Terrorism or rather war against terrorism occupies a central position in United States foreign policy formulation in the post 9/11 era. Terrorism is not a recent phenomenon but of late it has risen to the level of concern. The campaign against terror has come to define the nature of relations that the US maintains with both friendly and unfriendly nations. For such a key concept in international political discourse, there is no internationally accepted definition of terrorism. Attempts at definition of terrorism evoke emotive reactions that shed more heat than light.
The importance of proper universally accepted definition cannot be overstated. A legal definition will make possible the process of identification of terrorist groups and enable proper legal measures to be undertaken. Currently the term terrorism is misused in a political context with governments labeling opposing groups as terrorist in order to legitimize use of force and terror tactics to subdue them. Having said that, there is some limited consensus among scholars and government agencies on what constitutes terrorism. Terrorism is seen as the systematic use of scare tactics to influence the government or general populace.
There are some key ingredients that are common in terrorist activities or organizations. Violence is a hallmark of terrorist acts. Many terrorist organizations engage in violence directed against human life and property. Attacks by terrorists are usually designed to cause maximum fear and deep psychological impact. In addition incidences of terrorism are not aimless. Terrorist groups perpetrate violence and sabotage as a means of achieving a political goal. Terrorism is an unconventional form of war and is therefore not regulated by any laws or code of conduct.
Terrorists to this end therefore tend to launch indiscriminate attacks. Non combatants are subject to target just like the government. This also furthers terrorists’ aim of creating fear. Due to their nature as non-state actors, terrorists usually disguise themselves in the general population and are not easily identifiable as combatants. The United States has been on the receiving end of terrorist attacks. The September 11 2001 attack was the largest in scale of property damage, loss of life and impact on the psychological and political state of the nation.
Understandably, the main focus of the US government has been on foreign terrorist organizations (Ronczkowski, 2004). The war on terror has been tailored specifically to eradicate terrorism in all its forms in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Terrorism however is not a preserve of foreign organizations only. In the US there have been acts of terrorism performed by groups based in the US or by citizens of the United States. These acts constitute what is known as domestic terrorism.
The counter terrorism division of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in its report Terrorism in the United States (1999) state that: Domestic terrorism involves groups or individuals who are based and operate entirely within the United States or its territories without foreign direction, and whose acts are directed at elements of the US government or population. Domestic terrorist groups can represent right-wing, or special interest orientations. Their causes generally spring from issues relating to American political and social concerns (Federal Bureau of Investigations, 1999).
The USA PATRIOT act classifies acts of domestic terrorism as those that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States (US Congress, 2001) These definitions form the bedrock of our analysis of the various groups that have been accused of domestic terrorism.
Domestic terrorist movements in the United States have been classified into three distinct groups. These are right wing terrorist groups, left wing terrorist groups and special interest terrorist groups. Right wing groups are mostly based on racial hatred as in the case of white supremacist groups. Other right wing groups are anti-government and anti-regulation. Also included in this category are extremist Christian groups who occasionally engage in bombing of abortion clinics. The extremist Christian groups are sometimes classified as special interest groups.
Not all right wing groups are racist though. The groups are however in union on their hatred and suspicion of the federal government (Cordesman, 2001). This is peppered with a view of American history and politics in terms of conspiracy theories. Some of the groups for instance claimed in the 1990s to have sighted black surveillance helicopters flown by the United Nations in operation in US territory. Left wing terrorist groups have not been as destructive in their actions as the right wing groups and they have tended to be ignored or downplayed.
The same fate has befallen the special interest terrorist groups. Left wing terrorist groups package themselves mostly as liberators who seek to free the general populace from the hegemony of the capitalist and imperialist government of the United States. They embrace socialism as their ideology and advocate for revolution of the social, political and economic order. Left wing terrorist groups comprise of socialist as well as anarchist groups. Special interest terrorist groups on the other hand are aligned to the left or right politically.
Right wing special interest groups have attacked or threatened to attack abortion clinics in the country. Those on the left are pursuing goals that include environmental protection, animal rights and opposition to globalization. Anti-globalization movements have gained ground in recent times. These groups are against the growth and influence of western multinational corporations and financial institutions globally. Widespread acts of vandalism were conducted by anti globalization groups during the 1999 world Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Seattle Washington.
Majority of the bombings and other major terrorist acts perpetrated by domestic groups can be attributed to just a few of those groups. In the late 1970s more than half of all domestic terrorist actions arose out of the struggle for independence of Puerto Rico (Motley, 1993). The most efficient left wing organization though by no means the largest, was the Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation also known by the Spanish acronym FALN. The FBI classifies FALN as a terrorist organization. FALN was responsible for over one hundred bombing incidents in the US between 1974 and 1983.
FALN was founded in the 1960s by Filiberto Ojeda Rios who happened to be on the most wanted criminals list of the FBI. The main objective of the group was to liberate Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. They set to achieve this aim through armed struggle to draw attention the plight of colonized Puerto Rico. The group also advocated formation of an independent government in Puerto Rico based on Marxist ideology. The formation of the group was a response to a campaign of harassment, imprisonment and assassinations of those involved in Puerto Rican independence struggles.
FALN planned to conduct the struggle through bombing and other terrorist related activities and then admit responsibility in the media. In their first press statement, the group expressed confidence that the infrastructure that they had set up both in Puerto Rico and US would be able to sustain the struggle. The group further expressed solidarity with America’s working class population while condemning government institutions that were deemed oppressive such as the FBI and CIA. The group further demanded the release of five political prisoners being held by the US government.
FALN conforms to the typical description of a terrorist group. The group sought to influence US government policy to achieve independence of Puerto Rico through violence. The group further publicized their activities in a bid to discredit the government of the United States and force a change of policy. One of the main domestic right wing terrorist groups that base its existence on racial hatred is the Ku Klux Klan or KKK as it is most commonly known. The KKK was established before the US civil war with an objective of stopping and capturing run away slaves.
After the end of the civil war the group became bitterly opposed to freedom of black people. The KKK meted violence to blacks as well as moderate white people. The KKK is strongly based in the southern states of the US. The group’s hate targets expanded to include Jews, Catholics and labor unions. The group members enhance their sensationalism by dressing in white robes and donning masks. The group’s rituals complete with burning crosses sends chill and shivers down the spines of potential targets. The image of the KKK has intimidated their target groups such as blacks.
The group’s activity though goes beyond mere symbolism. The group thrived in the 1960s and 1970s and was opposed the civil rights movement that would lead to desegregation of the American society. KKK has America for an extended period of time engaged in assassinations, lynching and murder of black people and civil rights advocates. The KKK is by no means the only racial driven group. Other groups that fit the profile include the American Nazi party, the Aryan brotherhood and the Aryan nations whose stated objective includes mass murder and extermination of non whites (Mark, 2007).
The KKK and like minded white supremacist groups are terrorist groups in the sense that they engage in acts of violence against innocent civilians with an aim of creating absolute terror and fear in non-whites all in their ultimate objective of creating a racially homogenous society. The KKK largely succeeded in this respect. The melodramatic way in which it carries out the activities is further proof of terrorist operations. Another form of domestic terrorism that has emerged in more recent times is eco-terrorism (Liddy, Barrett, and Selanikio 2007).
This is a situation where special interest groups such as the environmental movements or animal rights groups use violence or threats against innocent civilians in a bid to gain publicity for their cause or to change government policy. Between 2003 and 2008, the FBI estimates over 200 million dollars worth of property was damaged by eco-terrorists. The FBI in March 2002 classified the Earth Liberation movement (ELF) as a domestic terror organization. The activities of the ELF have been deemed as violence against property thus roping the group in as a terrorist group.
The ELF was founded in 1992 in Brighton UK and has since spread around the world. The main aim of ELF is to cause maximum economic damage to individuals or corporations that cause environmental destruction in their pursuit of profits. Their activities also seek to create awareness to the public on the subject of environmental degradation. The group seeks also to avoid harming human or animal life in the process. The Earth Liberation Front does not have centralized leadership structure. The activities of the group are run entirely by interested individuals who operate in autonomous cells and choose their operations style.
The activities consist of destruction of property through arson or by use of other tools. The targeted facilities and companies are ones seen to be engaging in activities that are harmful to either the environment or animals. Main targets are companies involved in logging, deforestation, production of SUVs, genetic engineering, and production of genetically modified crops among others. Closely linked to the ELF is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). ALF conducts similar activities to the ELF but in defense of animal rights. The ALF was formed in 1974 in the UK.
The movement has progressively grown to become a global phenomenon. Just like the ELF, Animal Liberation Front doesn’t have a formal centralized leadership structure. Operations are conducted by devolved units called cells. The ALF was listed in 2005 as a domestic terrorist group by the United States Department of Homeland Security. The stated aims of ALF include inflicting economic damage to those who exploit animals, to liberate abused animals, publicize abuse against animals, taking care not to harm any lives human or animal in the process and promote vegetarianism.
The members of ALF rescue animals from research laboratories or fur farms and set up animals’ sanctuaries where animals are well treated. They also destroy research facilities that are seen to be oppressive to animals. Though the ELF and the ALF do not fit in the traditional profile of terrorist group since they do not advocate for killing of people, they still qualify as a terrorist group because of the use of violence and sabotage in advancing their aims. Engagement in illegal activities such as arson erodes the moral arguments they advance in their quest.
Also the continual use of such dangerous tactics like arson eventually endangers people’s lives. Domestic terrorism in the USA is not a new phenomenon even though not much is known about it due to the limited attention directed to it (Motley, 1993). The list of groups that have been discussed in this paper is not exhaustive. Many hate groups and terrorist organizations exist in the United States. In 2002, research indicated that there were 780 hate groups in the US (Ronczkowski, 2004). Individuals can also be just as lethal in carrying out terrorist activities.
The deadliest attack so far by domestic terrorists is the world trade center bombing in 1993 which killed 168 people. This attack was carried out by right wings extremists Timothy Mc Veigh and Terry Nichols who were not aligned to any group. References Cordesman, A. H. (2001) Terrorism, Asymmetric Warfare, and Weapons of Mass Destruction: Defending the U. S. Homeland Greenwood Publishing Group, Federal Bureau of Investigation (1999). Terrorism in the United States 1999. Washington, D. C. , Liddy, G. G. , Barrett J. M, Selanikio J. (2007) Fight Back: Tackling Terrorism, Liddy Style Macmillan Publishers.
Mark, H. S. (2007) Terrorism as Crime: From Oklahoma City to Al-Qaeda and Beyond NYU Press Ronczkowski, M. (2004) Terrorism and Organized Hate Crime: Intelligence Gathering, Analysis, and Investigations CRC Press. Motley, J. B. (1993) U. S. Strategy to Counter Domestic Political Terrorism DIANE Publishing, United States Congress (2001) Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (U. S. H. R. 3162 Public Law 107-56) Washington D. C: U. S. Government Printing Office.