During the administration of George W. Bush, the FBI put out numerous reports on terrorism. Although they conflated non-violent actions against property by left-wing groups with violent actions against people by right-wing groups, the FBI nonetheless made clear that it was right-wing groups that were the greatest and most dangerous emerging risk, going back to the 1990s. And they specifically warned of returning veterans potentially being recruited into terrorist groups or acting as lone actor terrorists. From a report on terrorism from 2002 to 2005:
“Right-wing extremism, however, primarily in the form of domestic militias and conservative special interest causes, began to overtake left-wing extremism as the most dangerous, if not the most prolific, domestic terrorist threat to the country during the 1990s. In contrast to the ALF and the ELF, which have pursued a philosophy that avoids physical violence in favor of acts of property damage that cause their victims economic harm, right-wing extremists pursued a qualitatively different method of operation by targeting people.”
Yet this largely went unnoticed. The media, especially the right-wing media, had little interest in focusing on domestic threats while the foreign “War on Terror” was going on. And it would have been hard for right-wing groups to argue for bias when right-wingers were in control of the federal government. This attitude changed, of course, when Barack Obama was elected. There was right-wing outrage when a DHS report came out in 2009 that highlighted right-wing terrorism, despite the fact that the research for the report began under the Bush administration. This forced a retraction, not because it wasn’t true but because it was politically incorrect.
Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century
By Daniel Koehler
“It is noteworthy that while right-wing terrorism is widely seen as a phenomenon involving lone actors or small cells, this study indicates that a critical mass of group members might be necessary for the escalation into violence.
“Another aspect highly relevant for the present subject is the research on so-called ‘sovereign citizens’ and the political impact of these assessments. The sovereign citizen movement is a very diverse and loose network of individuals and groups with a shared rejection of United States laws, taxation, currency and the government’s legitimacy especially regarding firearms control (e.g., ADL 2010; FBI 2011; Fleishman 2004; Macnab 2016). The concept behind the movement is directly rooted in Christian Identity teachings and the right-wing terrorist Posse Comitatus group in the 1980s. Fluent overlapping with more militant and violent militias or white supremacists (e.g., Aganes 1996; Crothers 2003; Freilich 2003; Levitas 2002) have resulted in a number of violent attacks from individuals and groups as well clashes with law enforcement agencies. For example, the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh for his Oklahoma bombing in 1995 was a member of the movement; and a number of violent stand-offs between sovereign citizen groups with Federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., the ‘Bundy stand-offs’ in 2014 and 2016), and numerous individual acts of killings of police officers exemplify the movement’s danger.
“One critical effect of government (e.g., intelligence and police) assessments of threats posed by this sovereign citizen movement in the United States is the high risk of political backlash and strong opposition. In April 2009, for example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Extremism and Radicalization branch issued a report looking at the risk of violent radicalization within the right-wing extremist movement including sovereign citizens (DHS 2009). Shortly after the report was published, several quotes were used by mostly conservative politicians and public interest organizations to organize strong nationwide critique (Levin 2011; Thompson 2009). Especially relevant for the subsequent debate, were the report’s arguments regarding the increased risk of right-wing radicalization and recruitment through the first African-American presidency, the prospects of firearms restrictions and the potential of returning veterans becoming recruits for terrorist groups or working as lone actors. Although research for the report had already started under the Bush administration in 2008 (Levin 2011) and some of these claims were founded in much earlier assessments by the FBI, the political climate swiftly changed against the DHS, which retracted the report, cut personnel in the domestic terrorism branch, canceled briefings on the issue and held back about a dozen reports (Smith 2011). Eventually the intelligence unit responsible was dismantled in April 2010. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the FBI had already published a number of reports on the same issues and continued afterwards without a similar reaction (e.g., FBI 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011). In 2012, the main author responsible for the problematic DHS report, Daryl Johnson, published his own accounts about the sovereign citizen movement and the risk for potential terrorist incidents becoming rooted in this milieu, arguing that the public debate after the report had effectively created a security risk by furthering the already critical devaluation of domestic terrorism within the DHS’ list of priorities (Johnson 2012). In the eyes of Johnson, the resulting lack of specialized analysis capacity, both in regard to experienced personnel and resources, was majorly responsible for the inadequate threat assessments and counter-measures against terrorism from the Far-Right (Nixon 2016). This capacity seems to have become one field of activity for the FBI since 2011 (Sullivan 2012) and the department of Justice, which re-established the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee in 2014. The committee had been created in the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 and disbanded after the 9/11 attacks (DoJ 2013). In addition to the DoJ and US attorney community, the committee comprises the FBI and National Security Division. As a consequence of increased lethal violence directed against the U government by sovereign citizens — for example, the killing of a half dozen police officers and three prevented major terrorist attacks involving movement members since 2010 — the FBI has labeled the network as domestic terrorism. A recent study about the sovereign citizens has also highlighted, the role of the movement’s specific subculture with approximately 300,000 followers in the United States, which has increasingly become part of the mainstream political culture (Macnab 2016).”