Homegrown Terrorism in the U.S.

By Cat Cronin, Researcher at Talking About Terrorism.



1. According to FBI Director Christopher Wray, “The primary terrorist threat to the homeland today, without question, is homegrown violent extremists.” Analysts usually refer to homegrown terrorism as “terrorist activity undertaken by…residents of the United States.” It excludes any attack planned or carried out by foreign terrorists, even if directed at U.S. targets (such as the 2001 attempted shoe bombing episode).


2. Homegrown terrorism is not new in the U.S. Pre-9/11 examples include the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. More recent examples are the right-wing extremist attacks of the 2017 Charlottesville car attack and the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.


3. Since many homegrown terrorists have not had past run-ins with the law, it can be challenging to identify an individual who is going through the radicalization process, as he may not be on the radar of law enforcement officers. Peter Bergen and the New America Foundation examined the court records of 300 people charged with jihadist terrorism in the U.S. from 2001-2016 and found that only 1 in 10 had mental health problems and 12% had spent time in prison. Similarly, right-wing extremists are trying to look less conspicuous to avoid detection from law enforcement officials.


4. Although many Americans view jihadist terrorists as the biggest threat to the country, American-born far-right extremists have been responsible for 3 times more attacks. The number of right-wing terrorist attacks jumped in 2017 to 31, from a mean of 11 between 2012-2016. Data shows that from 1993-2017, approximately 65% of right-wing terror attacks have been against the government or law enforcement officers.


American-born far-right extremists have been responsible for 3 times more attacks than jihadist terrorists.

5. 84% of charged terrorists have been U.S. citizens and permanent residents. Out of the 427 charged terrorists, 232 people were U.S. born citizens, and 102 were naturalized citizens. Of the 15 jihadists in the U.S. since 9/11 who have killed at least one person, 9 were born within the U.S.


6. Domestic terrorism is not a federal crime. It is challenging to charge people with domestic terrorism charges due to First Amendment rights, which permit free speech and the freedom to engage with others who have extremist views. As such, far-right extremists, in particular, are rarely prosecuted as terrorists. Since 9/11, only 34 right-wing extremists have been charged under U.S. terrorism laws out of 268 who have been prosecuted.


7. The Intercept examined 752 cases that “prosecutors have designated as involving an alleged domestic terrorist” and noted that only 15 met the Justice Department’s narrow definition of domestic terrorism.


8. According to the FBI, “150 Americans were arrested for planning to engage in acts of domestic terrorism in 2017, compared to 110 international suspects; in 2018, the ratio was 120 to 100.” However, instead of being charged for terrorism, almost all were charged for specific violations such as the possession of illegal firearms or drugs.


9. To combat homegrown terrorism, the FBI uses a “comprehensive violence reduction strategy.” As part of the strategy, the FBI works with state and local law enforcement officers. It has also utilized outreach programs for communities that are at a greater risk of radicalization.


10. The current focus of U.S. policy is to prevent the “further rise” of right-wing extremism. The challenge is identifying radicalizing extremists, many of whom are lone actors.


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