Joseph Fitsanakis: far-right groups are more violent than ultra-left
According to the expert, the recognition of some groups as internal terrorists may lead to undesirable consequences.
Correspondent of the Russian Service «Voices of America» spoke with Professor of Coastal Carolina University Joseph Fitsanakis about the problem of domestic terrorism, which again came to the attention of American experts and lawmakers after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Alexander Yanevsky: Mr. Fitsanakis, so that we need to know about the problem of domestic terrorism?
Joseph Fitsanakis: The United States does not officially have a definition «domestic terrorism». We see that the authorities are reluctant to officially recognize its existence, since this is related to the constitutional rights of citizens. Americans are big supporters of the First Amendment, and in cases like this, the Second Amendment. So what is it – an area that is being treated very carefully. At the same time, it should be noted that there is a designation «domestic violent extremism» (domestic violent extremism, DVE). The term is increasingly used by agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. This means that if the United States officially declares certain groups as internal terrorist groups, then there will be many changes in the area of US homeland security..
The dimension of domestic violent extremism usually affects groups that go beyond the First Amendment and who do not just hold extremist views, but in fact take up arms against the state, and in some cases against a population that they consider alien to the United States. This is one aspect. Another who is much more worried about the authorities, – so-called lone wolves who are not bound or follow the directions of an organized group, but still have the intention of harming society for political reasons.
It is important to remember that terrorism does not mean someone who simply terrorizes others indiscriminately. it – simplistic approach and too broad definition. Terrorism means someone who has a political goal, who wants to change society according to a political vision and tries to do it by force, terrorizing the population in order to put pressure on their government – so that it makes the required changes.
A.Ya .: Timothy McVeigh, organizer of the largest (before September 11, 2001) terrorist attack in American history – an explosion in a federal building in Oklahoma City, and «Branch of David»who are they – domestic terrorists or domestic extremists?
D.F .: In case of «Branch of David», I would classify them as an internal violent extremist sect – just given the fact that they were mostly militant against the government and used weapons. On the other hand, I would classify someone like Timothy McVeigh as an internal terrorist because he had a political vision. Speaking of him, it is worth noting that Timothy McVeigh did not act on behalf of an organized group, but was definitely in contact with many far-right organizations..
A.Ya .: Experts note that the greatest threat in the United States comes from the ultra-right. Are there any organizations among the ultra-left that pose a threat?
D.F .: There were ultra-left groups in the 1960s and 1970s – eg, «Forecasters» (Weather Underground Organization). They are behind the bombings in the Capitol, the Pentagon, the State Department, and so on. However, there is a difference between ultra-left and ultra-right groups. The latter are more prone to violence, which entails death. They are ready to use weapons to achieve their goals. More importantly, if you look at the composition of these groups, you will find that there are far more ex-military and law enforcement officials among the far right, which means that the people who make up these groups are much better versed in weapons, tactics and, of course, in insurgent methods to achieve their goals. And this – a really big difference. Most of the extreme left groups usually consist of students with little combat experience, which makes a huge difference..
A.Ya .: Speaking of the ultra-right: the Canadian government has recognized «Proud guys» (Proud boys) terrorist group. Will the US government decide to take such a step??
D.F .: Countries are far more willing to recognize foreign groups as terrorist organizations than they are their own. If we turn to the history of the United States, then there is no doubt that the most active terrorist group in our history was the Ku Klux Klan. Yet most Americans would never think of it as a terrorist organization because we are not used to thinking of terrorism as an internal issue. Existing ultra-right groups are very different from each other: «Oath Keepers», «3%», «Proud guys» other. They don’t necessarily have much in common, except for the fact that in many cases they tend to support former President Trump..
There are people who will support groups like «Proud guys». What are you going to do with, say, 200,000 Americans who support them? You recognize 200,000 people as terrorists?
So, perhaps by recognizing this or that group as internal terrorists, you are actually fomenting an already very tense situation. That is why such a decision is political. This is not just the technical side of the coin. Consideration needs to be given to what the long-term effects will be.
A.Ya .: What steps need to be taken by the US law enforcement agencies to minimize the threat from domestic extremists?
D.F .: United States intelligence agencies and state law enforcement agencies have a good track record of effectively neutralizing such ultra-right and ultra-left groups. I would not pay so much attention to the symbolic recognition of this or that terrorist group, but I would definitely recognize them as a very serious threat to American security. Even classifying them as domestic violent extremists is enough for our authorities to take concerted action to neutralize them. I would also try to take advantage of many of the weaknesses that these groups have, such as the lack of permanent leadership. Members of these groups say they don’t trust each other. They often conflict with each other, and I would try to create a situation in which they could not achieve their goals. In the past, the use of informants has helped a lot. So I think there are ways to mitigate the threat without the need for a full blown attack on a large portion of the American population..
It is important that any efforts by the American government to neutralize these groups focus on people who know what they are doing, who have a plan, who are politically motivated, and not on secondary threats to the state.