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Hate groupsAre many hate crimes really examples of domestic terrorism?

By Arie Perliger

Published 23 October 2017

This growing domestic menace deserves more attention than it’s getting. I consider domestic terrorism a more significant threat than the foreign-masterminded variety in part because it is more common in terms of the number of attacks on U.S. soil. The number of violent attacks on U.S. soil inspired by far-right ideology has spiked since the beginning of this century, rising from a yearly average of 70 attacks in the 1990s to a yearly average of more than 300 since 2001. Despite an uptick in far-right violence and the Trump administration’s plan to increase the Department of Homeland Security budget by 6.7 percent to $44.1 billion in 2018, the White House wants to cut spending for programs that fight non-Muslim domestic terrorism. The federal government has also frozen $10 million in grants aimed at countering domestic violent extremism. This approach is bound to weaken the authorities’ power to monitor far-right groups, undercutting public safety.

A Maryland grand jury has indictedSean Urbanski for allegedly murdering an African-American student in May.

Urbanski, a white former University of Maryland student who belonged to the racist Alt-Reich: Nation Facebook group, is facing a hate crime charge in the death of Richard Collins III. The victim had recently been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was days away from his graduation from another Maryland school.

While it makes sense to prosecute this murder as a hate crime, my 15 years experience of studying violent extremism in Western societies has taught me that dealing effectively with far-right violence requires something more: treating its manifestations as domestic terrorism.

Domestic terrorism
This growing domestic menace deserves more attention than it’s getting.

Terrorism is a form of psychological warfare. Most terrorist groups lack the resources, expertise and manpower to defeat state actors. Instead, they promote their agenda through violence that shapes perceptions of political and social issues.

I believe that the Maryland murder, if it was motivated by racist sentiments, should be treated as an act of domestic terrorism – which I define as the use of violence in a political and social context that aims to send a message to a broader target audience.

Like lynching, cross-burning and vandalizing religious sites, incidents of this kind deliberately aim to terrorize people of color and non-Christians.

I consider domestic terrorism a more significant threat than the foreign-masterminded variety in part because it is more common in terms of the number of attacks on U.S. soil. For example, my report published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point identified hundreds of domestic terror incidents per year from 2008 to 2012.

Another report, initially published in 2014 by New America Foundation on domestic incidents of extremist violence, shows that far-right affiliated perpetrators conducted 18 attacks that killed 48 people in the United States from 2002 to 2016 (excluding the Orlando nightclub massacre). Over the same period, terrorists motivated by al-Qaida’s or the Islamic State’s ideology killed 45 people in nine attacks.

The Orlando mass shooting, given its mix of apparent motives, is hard to categorize. That attack killed 49 people.