Considered opinion: Home-grown terroristsAmerican terrorists: Why current laws are inadequate for violent extremists at home

By Jason M. Blazakis

Published 5 December 2018

For Americans, and for the U.S. government, terrorism is a foreign-linked threat, not a domestic danger. Groups which perpetrate violent acts at home are regarded as criminal groups, and law enforcement agencies treat and investigate them as such. The “terrorism” label is not used. Jason Blazakis, who for many years ran the office at the State Department in charge of terrorist designations, argues that this distinction needs to be changed. He offers a method for designating domestic terrorist groups, and for putting them on par with foreign-linked terrorists.

For more than ten years, Jason M. Blazakis led an office at the State Department responsible for sanctioning Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) and individuals we deemed “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” pursuant to Executive Order 13224. With very few exceptions, the specialists at the office spent their time sanctioning Islamic groups and Muslims. “In contrast, we never spent any time evaluating whether far-right extremist groups met the legal criteria to be identified by this label,” Blazakis writes in Lawfare.

He continues:

Of course, many far-right groups are domestically based, and thus, not designatable by the State Department. The Immigration and Nationality Act outlines the legal criteria for FTO designations and it is explicit in prohibiting the Department of State from sanctioning groups with a significant domestic presence. Despite that limitation, the list of foreign-based right-wing groups is, like the list of their U.S. counterparts, long and growing. Yet no senior policymaker ever asked us to examine groups like the United Kingdom-based National Action, an organization proscribed as a terrorist entity by the British government.

Recent, terrible events—Cesar Sayoc’s pipe bombs and Robert Bowers’ mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue—have solidified my view that the United States urgently needs a domestic terrorism law that allows a federal agency to officially label an individual or group as a Specially Designated American Terrorist (SDAT) or Domestic Terrorist Organization (DTO). According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorist Database, Americans living in the United States are more likely to be killed or injured in a terrorist attack carried out by a U.S. citizen than a foreign terrorist.