A recently released joint report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that lone offenders, radicalized online pose the greatest terrorism threat to the US.

The report titled Strategic Intelligence Assessment and Data on Domestic Terrorism analyzes the threat posed by Domestic Violent Extremists (DVE) who fall into the following categories:

  • Racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVE)
  • Animal Rights/Environmental extremists
  • Abortion-related violent extremists
  • Anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists (AGAAVE)
  • Others

According to the report, “The greatest terrorism threat to the Homeland we face today is posed by lone offenders, often radicalized online, who look to attack soft targets with easily accessible weapons. Many of these violent extremists are motivated and inspired by a mix of socio-political goals and personal grievances against their targets.”

The report says, “Since 2017, while the FBI successfully investigated and disrupted DVE activities, plots, and threats, and the FBI and DHS continued to provide strategic warnings and analysis of the heightened DVE threat, DVE lone offenders acting independently and without direction from specific groups have been the primary actor in DT (Domestic Terrorism) lethal attacks. The FBI and DHS assessed lone offenders would continue to be the primary actor in these attacks, and would continue to pose significant mitigation challenges due to their capacity for independent radicalization and mobilization and preference for easily accessible weapons.”

It further showcases an increase in the number of DT incidents by DVEs and corresponding fatalities since 2017. “In 2017, DVEs conducted five lethal attacks using bladed weapons, firearms, and a vehicular ramming that resulted in the deaths of eight individuals. Of those lethal incidents, RMVEs were responsible for four attacks resulting in seven deaths, and MVEs (Militia Violent Extremists), a subset of the AGAAVE threat category, conducted one attack resulting in one death.”

Observing an escalation in the next year, the report says, “In 2018, DVE lone offenders conducted six lethal attacks using bladed weapons, firearms, and violent assaults that resulted in the deaths of 17 individuals. Of those lethal incidents, RMVEs advocating for the superiority of the white race were responsible for five attacks resulting in 16 deaths, and an SCVE (Sovereign Citizen Violent Extremists), a subset of the AGAAVE threat category, was responsible for one attack resulting in one death.”

Matters only got worse the next year. “The year 2019 represented the most lethal year for DVE attacks since 1995, with five separate DVE attacks resulting in 32 deaths, 24 of which occurred during attacks conducted by RMVEs advocating for the superiority of the white race,” said the report.

The report predicts, “The propagation of accelerationism almost certainly would perpetuate the threat from RMVEs who espouse the superiority of the white race.” On a chilling note, it adds, “Political disagreements within the United States could present opportunities for DVEs to engage in violence against individuals perceived to have opposing ideologies, prominent political or public figures, or members of the media covering these events.”

However, the report makes a key distinction between hate crimes and DT incidents, which is important from the investigation and prosecution points of view given how some of the above-mentioned DTs are driven by hate and therefore they are often inextricable from each other. It says, “Hate crimes and DT incidents are often not mutually exclusive. A hate crime is targeted violence motivated by the offender’s bias against a person’s actual or perceived characteristics, while a DT incident as a criminal act, including threats or acts of violence made to specific victims, made in furtherance of a domestic socio-political goal.”

It adds, “Sentencing in a hate crime case or a DT case can be similar when there is a loss of life. To address the intersection of the FBI counterterrorism and criminal investigative missions to combat DT and provide justice to those who are victims of hate crimes, the FBI formally created the Domestic Terrorism-Hate Crimes Fusion Cell in April 2019.”

Further explaining how hate crimes are identified and recorded, the report says, “The Hate Crime Statistics Program of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program collects data regarding criminal offenses that were motivated, in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias against a person’s actual or perceived race/ethnicity/ancestry, national origin, gender, gender identity, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, and were committed against persons, property, or society.”

The entire report may be read here.

In March this year, findings of a report by the intelligence community (IC) were unclassified by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence which said that the US faces an increased threat from violent extremist groups within the country itself. *Feature image: Representational picture of a man aiming a Smith & Wesson SD9 at an outdoor shooting range in Nevada by Noah Wulf via Wikimedia Commons.