For terrorists without a foreign link, the rules are different.Fewer law enforcement resources coupled with a cautious government response out of fear of violating First, Second and Fourth Amendment rights offers domestic terrorist groups more space to operate, organize and preach without heavy surveillance or government interference.
As I noted in a longer essay, a lot of right-wing violence clearly qualifies as terrorism even if the legal framework and political discourse haven’t caught up to that reality. government policy went beyond rhetoric and truly treated right and left-wing groups that use violence as it treats Americans suspected of being involved with jihadist organizations like ISIS?
But even if we were consistent in our use of the terrorism label, what would this mean in practice? Consider, notionally, an individual suspected of ties to ISIS and one suspected of ties to the Ku Klux Klan (or, turn a molehill group into a mountainous one, substitute Antifa).
Social media sites contain a staggering number of anti-Semitic and racist threats, and the FBI would have its hands full.
Given the politicized nature of America today, if an administration focused largely on right or left-wing groups, it would be accused of suppressing opposition, not fighting terrorism. In the early 1990s, the FBI conducted a program called PATCON (or Patriot Conspiracy). Berger found that the investigation produced little that could be used for criminal prosecution because it did not meet a high standard of evidence, but it did provoke paranoia in the groups being monitored, with some members being removed as suspected spies.
But for ISIS, however, a few tweets may be enough to get the FBI to act; the bar for non-jihadist organizations is much higher.
If right-wing and the smaller left-wing groups received similar attention as jihadists, the halls of the FBI and DHS would be bursting with new employees.The expansion would seek to uncover heretofore-unknown connections and otherwise anticipate and disrupt threats before they manifest. With suspected jihadists, the FBI often employs undercover agents and informants who claim to be members of a foreign terrorist organization.They engage individuals they feel have radical ideas and encourage them to take prosecutable actions.If a suspect got a gun or tried to acquire bomb-making materials, law enforcement officials would swoop in.Imagine a group of legally armed protesters marching through a town chanting slogans extolling the virtues of and the government pleading that it can’t stop them due to the First and Second Amendment. Neither can I—even though it seems similar to a group of legally armed protesters shouting out anti-Semitic and racist slogans.Police, however, did not check to make sure all the marchers in Charlottesville—many of whom were from other states—met this criterion.(Last week, a lawsuit was filed to prevent armed groups from again marching in Charlottesville.) If law enforcement perceived the marchers to have potential ties to designated terrorist groups, then law enforcement would likely take extra precautions to ensure they abide by the law—and to have more firepower at hand.The law is applied to these suspects more carefully than to suspected jihadists.The FBI and other government organizations do try to preempt right-wing and jihadist attacks at home, of course.Local law enforcement, coordinating with federal officials, might knock on the suspect’s door to assess the situation and, perhaps, reach out to relatives and community leaders to try to get the person off the path to jihad.Second, the anti-jihadist effort is well-resourced. Billions of dollars in funding goes to intelligence, including electronic surveillance, human sources, and other means.