- - Thursday, May 23, 2019


By Terry Oroszi and David Ellis

Greylander Press, $9.99, 238 pages

Recent terrorist attacks in the United States against congregants at houses of worship, TV broadcast media and public figures highlight the continued severity of domestic terrorism.

Who are the domestic terrorists, what are their motivations, how do they become radicalized into violence, where do they live, who do they target and what can be done to mitigate their threat? These questions are answered by Terry Oroszi and David Ellis in their excellent book, “The American Terrorist: Everything You Need To Know To Be A Subject Matter Expert.”

In it, the authors utilize their database of 519 Americans charged with acts related to terrorism from September 2001 to December 2018 to compile a general profile of the domestic terrorist.

Both authors are professors at Wright-State University’s School of Medicine in Ohio, where, in addition to their teaching, they conduct research on terrorism using their medical specialization to empirically profile individuals who engage in terrorist-related activities.

The authors explain that domestic terrorists fall into three types:

1) Traditional cells of individuals belonging to some 29 domestic groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front, Antifa, Army of God, Aryan Nations, Phineas Priesthood and Sovereign Citizens Movement, with other cells acting on behalf of foreign groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).

2) Self-starter cells that are loosely affiliated with terrorist groups. These usually consist of two or more actors, such as the group of six Muslim men who were arrested in May 2007 for plotting to attack the Army’s Fort Dix base in New Jersey, or the Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the April 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon.

3) Lone actors who operate on their own without other associates. Examples include Omar Mateen, the mass shooter at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in mid-June 2016.

Once identified, the next step is to profile terrorists’ characteristics. Here, the authors explain that “Terrorist profiling is the science of identifying qualities that predict the probability that an individual will become a terrorist.” Such “reproducible indicators,” they explain, “become a red flag” that “an individual may be susceptible to radicalization or may already be a terrorist.”

What are the warning indicators? First, where reliable figures are available, the majority of U.S. citizens charged with terrorism-related acts are male (90 percent), between the ages of 15 to 40 (80 percent), educated (61 percent), and have no girlfriend or wife (81 percent).

Although no reliable figures are available, the authors point to the academic literature’s findings that a majority of terrorists are likely raised without a father figure, and, most importantly, feel “displaced or alienated” resulting in their intense anger and sense of victimhood. This leads such individuals who feel “isolated, displaced, alienated and lonely” to join terrorist organizations because they provide “comraderie and offer new purpose, new direction.”

An interesting finding is that among the Americans arrested for terrorism-related activities, lone actors are “over thirteen times more likely to have mental illness than terrorists sponsored by a larger organization” because such organizations prefer “the most capable people as members, and so anyone perceived as weak or unable to complete tasks are likely to be passed over for membership.”

In the intriguingly titled chapter “Is Your Neighbor a Terrorist?” the authors note that the 10 states with the most terrorists are led by New York (and New York City, in particular), followed by Virginia, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and New Jersey.

This finding is important, the authors explain, because “Many imagine that terrorists are people we do not know from far-away places” so by being aware that “terrorists or people who are susceptible to becoming a terrorist might be our neighbor” by recognizing “the signs of someone vulnerable to recruitment into terrorism, perhaps we can also find an intervention that will prevent their radicalization.”

Knowing where terrorists reside also aids in identifying potential targets since they tend to attack targets in their vicinity, such as military bases or government buildings.

Arresting a terrorist prior to an attack is difficult, but, the authors point out, the FBI’s investigatory measures are effective in preventing numerous plots. Once a tip is received about a suspect, the FBI will employ an undercover agent or informant to “befriend the person of interest,” which will be followed by “a sting” in which that person will be given the opportunity to follow through with what they think is “an act.”

This is not an entrapment, the authors explain, because these wannabe terrorists are being caught in the act. This measure is effective, with the FBI preventing “American terrorists from completing their goals in sixty-four percent of the cases.”

A final measure to prevent terrorism is to direct susceptible individuals toward a different, nonviolent route to achieve their goals. “By altering their path, we can eliminate the very attributes which terrorist recruiters use to identify potential targets,” the authors write.

The book’s database-driven analysis makes “The American Terrorist” a valuable resource for identifying those drawn to domestic terrorism and how they can be defeated.

• Joshua Sinai is a Washington, D.C.-based consultant on counterterrorism issues.

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