ExtremismU.S. Domestic Islamist Extremism 2019

Published 27 May 2020

There was a 50 percent increase in arrests and plots linked to domestic Islamist extremism in 2019, according to data released last week by ADL’s Center on Extremism. There were a total of 30 arrests linked to domestic Islamist extremism, nine of which were for terror plots. Of the nine individuals arrested for plotting attacks, seven were U.S. citizens. While there were no attacks or murders linked to domestic Islamist extremism last year, the findings indicate that Islamist extremism still poses a significant threat to the United States.

A ten-year appraisal of the domestic Islamist extremist landscape in the U.S. shows the consistency of the threat. With the exception of the activity between 2014-2016, most of which can be attributed to the profound influence of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) propaganda on U.S. citizens, the number of Islamist extremist arrests and plots/attacks has remained relatively consistent over the past decade. Although both arrests and plots/attacks have decreased significantly since 2015, the recent uptick in activity between 2018-2019 indicates that domestic Islamist extremism remains a serious threat. While there were no Islamist extremist attacks in 2019, the number of arrests and plots/attacks increased by over 50 percent since the end of 2018.

The data for Islamist extremist criminal activity in 2019 indicate that modest attack trends do not mean the threat can be discounted. While no physical attacks materialized in 2019, there were nine plots and 30 individuals arrested for engaging in Islamist extremist-inspired criminal activity.  Moreover, a member of the Saudi Arabian military attacked the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, killing three people and injuring eight others. Law enforcement later found that the attacker, who was part of a Saudi military delegation invited to take part in a US Naval flight training session, was motivated by an Islamist extremist ideology, and he is believed to have been linked to the foreign terror organization al-Qaeda. (ADL does not count this attack by a foreign national visiting the U.S. as a “domestic” Islamist extremist incident and therefore does not include it in the 2019 domestic attack data).

In 2019, ADL documented 30 arrests related to domestic Islamist extremist criminal activity. Nine of these 30 arrests were linked to terror plots targeting pedestrian walkways on the Maryland National Harbor, a white supremacist rally in California, the Israeli consulate in New York City, other tourist attractions in the broader New York area, a Pittsburgh church, and college campuses in Florida. The remaining 21 arrests were primarily linked to charges of providing material support to foreign terror organizations, in addition to a few outlying charges such as knowingly providing false information to law enforcement and illegally receiving firearms with obliterated serial numbers.

For an in depth and continuously updated list of domestic Islamist extremist terror plots and attacks, see ADL’s H.E.A.T map.

In 2019, there were no attacks or murders linked to domestic Islamist extremism. However, nine individuals were arrested for