Homegrown extremists cause imminent threat

Islamic State reporters continue to increase throughout the world

Since 9/11, the U.S. has not suffered a large-scale terrorist attack, but over the past several months, attacks have been carried out domestically at a high rate that is only increasing. The lack of mass casualty events, but the consistency of headlines about small or foiled attacks can lead one to wonder, are we safe? What is the current nature of the threat posed by Islamic extremists?

I could begin by listing all of the attacks that have taken place over the past year—in the U.S. and Europe—at the hands of ‘lone wolf’ radical jihadists, but such a list is unnecessary. Even the most infrequent consumer of news understands that this is the new normal, and moving forward, things will only get worse.

On Feb. 9, 2016, the U.S. intelligence community delivered a threat assessment to the Senate Armed Services Committee that confirms the growth of this threat. It states that in 2014, the FBI arrested approximately one dozen Islamic State supporters in the U.S., and in 2015, the number increased to five dozen. They then assessed how attacks such as the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and San Bernadino, California, would motivate more homegrown radicals to attack, and that intuition was confirmed with attacks such as the one in Orlando in June.

The nature of the threat posed by homegrown radicals is important to understand. In Orlando, a man walked into a packed nightclub and killed as many people as he pleased. This was not the work of someone who was mentally ill, but rather a fully functioning person who subscribed to the lure of the Islamic State’s narrative.

I am focusing on the obvious here because it is significant. The fact that he was simply the next person who bought into this perverted brand of Islam, and he was not suffering from some psychological abnormality, means he is not particularly unique. There are more people like him living in the U.S. right now. There will be more tomorrow, and more the next day.

The most recent string of bombings and planned attacks in New York and New Jersey prove that one can act legally when buying all necessary supplies, then produce explosives and walk down the street to become a martyr. This should be a cause of great concern. There is no metal detector at the local bar, which students pack densely night after night.  There is no pat-down before entering the stands at a DIII college football game. This is what makes this form of terrorism so terrifying, even though it will never yield as many casualties as a 9/11 type attack.

As it stands, Europe is at more of a risk than the U.S. They are geographically closer to the region that expounds this ideology, and more susceptible to jihadists crossing into their borders. France, for example, has disproportionately shouldered the burden of this threat. Europe additionally has accepted more refugees, although it is too early to tell how many extremists will emerge out of those masses. Who is most at risk are people in the Middle East, Africa and Western Asia. Since 9/11, the U.S. has been successful in avoiding mass casualty attacks, but the international community has not been as fortunate.

“When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled,” said the Director of National Intelligence in a conversation with Congress in July of 2015.

As far as how the Islamic State fits into the picture, they are extremely successful at recruiting, training and deploying individuals over the internet. This means that they can train jihadists who never have to risk leaving the U.S., or even their own homes. One look at the Islamic State’s publication, “Dabiq,” makes it obvious why. They produce propaganda that is unrivaled in effectiveness. This magazine rivals “Time” and “Vogue” in format and quality. The photos of heads being severed, and slain bodies strewn across residential streets are high resolution. The rhetoric is medieval, referring to the secular west as crusaders. They aim to grow jihadists domestically, and Orlando was the perfection of this strategy. Although this strategy has not yet produced the sort of success that 9/11 and other analogous organized terrorist attacks have, as of April 2016, the FBI has about 1,000 open investigations into homegrown extremists.

That is how it stands. The threat exists and has the potential to metastasize and deliver damage to the U.S. Internationally, the situation is as complex as it has ever been, and is getting more complex every day. This will be a multi-generational conflict, and cannot be solved by a single piece of legislation or any particular administration. Mike Morell, former Deputy Director of the CIA, suggests that only promoting a robust counter-narrative will extinguish the threat long-term. “The messages are essentially two—that extremist interpretation of Islam is not consistent with the Koran, and that there is great value in tolerance.”