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Domestic Terrorism - Motivations And Trends

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Domestic terrorism has been driven by various motivations ranging across the political spectrum. Special interest groups have undertaken terrorist attacks on U.S. soil as well.

Left-Wing Organizations

According to the FBI's Terrorism in the United States 1999, terrorist groups on the extreme left tend to "profess a revolutionary socialist doctrine and view themselves as protectors of the people against dehumanizing effects of capitalism and imperialism." These groups were more prominent during the days of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, and they carried out a number of bombings and robberies from the 1960s to the 1980s. From 1980 to 1985, the FBI attributed eighty-six of the 184 recorded terrorist attacks to left-wing extremists. The fall of the Soviet Union and a global shift away from communist ideologies greatly affected the motivations and capabilities of such groups.

Some left-wing groups have been fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico. Groups such as the Popular Puerto Rican Army often employ violent means in their attempts to secure full Puerto Rican independence from



the United States. In 1998 three of the five recorded acts of terrorism within the United States and its territories occurred in Puerto Rico and were attributed by the FBI to the Popular Puerto Rican Army. Groups fighting for Puerto Rican independence were more active during the 1980s and carried out several bombings and violent attacks.

Other types of left-wing groups include anarchists and social extremists, whose causes vary but remain political and anti-establishment. They operate in groups or as individuals. Such groups were responsible for extensive damage during riots in Seattle, Washington, in 1999, during demonstrations against the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting.

Right-Wing Organizations

Right-wing groups tend to regard the U.S. government as oppressive or unjust. Often, such groups believe in racial supremacy and refuse to follow any rules and regulations set forth by the government. The origins of some of these groups can be traced back to the nineteenth century. The widespread poverty and destitution in the Southern states after their defeat in the Civil War (1861–65), combined with attitudes of racial superiority, created an atmosphere that gave birth to such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan.

Contemporary right-wing extremists have toned down their rhetoric in order to attract a larger audience. Members of the extreme right often adhere to one or more of the following beliefs:

  • Christian Identity adherents believe that Americans of white European descent are descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel, that the Aryan race is God's chosen race, and that whites will defeat Jews and nonwhites during the Second Coming of Christ.
  • White supremacists call for the supremacy of the white race above all others; extreme members of such organizations also believe that a special homeland should be established to maintain the purity of the white race.
  • Militias are armed paramilitary groups that strongly believe the U.S. government is out to destroy them. They preach elaborate conspiracy theories—for example, that the U.S. government is merely a cog in a "new world order" run by the United Nations (UN).
  • Patriot Movement members consider themselves to be true patriots who disagree with how the government currently functions and refuse to adhere to any federal, state, or local laws. Many have racist ideologies. According to the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 171 Patriot groups operate within the United States, forty-five of them militia groups (although not all of these groups advocate violence). (See Table 7.2.)
  • Tax Protest Movement members believe that tax laws are incorrectly interpreted and that paying federal income tax should be voluntary.

The FBI claims that since about the mid-1990s there has been a rise in grass-roots patriot and militia movements that profess antigovernment sentiments and global conspiracy theories. This rise is the result of the increasing prominence of the UN, growing U.S. involvement around the world, the passage of increased gun-control legislation, and recent confrontations between militias and the law enforcement community. These groups present a unique threat to the federal government because they often stockpile weapons and refuse to acknowledge any law enforcement above the level of the county sheriff. Many also lack a cohesive organizational structure and an overall leader or headquarters, making these small, tightly knit groups hard to infiltrate or monitor.

The increase in activity by right-wing groups beginning in the 1990s was partly caused by a shift in tactics away from hierarchical organizations to what is termed "leaderless resistance." Using small cells of only a few members who commit acts of resistance, this strategy makes such groups more difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate. First popularized by "The Order," a right-wing group involved in armored-car robberies and the murder of a Jewish radio personality, "leaderless resistance" was also promoted in the 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, written by National Alliance founder William L. Pierce and an underground best-seller in far-right circles.


Special-Interest and Single-Issue Terrorism

In addition to left-wing and right-wing groups, a variety of special-interest groups, such as animal liberation groups, environmentalists, antiabortion activists, and black separatists, have committed acts of terror to draw attention to one specific cause. They have carried out such destructive acts as arson, bombings, and even anthrax hoaxes in the past. These groups frequently use media outlets such as the Internet to disseminate their ideologies and recruit members.

ECOTERRORISM. The underground Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) are the leading groups that have engaged in ecoterrorism since the mid-1990s. In testimony before the House Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, in February 2002, James F. Jarboe, the FBI domestic terrorism section chief, defined ecoterrorism as "the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature." These groups are composed of radical environmentalists and are primarily active across North America. ELF, for example, describes itself in a


Chronological summary of terrorist incidents in the United States, 1990–2001
Date Location Incident type Group
1/12/90 Santurce, PR Pipe bombing Brigodo Internocionolisto Eugenio Moria de Hostos de los Fuerzos Revolucionories Pedro Albizu Compos (Eugenio Maria de Hostos International Brigade of the Pedro Albizu Campos Revolutionary Forces)
1/12/90 Carolina, PR Pipe bombing Brigodo Internocionolisto Eugenio Moria de Hostos de los Fuerzos Revolucionories Pedro Albizu Compos (Eugenio Maria de Hostos International Brigade of the Pedro Albizu Campos Revolutionary Forces)
2/22/90 Los Angeles, CA Bombing Up the IRS, Inc.
4/22/90 Santa Cruz County, CA Malicious destruction of property Earth Night Action Group
5/27/90 Mayaguez, PR Arson Unknown Puerto Rican group
9/17/90 Arecibo, PR Bombing Pedro Albizu Group Revolutionary Forces
9/17/90 Vega Baja, PR Bombing Pedro Albizu Group Revolutionary Forces
2/3/91 Mayaguez, PR Arson Popular Liberation Army (PLA)
2/18/91 Sabana Grande, PR Arson Popular Liberation Army (PLA)
3/17/91 Carolina, PR Arson Unknown Puerto Rican group
4/1/91 Fresno, CA Bombing Popular Liberation Army (PLA)
7/6/91 Punta Borinquen, PR Bombing Popular Liberation Army (PLA)
4/5/92 New York, NY Hostile takeover Mujohedin-E-Kholq (MEK)
11/19/92 Urbana, IL Attempted firebombing Mexican Revolutionary Movement
12/10/92 Chicago, IL Car fire and attempted firebombing Boricua Revolutionary Front (two incidents)
2/26/93 New York, NY Car bombing International Radical Terrorists
7/20/93 Tacoma, WA Pipe bombing American Front Skinheads
7/22/93 Tacoma, WA Bombing American Front Skinheads
11/27–28/93 Chicago, IL Firebombing Animal Liberation Front (nine incidents)
3/1/94 New York, NY Shooting Rashid Najib Baz convicted on November 30, 1994
4/19/95 Oklahoma City, OK Truck bombing Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols convicted. (Michael Fortier found guilty of failing to alert authorities of plot)
4/1/96 Spokane, WA Pipe bombing/bank robbery Spokane Bank Robbers
7/12/96 Spokane, WA Pipe bombing/bank robbery Spokane Bank Robbers
7/27/96 Atlanta, GA Pipe bombing Eric Robert Rudolph charged on October 14, 1998
1/2/97 Washington, DC Letter bomb (counted as one incident) Pending investigation
No claim of responsibility
1/2/97 Leavenworth, KS Letter bomb (counted as one incident Pending investigation
No claim of responsibility
1/16/97 Atlanta, GA Bombing of abortion clinic Eric Robert Rudolph charged on October 14, 1998
2/21/97 Atlanta, GA Bombing of alternative lifestyle nightclub Eric Robert Rudolph charged on October 14, 1998
1/29/98 Birmingham, AL Bombing of reproductive services clinic Eric Robert Rudolph charged with the bombing on February 14, 1998
3/31/98 Arecibo, PR Bombing of superaqueduct construction project Claim of responsibility issued by Los Macheteros
6/9/98 Rio Piedras, PR Bombing of bank branch office Claim of responsibility issued by Los Macheteros
6/25/98 Santa Isabel, PR Bombing of bank branch office Los Macheteros suspected
10/19/98 Vail, CO Arson fire at ski resort Claim of responsibility issued by Earth Liberation Front
3/27/99 Franklin Township, NJ Bombing of circus vehicles Claim of responsibility issued by Animal Liberation Front
4/5/99 Minneapolis, St. Paul, MN Malicious destruction and theft Animal Liberation Front
5/9/99 Eugene, OR Bombing Animal Liberation Front
7/2–4/99 Chicago Skokie, IL
Northbrook, Bloomington, IN
Multiple shootings Benjamin Nathaniel Smith
8/10/99 Granada Hills, CA Multiple shootings Buford O'Neal Furrow
8/28–29/99 Orange, CA Malicious destruction and theft Claim of responsibility issued by Animal Liberation Front
10/24/99 Bellingham, WA Malicious destruction and theft Claim of responsibility issued by Animal Liberation Front
11/20/99 Puyallup, WA Malicious destruction Animal Liberation Front
12/25/99 Monmouth, OR Arson Claim of responsibility issued by Earth Liberation Front
12/31/99 East Lansing, MI Arson Claim of responsibility issued by Earth Liberation Front
1/3/00 Petaluma, CA Incendiary attack Animal Liberation Front
1/15/00 Petaluma, CA Incendiary attack Animal Liberation Front
1/22/00 Bloomington, IN Arson Earth Liberation Front
5/7/00 Olympia, WA Arson Revenge of the Trees
7/2/00 North Vernon, IN Arson Animal Liberation Front
7/20/00 Rhinelander, WI Vandalism Earth Liberation Front
12/1/00 Phoenix, AZ Multiple arsons Mark Warren Sands
12/9–30/00 Suffolk County, Long Island, NY Multiple arsons Earth Liberation Front
1/2/01 Glendale, OR Arson Earth Liberation Front
2/20/01 Visalia, CA Arson Earth Liberation Front
3/9/01 Culpeper, VA Tree spiking Earth Liberation Front
3/30/01 Eugene, OR Arson Earth Liberation Front
4/15/01 Portland, OR Arson Earth Liberation Front

statement posted on their Web site (http://www.earthliberationfront.com/) as "an international underground organization that uses direct action in the form of economic sabotage to stop the exploitation and destruction of the natural environment." Most ELF members believe in a form of deep ecology, or the theory that all nonhuman life has an intrinsic value and must be protected from humanity.

SOURCE: "Chronological Summary of Incidents in the United States, 1990–2001," in Terrorism: 2000–01, Federal Bureau of Investigation, http://www.fbi.gov/publications/terror/terror2000_2001.pdf%20(accessed September 12, 2004)
5/17/01 Harrisburg, PA Bank robbery Clayton Lee Waagner
5/21/01 Seattle, WA Arson Earth Liberation Front
5/21/01 Clatskanie, OR Arson Earth Liberation Front
7/24/01 Stateline, NV Destruction of property Earth Liberation Front
9/11/01 New York, NY
Arlington, VA
Stony Creek, PA
Aircraft Attack Al-Qaeda
Fall 2001 New York, NY
Washington, DC
Lantana, FL
Bacillus anthrocis mailings Pending investigation
No claim of responsibility
10/14/01 Litchfield, CA Arson Earth Liberation Front
11/9/01 Morgantown, WV Bank robbery Clayton Lee Waagner
11/12/01 San Diego, CA Burglary and vandalism Animal Liberation Front

Both ALF and ELF were created without a hierarchical and centralized structure so that various subgroups and individuals are able to carry out actions under the umbrella of a larger group. In a statement made before the U.S. Senate in May 2001, FBI director Louis J. Freeh labeled ALF "one of the most active extremist elements in the United States." ALF and ELF have committed some six hundred criminal acts since 1996, according to the FBI. Their actions—including arson, vandalism, and bombings—resulted in some $43 million in damages between 1996 and 2002, while in 2003 alone, ecoterrorist damage estimates attributed to ELF and ALF surpassed $50 million. The FBI reports that there has been over $200 million in damages from all ecoterrorist incidents since the late 1980s.

Ecoterrorists have taken action against various targets they believe endanger the earth's environment in some way, including country clubs, ski resorts, oil companies, multinational corporations, research institutes involved in genetic modification, animal laboratories, lumber yards, and various U.S. government agencies. Their tactics have ranged from tree-spiking (inserting spikes in trees to damage saws) and sabotage to arson and firebombing. In October 1998, during a single attack on a ski resort in Vail, Colorado, members of ELF caused approximately $12 million worth of damage. On October 30, 2001, several members of ELF firebombed a wild-horse corral in California that belonged to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In August 2003 ELF took responsibility for burning a five-story apartment building under construction in San Diego, California, causing some $50 million in damages. In August 2003 a group calling itself the Animal Liberation Brigade–Revolutionary Cells bombed the Chiron Corp., a biotechnology firm in Emeryville, California. On September 26, 2003, the same group set off a bomb at Shaklee Corp. in Pleasanton, California.

ANTIABORTION ACTIVISM. Another cause that falls in the special-interest category is the antiabortion movement in the United States. Acts of violence against, and murders of, health care professionals involved in providing abortions rose rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. Individuals and groups pursuing such activities belong to a larger pro-life movement in the United States that believes the rights of unborn children must be protected. Though most members of the pro-life movement do not support killing medical professionals, a fundamentalist segment of the group strongly believes that killing abortion providers is the only way to protect the unborn.

These groups have no overall structural organization. Individuals sharing similar beliefs network primarily through pamphlets and the Internet. Some Web sites even list names of abortion providers in the United States. Law enforcement officials believe these lists provide "hit lists" for individuals who wish to kill abortion providers. Besides targeting medical professionals, antiabortion groups also commit arson, bombings, blockades (so that workers and patients cannot get into clinics), and anthrax hoaxes.

In response to increasing acts of violence committed against abortion providers and their clinics, Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinical Entrances Act (FACE) in 1994. The legislation specified federal criminal penalties against any individual obstructing, harassing, or acting violently against abortion providers or recipients. Furthermore, in response to the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a reproductive health care provider in New York, then–Attorney General Janet Reno established a Task Force on Violence against Health Care Providers. Falling under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Justice, the task force is headed by the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. It is staffed by lawyers and other personnel from the Civil Rights and Criminal Divisions of the Department of Justice, as well as investigators from the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and U.S. Marshals Service.

Black Separatism

The two largest black separatist groups in America are the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the New Black Panther Party for


Active patriot groups, 2003
Alabama Committee
Constitution Party
Holly Pond
Constitution Party
Jefferson Party
Constitution Party
Ranch Rescue
American Patriot Friends Network
Civil Homeland Defense
Militia of Washington County
Constitution Party
Little Rock
California Militia
John Birch Society
State Citizens Service Center Research Headquarters
Canoga Park
Truth Radio
John Birch Society
Fountain Valley
Free Enterprise Society
Second Amendment Committee
John Birch Society
John Birch Society
Laguna Hills
John Birch Society
Mission Viejo
John Birch Society
Newport Beach
John Birch Society
Southern California High Desert Militia
John Birch Society
Freedom Law School
John Birch Society
Santa Ana
Truth in Taxation
Studio City
American Independent Party
Ranch Rescue
American Freedom Network
District of Columbia
American Free Press
Citizens for Better Government
Constitution Party
Militia of Georgia
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Sons of Liberty
Police & Military Against the New World Order
Constitution Party
Post Falls
Southern Illinois Patriots League
Constitution Party
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 2nd Brigade
Allen County
Old Paths Baptist Church
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 6th Brigade
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 4th Brigade
Indianapolis Baptist Temple
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 1st Brigade
Lake County
Indiana Militia Corps 2nd Brigade
Northeastern Indiana
Indiana Militia Corps 1st Brigade
Northeastern Indiana
Indiana State Militia 14th Regiment
Owen County
Indiana Militia Corps 5th Brigade
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 7th Brigade
Perry County
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 5th Brigade
Putnam County
Indiana Militia Corps 4th Brigade
Southeastern Indiana
Indiana Militia Corps 3rd Brigade
Soutwestern Indiana
Indiana Citizens Volunteer Militia 3rd Brigade
Tippeacanoe County
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Kentucky State Militia 5th Battalion
Central Kentucky
Take Back Kentucky
Free Kentucky
Constitution Party
John Birch Society
New Orleans
Southern Sons of Liberty
Constitution Party
Save a Patriot Fellowship
Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines
Big Rapids
Michigan Militia
Patriot Broadcasting Network
Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines
U.S. Taxpayers Party
Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines
Livingston County
Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines
Macomb County
Citizens Militia of St. Clair County
Michigan Militia Corps Wolverines
Oakland County
Michigan Militia, Inc.
Southern Michigan Regional Militia
Lawful Path
Constitution Party
St. Paul
Missouri 51st Militia
Grain Valley
7th Missouri Militia
Militia of Montana
Center for Action
Sandy Valley
Independent American Party
New Jersey
Constitution Party
New Jersey Committee of Safety
New Jersey Militia
New York
Constitution Party
We The People
North Carolina
Constitution Party
Rocky Point
North Dakota
Constitution Party
Right Way L.A.W.
Central Ohio Unorganized Militia
Columbus County
Constitution Party
E Pluribus Unum
Grove City
Unorganized Militia of Champaign County
St. Paris
Ranch Rescue
Present Truth Ministry
Emissary Publications
Southern Oregon Militia
Eagle Point

SOURCE: "Active Patriot Groups in the United States in the Year 2003," in Intelligence Report, Southern Poverty Law Center, Spring 2004, http://www.splcenter.org/images/dynamic/intel/report/23/ir113_patriot_groups.pdf%20(accessed August 24, 2004)
Freedom Bound International
Klamath Falls
Constitution Party
Embassy of Heaven
American Nationalist Union
Allison Park
Constitution Party
John Birch Society
Northern Voice Bookstore
South Carolina
Aware Group
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Take Back Tennessee
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Ranch Rescue
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Society
John Birch Society
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Buffalo Creek Press
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Corpus Christi
Republic of Texas
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
El Paso
Constitution Party
Republic of Texas
Fort Worth
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Republic of Texas
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
God Said Ministries
Mount Enterprise
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Republic of Texas
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
San Antonio
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
The Woodlands
Church of God Evangelistic Association
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Constitution Party
Ranch Rescue
Kenton's Rangers Virginia Line Militia
Front Royal
Virginia Citizens Militia
Constitution Party
Washington State Jural Society
Ranch Rescue
American Opinion Book Services
Constitution Party
John Birch Society
Alabama 2
Alaska 2
Arizona 4
Arkansas 2
California 18
Colorado 2
Connecticut 0
Delaware 0
District of Columbia 1
Florida 2
Georgia 2
Hawaii 0
Idaho 4
Illinois 2
Indiana 16
Iowa 1
Kansas 1
Kentucky 4
Louisiana 1
Maine 0
Maryland 3
Massachusetts 0
Michigan 12
Minnesota 1
Mississippi 0
Missouri 2
Montana 1
Nebraska 0
Nevada 2
New Hampshire 0
New Jersey 3
New Mexico 0
New York 2
North Carolina 1
North Dakota 1
Ohio 5
Oklahoma 2
Oregon 5
Pennsylvania 4
Rhode Island 0
South Carolina 2
South Dakota 0
Tennessee 6
Texas 44
Utah 1
Vermont 1
Virginia 4
Washington 2
West Virginia 0
Wisconsin 3
Wyoming 0
Total 171

Self Defense (NBPP). These groups promote a strongly anti-white, anti-Semitic position and call for a separation between the races. The NBPP also encourages members to arm themselves. For a list of black separatist hate groups, see Table 7.3.

NATION OF ISLAM. The NOI was founded in the 1930s by Elijah Muhammad, who taught that whites were "the devil race" and blacks were the "makers of the universe." Probably its most prominent member was Malcolm X, who eventually left the group and was murdered by three NOI members in February 1965. Following Muhammad's own death in 1974, Louis Farrakhan took over the organization. In addition to its hatred of whites, the NOI is also anti-Semitic. In its book The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, the group alleges that the slave trade was organized and run by Jews. During the 1990s Farrakhan caused controversy by visiting with the heads of such countries as


Black separatist hate groups, 2003
City Chapter Group
Birmingham Nation of Islam Black Separatist
New Black Panther Party Black Separatist
Huntsville Nation of Islam Black Separatist
Mobile Nation of Islam Black Separatist
Montgomery Nation of Islam Black Separatist
Phoenix Nation of Islam Black Separatist
New Black Panther Party Black Separatist
Little Rock Nation of Islam Black Separatist
Adelanto Nation of Islam Black Separatist
Bakersfield New Black Panther Party Black Separatist
Long Beach Nation of Islam Black Separatist
Los Angeles Nation of Islam Black Separatist
New Black Panther Party