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The Next American Terrorist


The Growing Irrelevance of Organizational Structure for U.S. Domestic Terrorism

Bruce Hoffman, Terrorism Expert, Professor, Georgetown University

Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and the Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Visiting Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has served as a commissioner on the Independent Commission to Review the FBI’s Post-9/11 Response to Terrorism and Radicalization, a Scholar-in-Residence for Counterterrorism at the CIA, and an adviser on counterterrorism to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in 2004.

Colin Clarke, Senior Fellow, The Soufan Center

Colin P. Clarke is a Senior Fellow at The Soufan Center where he studies terrorism, extremism, and political violence. He is also an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT)- The Hague and an adjunct senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

For decades, America’s primary terrorist threat came from groups based abroad.  Today, a new crop of terrorist actors is emerging from within our own borders. What was mostly a monochromatic threat from Salafi-jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS), and those individuals they sought to inspire, has now become a kaleidoscope with new threats from “boogaloo bois,” white supremacists, neo-Nazis, shadowy anarchist elements, and the extreme fringe of violent incels—politicized involuntary celibates fueled by a hatred of women.

Although diverse and for the most part unconnected to each other, this often bewildering array of anti-government extremists, violent misogynists, and left-wing militants share a common objective of disrupting society and in the process, overturning existing norms if not the entire political, social and economic order.

Unlike the identifiable threats we have faced from hierarchically-organized, groups like al-Qaeda and IS, the new emerging groups of individuals are devoid of the command-and-control apparatuses that counterterrorism practitioners typically seek to disrupt. Command and control is the mechanism by which terrorist groups plan, coordinate, and execute attacks and is a key component of the group’s organizational structure. For the past two decades, the United States has relentlessly targeted the leaders of terrorist groups with decapitation strikes, which has disrupted their organization’s infrastructure, and interdicted their finances. But this new collection of terrorist adversaries possesses few of the attributes that proved so vulnerable to counterterrorism actions.

Thus, bureaucratic organizations with hierarchical leadership structures and clearly-defined objectives have been supplanted by loosely networked movements with amorphous goals that exist across the ideological spectrum that we are only now beginning to understand. Moreover, members of these networks are more susceptible to what terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross calls “fringe fluidity,” where an experience with one form of extremism can lead to a distinct radicalization pathway and thus, facilitate the movement of individuals from one form of militancy to another. There are several high-profile examples, including Nick Young, the Northern Virginia transit cop who was enamored with both Nazi Germany and the Islamic State. In May 2017, a neo-Nazi turned Islamic State supporter named Devon Arthurs killed his two neo-Nazi roommates because they mocked his newfound zeal for radical Islam after formerly being a member of Atomwaffen.

Popular theories like accelerationism, whose proponents believe in the complete destruction of current systems of government, appeal to individuals that claim allegiance to movements on both the far-left and the far-right. Taken together, this perhaps suggests the growing irrelevance of organizational structure when assessing U.S.-based domestic terrorist threats. For neo-Nazi groups like The Base and Atomwaffen Division, as well as the boogaloo movement and many far-right extremists, a confluence of ideological affinities is more powerful in inspiring and provoking violence than the

hierarchical terrorist organizational structures of the past. The merging of concepts that motivate individuals to engage in terrorism, no matter how quixotic, is likely to prolong the threat and complicate effective countermeasures. One immediate implication of this ideological mélange is that it makes it more difficult to identify tangible grievances and therefore craft appropriate policy responses.

This trend has been abetted by the continued emphasis on lone wolf or lone actor attacks. Originally articulated by American far-right extremists as a “leaderless resistance” strategy it was subsequently embraced with intensified fervor by Salafi-jihadist groups like the Islamic State, which encouraged followers to be both entrepreneurial and opportunistic in launching attacks in the West. The result was a shift in tactics, techniques, and procedures, including a spike in vehicle attacks against unsuspecting pedestrians along with other demonstrably crude attacks using commonplace weapons like axes  and machetes. Both white supremacists as well as violent incels, for instance, have each used cars deliberately to harm civilians without being instructed or trained to do so by a terrorist leader. Since the protests began over the murder of George Floyd, there have been nearly three dozen reported cases of vehicle attacks, including one allegedly perpetrated by a high-ranking Ku Klux Klan (KKK) member named Harry Rogers in Richmond, VA.

Although we have seen this less clearly defined organizational structure among some domestic terrorism threats in the United States in the past, the current iteration is unprecedented. In the 1980s and 1990s, violent, extremist far-right groups like The Order and the Phineas Priesthood adopted the leaderless resistance strategy and operated clandestinely to conduct bombings and assassinations and commit crimes including bank robberies. But such groups were short-lived or had limited impact. Today, the dimensions of these diverse threats present new challenges to Federal law enforcement agencies and their state, local, and tribal partners.

Even without a robust and identifiable organizational structure in place, Federal law enforcement is still tasked with mapping how the individuals and small cells belonging to these movements communicate, delegate tasks, procure weapons and equipment, and maintain operations security. Yet even when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is successful in disrupting plots through the use of informants, the fact that these individuals do not belong to an actual organization or group, per se, means that the arrests, while critical to keeping Americans safe, can only have a limited impact in reducing the overall domestic terrorism threat. This is precisely what the strategy of leaderless resistance was designed to ensure.

Counterterrorism strategies must adapt to the range of traditional and emerging threats from a multiplicity of international and domestic adversaries. In some cases, domestic and international milieus will intersect and overlap. There is undoubtedly an interplay between foreign countries like Russia interested in stirring the pot domestically in the United States, and violent non-state actors operating on American soil, even if the actual linkages are murky and difficult to uncover. The leader of The Base, Rinaldo Nazzaro (aka Norman Spear), for instance, is an American citizen believed to be living in St. Petersburg, Russia and the United States recently listed the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) as a specially designated global terrorist organization or SDGT—an important step that falls just short of the ultimate sanction of a foreign terrorist organization, or FTO. A U.S. citizen and white supremacist named Matthew Heimbach has been linked to RIM in the past, thus underscoring the eroding distinction between foreign and domestic when Americans lead and are of members of State Department-sanctioned terrorist groups.

The law has failed to keep pace with either the social media technology that facilitates and abets radicalization or terrorist adversaries that defy traditional conceptualizations. It may be worth considering legislation focused specifically on domestic terrorism that would create a category facilitating the prosecution of crimes that in an international context are considered terrorism. Equally importantly, such legislation might standardize the collection and analysis of data on hate crimes and other acts of violence that should be prosecuted as terrorism to bring greater equity in the sentencing of foreign and domestic terrorists. Persons convicted in the United States of providing material support to IS, according to the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, receive sentences in excess of thirteen years in prison. Last February, a member of Atomwaffen received a twelve-month sentence for similar charges. The law should remain agnostic to the ideologies that fuel political violence while focusing on the actions themselves.

Since September 11, 2001, the so-called Global War on Terror saw the United States leverage its exquisite military and intelligence capabilities to focus on disrupting terrorist plots from North Africa to South Asia, even as organizations like al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their respective affiliates and franchise groups continue to adapt and evolve. Yet now, as evidenced by events that have played out over the first half of this year, there is a renewed sense of urgency to deal with actual terrorist threats percolating on American soil. Policymakers could consider the appropriate laws, authorities, and policies to ensure that the country is prepared to meet the ever-changing terrorism threat, including its most recent domestic permutations.

Read more expert-driven national security insights, perspective and analysis in The Cipher Brief

 





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Memorial in San Bernardino marks four years since terrorist attack



The more than 1,400 days since Yvette Velasco died at the hands of two terrorists in the San Bernardino attack hasn’t buffered the grief for the family she left behind. They said it’s actually worse.

Every time there’s another mass tragedy, Velasco’s mother and sister say they live through the pain again. When Velasco’s mother, Marie, watched news coverage of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., and the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso in August, she heard of other mothers searching for their children, only to learn they were killed. That mentally transports her back to where she was four years ago, she said.

“When you hear parents on TV saying, ‘I can’t find my kid,’ I know what that felt like,” she said. “We know that nightmare because we’ve lived it. It’s indescribable.”

There are ways to cope with the pain even though it is permanent, the family said. On Monday, the four-year anniversary of when Velasco and 13 others were killed, Cal State San Bernardino held a memorial for the victims. Speaking before the crowd, Velasco’s sister, Erica Porteous, said these moments help her family though hard times.

“For our family, not a day goes by that we don’t feel the loss,” Porteous said. “But this brings us comfort.”

On Dec. 2, 2015, a San Bernardino County employee and his wife marched into an office holiday party at the Inland Regional Center; they were clad in black and armed with assault rifles and pistols. They killed 14 people and injured 22 others. Authorities killed them in a shootout.

Velasco, who worked as an environmental health specialist, was 27.

Five of the victims — Robert Adams, Juan Espinoza, Shannon Johnson, Michael Wetzel and Velasco — were Cal State alumni. Three years ago, the university created a “Peace Garden” to honor the victims. It was built just steps away from the College of Natural Sciences, where the five alumni graduated.

At the beginning and end of Monday’s service, a faculty member rang a bell in the center of the stone-accented garden 14 times, once for each of the fallen. It remains silent for the rest of the year.

Sastry Pantula, dean of the college of natural sciences, joined the university in 2018. Though he didn’t know the victims, he said they are always on his mind.

The garden, he said, has become important to the campus. His faculty and students sometimes hold meetings there. Occasionally, he will eat lunch there and meditate. Pantula said it’s imperative to remember the lives lost, not just on the anniversary.

“When you Google San Bernardino, the first thing you read about is the shooting,” Pantula said. “But you can’t live in fear, and it is good that we are promoting peace.

“The biggest worry for me is seeing people reading the news and becoming immune, saying ‘That’s just another shooting.’ People are getting thick skin and aren’t paying attention to the violence around us.”

Dressed in dark clothes with sunglasses covering her eyes, Porteous held a picture of her sister with her black graduation tassel dangling from the frame. After the ceremony, which included brief remarks from Pantula, Porteous and William Vandyke, who works in the college, family members of Velasco and other victims laid white roses at the base of the bell. Porteous said she wants the public to know that her sister was a loving person, and she is thankful that her memory is being kept alive.

“I think that this garden and the fact that the Cal State community continue to remember the alumni, and that their deaths were not in vain, can hopefully bring a sense of awareness,” Porteous said.





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London Bridge terrorist named as 28-year-old man previously convicted for terrorism offenc | UK | News


He was arrested with eight other men after plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp.

He was ordered to serve at least eight years in prison.

It was reported that Khan had planned to travel to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and set up a terrorist group on a piece of land owned by his family.

Of the nine men arrested, Khan and two others were described by Judge Mr Justice Wilkie as “the more serious jihadists”.

The judge added that Khan shouldn’t be released until he and the others were considered to no longer be a threat to the public.

However, in 2013, Khan and three other men argued that they shouldn’t have received indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs) – special sentences intended to keep prisoners beyond their original minimum term.

The Court of Appeal eventually ruled that the indeterminate sentences originally given to Khan and the others should be replaced with fixed terms and extended licences.

The halfway point of the fixed terms, at which point the men were eligible to be released on license, matched the minimum they originally served before they could seek to leave prison.

JUST IN:London Bridge terrorist named as 28-year-old man previously convicted

Khan was 22-years-old at the time of his arrest in 2010 and had been living in Stoke.

He was ordered to serve at least eight years of his 16-year sentence.

He was told he would be subject to extended licenses of five years beyond his sentence, which are intended to allow the authorities to recall someone to prison.



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Cressida Dick applauds police for swift response to London Bridge terrorist


The Met’s commissioner says police confronted the suspect within five minutes (Picture: Getty/BBC)

The speed at which officers dealt with the London Bridge terror attacker has been praised by the Metropolitan Police’s top cop.

Cressida Dick made the remarks as she confirmed two victims lost their lives to the knifeman and that three others are being treated in hospital.

She condemned the ‘the empty ideology of terror’ and also thanked members of the public for showing ‘extraordinary courage’ by stepping in to help disarm the assailant.

At a press conference outside Scotland Yard this evening Ms Dick refused to comment on the identities of the fatalities or the condition of the injured parties.

Praising how officers handled the situation at Fishmonger’s Hall, she said: ‘My understanding is that police were called at 1358, two minute to 2 and city of London Police officers had bravely and professionally confronted the suspect at 1403, just five minutes later.’

She urged members of the public with video of the incident to come forward (Picture: Sky News)

She called on anyone with video footage of the incident to get in touch with authorities to help them with their investigation.

The commissioner added: ”I also want to thank the members of the public who have helped, either by showing extraordinary courage by stepping in to tackle this attacker or by following the instructions they have subsequently been given by officers at the scene and in the area.’

‘The empty ideology of terror offers nothing but hatred and today I urge everyone to reject that.

More: London

‘Ours is a great city because we embrace each other’s differences. We must emerge stronger still from this tragedy. In doing that we will ensure that the few who seek to divide us will never, ever succeed.’

‘We will be working as fast as we can to understand who this man is, where he comes from and whether there is anyone else who we need to find quickly who might be in touch with him.’

Earlier Ms Dick gave a briefing to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Boris Johnson, who is due to hold an emergency COBRA meeting this evening.

More: UK





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