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

and information which they can then pass on to members of extremist organizations.

2007 report argued that the threat posed from white supremacists came less from organized groups than from “individuals acting alone upon the messages of hate espoused by these groups.” According to Jeffrey T. Richelson, an intelligence specialist and a senior fellow at the NSA who edited the document collection, “From what we know about this Wisconsin shooter, this potentially fits exactly into the documents analyses.” The shooting was not very different from what was generally predicted in the FBI materials, says Richelson.

The FBI notes that membership in extremist groups has increased in the last eleven years, but that these groups are still relatively disorganized, as evidenced by the Lone Wolf style of domestic terrorism. If these groups were more organized and resourceful, we would expect more coordinated attacks involving several attackers and even several targets being hit simultaneously.

The FBI established that Page, the Wisconsin shooter, had ties to white supremacist groups, and was active in the hate rock music scene, where he was the leader of a band called End Apathy.

Reuters quotes U.S. law enforcement officials to say that U.S. laws, particularly the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prevent official investigators from bringing cases against Americans for having extreme beliefs.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told Reuters it would not be “fair to say we focus more or less attention on a particular group. We investigate threats of criminal activity wherever it takes us.” Bresson added, however, that in pursuing such cases, the Bureau was obliged to be mindful of issues like freedom of speech. “No matter how offensive to some, we are keenly aware that expressing views by itself is not a crime and the protections afforded under the Constitution cannot be compromised,” he said.

The 2009 DHS paper which aroused such controversy was titled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. It was produced by a group of analysts attached to DHS’s intelligence and analysis office.

Reuters notes that in hindsight, the paper seems prophetic. For example, the paper asserted that “the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”

The paper devoted several paragraphs to “Disgruntled Military Veterans,” whose skills and knowledge “have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists — including lone wolves or small terrorist cells - to carry out violence.”

In the wake of the controversy the study triggered, and charges of political motives, DHS disbanded the small team of analysts assigned to study “domestic non-Islamic extremism,” which had produced the report. The department now largely concentrates on threats from Islamic extremists, and analysts are monitor law enforcement and domestic intelligence issues are divided in their opinion as to how much resources and energy various government agencies now devote to monitoring non-Islamist terrorism threats.