The War Comes Home
The evolution of domestic terrorism in the United States
There has been growing concern about the threat of domestic terrorism, with extremists motivated by political, racial, ethnic, economic, health and other grievances. In October 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Adam Fox, Barry Croft, and several other accomplices in a plot to kidnap and potentially execute Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Members of this network, which had ties to militias in Michigan and other states, referred to Whitmer as a “tyrant” and claimed that she had “uncontrolled power right now.”1 They also discussed kidnapping Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, in part because of his lockdown orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.2
Some U.S. government agencies have outlined the threat from domestic extremists, though most have not provided recent data about terrorist incidents. In its Homeland Threat Assessment released in October 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded that “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs)—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”3 The report also assessed that anarchists and other individuals inspired by anti-government and anti-authority ideologies posed a threat. But it did not provide 2020 data. The FBI similarly argued that the “top threat we face from domestic violent extremists” is from racially- and ethnically-motivated violent extremists, including white supremacists.4 Nevertheless, FBI officials have not publicly released their data, making it difficult for U.S. civilians to judge the degree and type of threat.
To help fill this gap, this analysis provides new data on the domestic terrorist threat in the United States. It asks several questions. What are the main trends in domestic terrorism in 2020 in such areas as terrorist motivation, tactics and targets? How did 2020 compare to previous years? To answer these questions, the authors constructed a data set of terrorist attacks and plots in the United States from Jan. 1, 2020 to August 31, 2020, which updated a broader CSIS data set of terrorist incidents in the United States from 1994 to 2020.5
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