limiting immigration can be seen in the Trump administration’s Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States. And after a series of court battles, the order was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2018, halting refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations.[lxxxix]
Respondents’ answers did not line up with the changes in policy between the Obama and Trump administrations in two ways. Overwhelmingly, citizens believed that a US-Mexico border wall was not an effective way to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country. This perception does not match the Trump administration’s firm insistence that a wall is essential to national security. The sentiment from 2016, does seem to have shifted at least with part of the public, given the intense debate on whether improving the border wall is a worthy policy option.
The second area of separation came with a majority of respondents agreeing that more attention should be paid to the economic causes of terrorism. Economic causes were found within the Obama CTS. The current administration’s policy does not emphasize the economic causes.[xc] The Trump administration’s CTS refers to economics in terms of a stronger economy providing the United States with commercial opportunities, not as a tool to combat terrorism.[xci]
After analyzing the National Strategies for Counterterrorism (CTS) for both the Obama and Trump administrations and comparing them against the GfK Group Survey it is clear that citizens’ perceptions do not always line up with the policies enacted by the national command authority. The divergence between citizens’ perceptions and federal policies, highlight the importance of gaining a shared understanding of what constitutes terrorism and violent crimes. If policy makers do not have accurate and shared definitions of terrorism and violent crimes, there is the potential for pursuing policies that are ineffective. The fact that the presidential administrations were adjusting counterterrorism policies over time is an indicator that national defense leaders and law enforcement officials have a more accurate understanding of terrorism compared to the general public.
As discussed earlier, violent crimes do not fall under the CTS. Such crimes are not motivated by a specific ideology, as are terrorist attacks. Violent crimes are often a local law enforcement matter and not a national defense concern. This is a point often lost on the public, but of great importance to policy makers. The survey’s questions did not address the subtle differences between terrorism and violent crimes. This leaves a possible gap in our findings because the difference in the perceptions of the threat from a violent crime and terrorism cannot be distinguished in the results of this survey. Further research and analysis could show if policy changes are a result of a changeover in administrations and political party or an alteration that transcends both parties and agendas.
President Obama started his presidency resolute in having a lighter footprint in the Middle East.[xcii] Pursuit of this goal led to the withdrawal of forces before U.S. interests had been stabilized in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama originally took strong verbal positions against Iranian possession of nuclear weapons, Egyptians should not live under authoritarian rule, and that Syrian President al-Assad should be deposed. Although these stances were uttered, the administration did not carry through to achieve these goals. The hesitation to re-intervene militarily in the Middle East ended when Obama and coalition forces began airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria in 2014.[xciii] The slow, forced transition from a proposed withdrawal to increasing intervention was carried on throughout the Obama administration and expanded under Trump’s guidance. The Islamic State has been defeated, their physical caliphate is gone. Although the Trump administration has begun pulling numbers of troops out of the conflict zone, no one believes the threat of the Salafist-jihadist movement is over.
APPENDIX 1 Lone Wolf Terrorism Risk Perception Questions
Q25. Indicate your level of disagreement or agreement with the following statements about ways to deter terrorist attacks:
|Do Not Agree||Somewhat Agree||Agree||Strongly Agree|
Statement in rows: (Highlighting below indicates statements used in this paper)
- Armed security guards will not deter a lone-wolf attack on a school.
- Harsher penalties will generally not deter lone-wolf terrorist attacks.
- Allowing people to openly carry guns will deter lone-wolf terrorist attacks.
- Building a wall along the United States-Mexico border is not an effective way to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country.
- More attention should be paid to address the economic causes of terrorism in other countries.
- Individuals who are diagnosed with a mental illness should not have the right to purchase guns.
- Mental health professionals should be required to notify law enforcement about any of their clients who may be a risk for committing violent acts against others.
- The government should increase surveillance of Muslims.
- The government should militarily intervene in humanitarian crises overseas if that might decrease the threat of terrorism in the United States.
- Groups that help Muslim youth build positive connections with their communities reduce the likelihood that they will become radicalized into terrorist activities.
Q28. A number of policy actions have been proposed to manage risks from terrorist attacks. How much would you support or oppose each of the following options?
|Strongly Oppose||Somewhat Oppose||Neutral
|Somewhat Support||Strongly Support|
Statement in rows:
- Stricter passenger security screening procedures in all U.S. airports even if all passengers would need to wait in line an extra 30 minutes
- Stricter passenger security screening procedures in foreign airports for incoming flights to the United States even if all passengers would need to wait in line for an extra 30 minutes
- Stricter background checks for all gun purchases
- Temporarily halt immigration to the United States
- Stop all refugees from Syria and Iraq from entering the United States
- More staff and money to perform background checks for gun purchases
- Require cell phone manufactures to help federal authorities open locked cell phones used by known terrorists even if this will reduce the personal privacy of all cell phone users