- - Thursday, November 22, 2018


Edited by Robin Maria Valeri and Kevin Borgeson

Routledge, $164, 244 pages, (Hardcover), $43.96 (Paperback)

Several mass casualty attacks have occurred in the United States over the past several years by ideologically extremist domestic terrorists. These include the shooting rampages by ISIS adherent Omar Mateen at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016, (49 killed, 53 wounded), and by the virulent anti-Semitic Robert Bowers against congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 27, 2018, (11 killed and six wounded). In another type of domestic terrorist attack, Cesar Sayoc was arrested in Plantation, Florida, on Oct. 26, 2018, for allegedly mailing more than a dozen improvised homemade package bombs to his perceived liberal adversaries, including CNN (no casualties).

What are the factors that motivate such ideologically divergent American-based terrorists to carry out their violent attacks against their adversaries? Are they part of organized terrorist groups or lone actors? What are future trends we can expect in the domestic terrorist threat and what are effective response measures to defeat them?

These questions are addressed in “Terrorism in America.” Although it’s an academic book with lots of academic theories by its eight contributors, its coverage from a criminological perspective of this subject is so insightful and detailed that it will also appeal to a broader audience that seeks to understand the magnitude of the domestic terrorist threats facing America.

What is domestic terrorism? In the introductory chapter, the editors cite the FBI’s definition: “‘Americans attacking Americans based on U.S.-based extremist ideologies,’ to include terrorist attacks by Americans that are motivated by extremists or extremist ideologies whose roots stem from individuals or ideologies outside the United States.”

The domestic terrorist groups discussed in the volume are primarily far-right-wing, far-left-wing and Islamist. The far-right-wing groups include white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Christian Identity, Sovereign Citizens Movement and others. What is especially interesting about the psychological characteristics of the perpetrators who attack on their behalf, according to Kevin Borgeson’s chapter, is that many of their perpetrators are lone actors who are frustrated with their personal and professional lives, are not married, and “When no normal safety valve is available, some turn to the ‘guidance’ of radical right groups to find out ‘the real causes to why the world, and their life’ is such a mess.” Joining such extremist groups, in turn, “increases their self-worth, allowing them to finally feel accepted and successful at something.”

Paradoxically, however, many of the perpetrators of such attacks end up failing to even fit in to such extremist groups because of their difficulty in getting along with other members, due to their “social ineptitude” and other psychological factors, and become lone actor attackers on their own. This was the case with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the perpetrators of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, on April 19, 1995 (168 killed, more than 680 others wounded), who, according to Joel A. Capellan’s chapter on “Killing Alone,” “were ostracized by the Michigan Militia because they advocated for violence.”

The same psychological characteristics also characterize many of those who become far-left-wing domestic terrorists, who join groups such as anarchists, Animal/Earth Liberationists, Black Liberationists and others.

In terms of their targeting selection, however, this reviewer disagrees with Michael Loadenthal, the author of the chapter on “Leftist Political Violence,” for asserting that, unlike the far-right-wing terrorists who “frequently deployed lethal violence more indiscriminately and with less regard for civilian casualties,” leftist violence “tends to be both symbolic and targeting inanimate property, not humans.”

There are numerous examples of leftist violence causing fatalities, such as Ted Kaczynski, known as the “Unabomber,” whose mail package bombing campaign from 1978 to 1995 deliberately killed three people and wounded 23 others, and the current Black Lives movement, some of whose lone actors deliberately target law enforcement officers for assassination.

The Islamist domestic terrorists, Christopher J. Wright explains in his chapter on “Islamist Terror in America,” are motivated by several factors, such as their belief that “sharia — or Islamic law — ought to be the law of the land” and that the Muslim ummah (global Islamic nation) is being threatened by American military interventions in those lands and therefore America deserves to be punished.

Interestingly, like the far-left-wing terrorists who had targeted U.S. military facilities in the 1960s, Islamist terrorists — many of whom are also characterized by personal psychological “issues” that turn them into lone actors — also target the U.S. military, such as Maj. Nidal Hassan’s shooting rampage at Ft. Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2009, killing 13 and wounding 32 others.

As to future trends in domestic terrorism, in the concluding chapter Robin Maria Valeri observes that the availability of cyberspace’s telecommunications networks and computer systems make it possible for terrorists to “easily and inexpensively promote, recruit, and take credit for terrorist activities at a global level,” as well as to “commit acts of terrorism remotely.”

To counter domestic terrorism, Ms. Valeri recommends a community-level approach that would provide would-be terrorists a sense of ‘belonging, meaning, and purpose in their lives’ “because the best way to stop terrorism is by preventing its causes.”

• Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH), in Alexandria, Va.

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