Experts fear ISIS arrest will distract from domestic threats like white supremacists and militias
Terrorism experts applauded the arrest of a Missouri man arrested in connection with a purported Islamic State plot, but they urged continued vigilance against other domestic right-wing extremists.
Robert Lorenzo Hester Jr. was charged with attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization after allegedly aiding what he believed was an ISIS terrorist plot, but security experts cautioned authorities not to ignore domestic terrorists, reported The Kansas City Star.
“The percentage of the population that embrace white supremacy, militia and sovereign citizen extremists far outweigh the percentage of Americans that support ISIS, yet these ISIS cases get churned out at a much greater rate,” said Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst for the Department of Homeland Security.
The Trump administration reportedly plans to revise its Countering Violent Extremism program to focus only on Islamic extremism, which experts say will leave the U.S. vulnerable to other terrorist threats.
“Programs to combat violent extremism need to focus on all of the threats,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “I understand the information today about this individual in Missouri, but just last week there was a white supremacist who was arrested for allegedly trying to attack a synagogue Dylann Roof-style.”
Segal also pointed to the dozens of bomb threats since early January against Jewish community centers — including at least 12 since Monday.
Johnson, now a security consultant, said U.S. authorities investigate homegrown threats inspired by foreign ideologies at about a four-to-one ratio over domestic terrorism cases.
“I don’t want to criticize the FBI tactic per se, but I will criticize the fact that they emphasize these types of cases and churn them out at a much greater rate than they do the right-wing extremism,” Johnson said, adding that authorities could uncover at least the same number of domestic plots if they devoted similar resources to them.
Homeland Security warned in 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama’s inauguration, that right-wing terrorism cases would spike — but that report was withdrawn under heavy criticism from Republican lawmakers and conservative media.
“For those of us in the analytic community, the focus should be on wherever the heck the threat is,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “And right now, we have a diverse threat matrix of which violent Salafist jihadists are the most prominent, but by no means the only ones.”