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Who are the real extremists?

The Triangle Center of Terrorism and Homeland Security recently released its third report on Muslim-American Terrorism. It documents a total of 33 fatalities in incidents classified as terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslim Americans since 9/11. The Fort Hood shooting was responsible for 13 of these 33 fatalities.

To put this in perspective, over the same 10 year period there were approximately 170,000 murders in the United States. Among the 20 Muslim Americans accused of plotting violent attacks in 2011 was 21-year-old Emerson Begally, a former white supremacist and recent convert who was arrested for biting two FBI agents.

Professor Charles Kurzman, the report’s author, concludes that Muslim-American terrorism represents a “miniscule” danger to public safety, that very few of the violent plotters were competent to carry out their plans and that fears of growing radicalization were overblown hype.

This should not be news – but given the extent to which Muslim communities have born the brunt of the nation’s single-minded focus on terrorism since 9/11, it is.

You may be surprised to learn the FBI itself has long known that the main domestic terrorist threat is not to be found in the Muslim community. In its 2002-2005 FBI Terrorism Report, it states that 23 of 24 recorded terrorist ‘incidents’ were perpetrated by non Muslims, while 10 of 14 terrorist ‘preventions’ had nothing at all to do with Muslims.

The FBI report details homegrown terrorist plots, some involving weapons of mass destruction, that would have dominated the news if Muslims had been involved. In April 2010, it added to its website a page on the dangers represented by the “sovereign citizen” movement whose members “believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.”


By this time, the Obama Administration was showing reluctance to take on the rapidly expanding militia and white supremacist movements, whose growth was spurred by the economic downturn and election of an African American President. The Department of Homeland Security’s 2009 report on Rightwing Extremism had caused such a furor on the right that the Administration had rapidly switched gears, and gutted the DHS unit that was supposed to keep its eye on non Muslim forms of “homegrown extremism.”

That may now be changing. Recent unpublished reports by the DHS and National Counterterrorism Center have flagged the “sovereign citizen” movement as an “extremist antigovernment group” that could be contemplating another Oklahoma City-type bombing.

The FBI is now investigating the movement, which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, is rooted in racism and anti-Semitism and has as many as 100,000 adherents. Some of those adherents claim the right to use armed force to resist arrest and at least six police officers have been killed by self-proclaimed sovereign citizens since 2000.

The FBI must stop its saturation spying on the Muslim community and focus on a homegrown threat that is by no means “miniscule” – if you doubt it is out there, just have a look at Time Magazine’s “secret world of extreme militias.”

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.