The anniversary of the September 11 attacks is an annual reminder that there are many around the world who constantly intend to do harm to American citizens.
In recent years, the threat of foreign terrorism has been in the foreground, with good reason. However, it has recently been overshadowed by the fact that there is an increasing threat from those who are American citizens themselves.
On April 19, 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing took the lives of 186 people and injured more than 680. It was the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11 attacks. It was executed by Timothy McVeigh, who was born in Lockport, New York.
Of the people consulted for this article, all of them named Timothy McVeigh as the most notorious domestic terrorist, and his attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building as the most infamous act of domestic terrorism in American history.
James Aho, a retired sociology professor affiliated with Idaho State University defines domestic terrorism as, "Acts of violence intended to have a political effect by terrorizing."
Clark McCauley Jr., a professor of mathematics and the sciences and co-director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College defines domestic terrorism as, “People who are citizens or residents of the U.S. who turn terrorism against the U.S.”
While usually not executed on as large a scale as notable foreign terrorist attacks such as September 11, a number of domestic terrorist attacks have been executed, attempted or plotted in the last two to three decades.
“Many people think that this kind of domestic terrorism has disappeared but it hasn’t,” Stuart Wright, professor of sociology and director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at Lamar University told The Christian Post.
“Attempted acts of domestic terrorism in the U.S. are quite common, but these often are foiled by authorities. Successful acts of domestic terrorism are less common, but they do occur.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes 75 such cases that have occurred since the Oklahoma City Bombing, from 1995 to 2009 in its report, “Terror from the Right: 75 Plots, Conspiracies and Racist Rampages Since Oklahoma City.”
As detailed in the report, on July 28, 1995, not long after Oklahoma City, Charles Ray Polk, an anti-government extremist was arrested when he attempted to buy a machine gun from an undercover police officer.
The machine gun was supposed to be an addition to an already greatly amassed arsenal, which he intended to use to blow up the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas. With his plans foiled, Polk is currently serving a 21-year sentence in federal prison.
Individuals like Polk and McVeigh represent a faction of people whose extremist beliefs, in their cases, pose a threat to U.S. society.
Right-wing extremists are fixated on maintaining the established socio-economical hierarchy, according to Aho. Wright suggests that they are mostly acting in response to injustice.
“If people do not feel that the government or the political system works for them, or that it is hopelessly corrupt, they are more likely to take violent actions against the government,” Wright told CP.
“But perceived injustices alone are not sufficient; there has to be organized networks that can recruit and mobilize people, obtain financial support, take on the operational aspects of an underground movement.”
Many who become immersed in right-wing extremism and terrorism adhere to various ideologies such as neo-fascism, neo-Nazism, racism and opposition to foreigners and immigrants.
It was discovered that McVeigh was associated with the paramilitary organization, Michigan Militia, whom may have funded and supplied his attack on the Oklahoma federal building. McVeigh may have developed his extremist beliefs from being involved with the militia.
On an individual level however, Aho notes that domestic terrorists often see themselves with an elevated sense of purpose.
"The people I've spoken to believe themselves to be acting as heroes, trying to save to world. They are trying to avert the end of the world," he told CP.
Aho notes one such case in right-wing extremist David Lewis Rice who murdered civil rights attorney Charles Goldmark and his family; his wife and two sons. He killed believing Goldmark to be a Jewish Communist. Spurred by the extremist group, the Duck Club, Rice was made to believe that Goldmark posed a threat to American liberties.
"They may even recognize what they are doing is distasteful, but that's what a hero does. Heroes are able to put aside their fears for the greater good," he said.
According to Aho, 313 people have died at the hand of right wing domestic terrorism in America since 1980. While the number may not seem significant, but Aho says for those directly affected by domestic terrorism, the families and loved ones of victims, as well as for himself, the number is a lot.
In 2009 members of the anti-immigrant vigilante group Minutemen American Defense (MAD), Shawna Forde, Jason Eugene “Gunny” Bush and Albert Robert Gaxoila were arrested and charged for their roles in murdering a Latino man and his 9-year old daughter in 1997.
The organization’s aim was to act as "citizen patrols" on the Arizona-Mexico border, according to the “Terror from the Right” report. It is speculated that Forde organized an invasion of the home of Raul Flores because she believed he was a narcotics trafficker. Forde also intended to steal drugs and cash from Flores' home to contribute to MAD funding.
Bush was known to be associated with the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations in Idaho, and Fordes had also been consulting with him about recruiting its members to MAD.
“The threat of domestic terrorism is always with us, but it fluctuates and is greater at certain some times,” Wright told CP.
“If and when the threat re-emerges in a significant way, law enforcement and intelligence agencies should make us aware of the increased threat.”
Due to the nature of this specific type of terrorism, Aho says that it is often combated through “regular police work,” monitoring, surveillance and infiltration of various groups and societies that are potentially dangerous.
"The comforting thing to know is that there’s a lot of this going on, you never hear about it," he told CP.
While domestic terrorism continues to affect the U.S. and may even be a more constant threat than foreign terrorism, Aho urges that citizens should not be afraid.
"We should all as citizens be aware of terrorism and terrorists, but should not be live in fear of these people, not really. We should do what we've always done, but you don’t want to close your eyes to it,” he said.