Domestic terrorism has been a growing concern in the United States, especially since the Capitol Hill riots three years ago. With the presidential election less than a year away, domestic terrorism is once again taking center stage. The Council on Foreign Relations’ annual survey found that foreign policy experts are most concerned about domestic threats, not foreign ones.
The rising concern is not without basis. According to the Government Accountability Office, domestic terrorism cases increased 357% between 2013 and 2021. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a report in November 2023 that right-wing extremist terror incidents have risen over the past six years, from 27 incidents between 2017 and 2019 to 40 incidents between 2020 and 2022.
Recent Domestic Terror Incidents
Last month, police charged a suspect with domestic terrorism for plans to violently topple the Barry Township government in Michigan.
In August 2023, a white gunman shot up a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Florida, killing three Black people and then himself. The incident was labeled a terrorist attack and a hate crime.
In March 2023, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged 23 people with domestic terrorism during a protest against the building of a new police and fire training facility in Atlanta, labeled by its detractors as “Cop City.”
The US Government’s Approach to Fighting Domestic Terrorism
In 2021, the Biden-Harris administration published the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, a plan for the government to deal with homegrown threats. The administration updated the report in 2023 and included a three-pronged approach for dealing with domestic terrorism: understanding, prevention, and disruption.
Understanding domestic terrorism includes:
- Improving information-sharing between federal and state law enforcement authorities.
- Improving analysis of domestic terrorism intelligence.
- Working with international partners to focus on transnational racially/ethnically motivated violent extremism.
- Enlisting the help of the US private sector.
- Increasing financial, technical, and educational resources for state and local governments.
- Implementing more prevention programs for individuals at risk of committing violence or terrorism.
- Boosting training opportunities for local prevention endeavors.
- Addressing the internet’s role in promoting local terrorism.
Disruption of domestic terrorism includes the following activities:
- Prioritizing domestic terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions.
- Increasing support for investigators and prosecutors.
Taking Precautions Against Domestic Terrorism
While the government has its own plan for combating domestic terrorism, what can individuals do when going about their daily lives?
Terror attacks can happen at any moment, in any place. While no one can control external factors, individuals increase their preparedness for such an event, including:
- Be informed: Before going to a certain area or event, check the news about any alerts or updates. It is important to be aware of the political climate in general, as it is the primary driver of domestic terror attacks.
- Be aware: Wherever you are, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to strange objects or behaviors that seem out of place. In Israel, for example, if someone leaves an unattended backpack or bag, concerned Samaritans inevitably report it to authorities who bring in bomb units and anti-terror squads to assess any possible danger.
- Report: If you see anything suspicious, report it immediately to law enforcement.
Even as domestic terror-related incidents increase, it’s reassuring that federal and local governments are working in tandem to prevent them. As individuals, the best defense is knowledge and preparedness. The Red Cross website has an excellent list of how to prepare for a terrorist attack and what to do if caught in the middle of one.