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American Domestic Terrorism in the Modern Era

IWP 695
2 credits

Course Aims

Domestic Terrorism is usually seen as a subset of the terrorism phenomenon. When it occurs in other countries, it is often called indigenous terrorism, or terrorism that only affects the local populace, unlike international or transnational terrorism which crosses borders and affects the citizens of more than one country. In the U.S., the domestic terrorism problem has waxed and waned, but has never posed an existential threat to the stability of the U.S. government. In the 1960s and 70s, leftist-inspired terror presented the primary threat, a response to popular discontent to the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, nationalist and environmental or eco-terrorist groups such as the Puerto Rican Macheteros and Earth First, respectively, became more active in the number of operations they conducted but never seriously challenged government control.

Leftist groups began to fade in the 1990s with the demise of their Soviet ideological patron, but right-wing anti-government groups and individuals grew rapidly to challenge the so-called New World Order and prepare for the expected popular uprising against the U.S. government during the Millennial in 2000. The Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 was the bloodiest manifestation of this period.

Post-Millennial and 9/11, the right wing threat went underground, but has experienced a recent revival.  Paired with the radical Islamist-inspired Homeland Violent Extremist (HVE) threat, as characterized in the Fort Hood, Boston Bombing, San Bernardino, and Orlando Nightclub attacks, the domestic terrorist threat is arguably the highest it has been in 20 years.  But is it something for which the average citizen should be concerned?  What is the proper characterization of the domestic terrorist threat, who does it rank against other homeland threats, and how should the federal, state, and local governments prudently respond?

Course Content

The course opens with discussions of the uniquely U.S. domestic dimensions of terrorism, and their sometimes-associated transnational patterns and problems. The opening sessions offer much modern history. Then, most of the course emphasizes the recent and the current in its selections of events, source materials, questions, and challenges.

Students will examine the different dimensions of domestic terrorist strategies, as well as the use of specific elements of national power to defeat these strategies through an integrated homeland security, intelligence, and law enforcement approach.