Domestic terrorismDomestic terrorism by members of extremist groups a serious threat: FBI

Published 10 August 2012

The FBI and other government law-enforcement agencies have been convinced for a while that terrorism from extremist domestic organizations is just as dangerous as terrorism from foreign organizations, but efforts by authorities to detect and pre-empt violent extremists have faced serious legal and political hurdles, including free speech guarantees and pushback from political lobbies suspicious of the government’s motives

After learning that Wade Michael Page, a former Army veteran and white supremacist, was responsible for shooting six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, journalists and analysts noted that the FBI as well as other government law-enforcement agencies have been conviced for a while that terrorism from extremist domestic organizations is just as dangerous as terrorism from foreign organizations.

In April 2009 DHS secretary Janet Napolitano released a report (see the report here) identifying right-wing extremists as posing a terror threat to the United States. The 2009 DHS report was based on three FBI reports on the subject — from 2004, 2006, and 2007 — written under the guidance and supervision of the George W. Bush administration’s Justice Department (the term “right-wing” was used by the FBI in these reports), but as Reuters reports (also see this Los Angeles Times report and this Salon story), the 2009 report was met with criticism from conservative commentators and lawmakers, who said DHS was playing politics.

What is clear from the FBI surveillance and analysis of extremist groups in the United States, surveillance which intensified after 9/11, is that the U.S. government has considered neo-Nazi and white supremacists as genuine threats for many years.  FBI documents declassified in July in response to Freedom of Information Act (fFOIA) requests by the National Security Archives (NSA), reveal that the bureau has considered these groups as threats for decades — so long in fact, that it has been lost on many that white supremacists, in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, pioneered modern homegrown terrorism.  

These documents, which were collected by the  National Security Archive, discuss the problems that extremist groups pose to society.  According to a 2004 FBI report, “right-wing terrorists pose a significant threat due to their propensity for violence.” Many of these groups sprang up after 9/11.

The FBI notes that since then, most the extremist groups have been using secretive tactics in order to keep themselves under the radar. One such maneuver is to go to various police stations and offer information in order to gauge the agency’s interest in an organization.

Another tactic is called “ghost skins.” This involves members of neo-Nazi and other white supremacist groups hiding all or part of their affiliation in order to join the military as well as other areas of law enforcement for the purpose of receiving training