Is the 9/11 era over? It appears that way with President Obama officially announcing the war in Afghanistan’s conclusion at the end of 2014 (with a residual, non-combat force remaining there until 2016), the Sgt. Bergdahl prisoner swap, and a planned pivot from concentration on foreign terrorism to domestic terrorism. Immediately following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, then Attorney General Janet Reno established a domestic terrorism committee. Needless to say, after the attacks on 9/11, the focus shifted to extremism abroad.
However, this week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he and the president are reviving the Committee on Domestic Terrorism. In a written statement, AG Holder stated, “As President Obama has said, after years of strong and effective anti-terror efforts post-9/11, the United States has significantly reduced the threats we face from core al Qaeda…we also must concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice.” While AG Holder made note of affiliate terror forces who still pose a threat, the administration is heeding warnings from experts regarding the return of foreign fighters from Syria who pose a risk to the west and their home countries. A modest estimate by the FBI puts Americans fighting for jihad in Syria to number over 70. The administration fears groups such as al-Qaeda’s Somali affiliate al-Shabaab who urge lone wolf attacks against the United States as well as other battle-hardened fighters who are returning home and are ready to demonstrate what they have learned.
There has also been a spike in domestic terrorism not associated with jihad or Muslim extremism and anti-government furor in the United States recently. The most well-known example is the fifteen minutes of fame Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy enjoyed when federal agents attempted to seize his cattle given Mr. Bundy had not paid their grazing fees for years. He inspired hundreds of anti-government, NRA enthusiasts and militias to come to his aid against the “tyranny” of the federal government, in which Mr. Bundy does not recognize.
Tragically, last weekend, a couple who shared similar anti-government views with the Bundy clan went on a shooting rampage in Las Vegas killing two police officers. In a chilling report, the couple’s social media accounts told a detailed story about their feelings toward the government and their desire to act. These individuals are significantly different from radical Muslims but share terrorist views of doing harm, instilling fear, and eventually overthrowing the government.
Former Obama White House official Quintan Wiktorowicz, who during his time in government, tried to rally the administration to create funding and prioritize countering violent extremism (CVE) programs. Mr. Wiktorowicz recently wrote in a policy essay, “it is time to create a CVE-specific budget rather than require that agencies beg, borrow, and steal from existing resources.” According to Mr. Wikorowicz, the FBI has established a CVE office but there is no funding to provide it with resources. This is problematic because in Mr. Wikorowicz’s words, “requiring that agencies expand CVE activities within existing resources sets up a zero-sum game with other programs. More focus and resources devoted to CVE—including the increased availability of grants and training for CVE and the nascent Department of Homeland Security ‘envoy’ program that places CVE specialists in key cities to help coordinate community engagement—necessarily means taking away from other initiatives and priorities,” which can establish an unfair trade-off where officials have to choose what programs to fund or to allocate resources.
According to a Congressional Research Service report, CVE programs can help bolster law enforcement departments in their communities and the officers with better training and understanding of terrorist behavior and development. Establishing domestic terrorism programs will help prevent attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombing by tightening up loose ends on the law enforcement side, and further contribute to victories such as stopping a California man from traveling to Syria to fight for jihad.
Attorney General Holder stated the new Domestic Terror Executive Committee will be comprised of members of the Department of Justice, US Attorneys, the National Security Division, and the FBI. “This committee will coordinate closely with U.S. Attorneys and other key public safety officials across the country to promote information-sharing and ensure an effective, responsive, and organized joint effort,” said Holder in his written statement. The United States faces a myriad of challenges from foreign and domestic terrorism. With the Obama administration shifting resources from a wide, militaristic footprint, to a more specific and strategic one, the administration is trying to combat the realistic threats it faces. Domestic terrorism seems to have risen recently with horror stories in the news. However, gun violence has always been an issue in the United States. With the overseas wars coming to a close, perhaps now the administration can allocate resources and shift attention to address domestic concerns. With the new strategies outlined by the administration, it should be able to combat foreign and domestic terrorism through reduced methods without straining the national budget and the national economy.