At the Cato@Liberty blog, Benjamin Friedman looks at the history and compares it with today’s constant worry about US domestic terror operations:
Homegrown terrorism is not becoming more common and dangerous in the United States, contrary to warnings issued regularly from Washington. American jihadists attempting local attacks are predictably incompetent, making them even less dangerous than their rarity suggests.
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, and Robert Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are among legions of experts and officials who have recently warned of a rise in homegrown terrorism, meaning terrorist acts or plots carried out by American citizens or long-term residents, often without guidance from foreign organisations.
But homegrown American terrorism is not new.
Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist who assassinated President McKinley in 1901, was a native-born American who got no foreign help. The same goes for John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray. The deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, was largely the work of New York-born Gulf War vet, Timothy McVeigh.
As Brian Michael Jenkins of RAND notes, there is far less homegrown terrorism today than in the 1970s, when the Weather Underground, the Jewish Defense League, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, and the Puerto Rican Nationalists of the FALN were setting off bombs on U.S. soil.
[. . .]
After the September 11, the FBI received a massive boost in counterterrorism funding and shifted a small army of agents from crime-fighting to counterterrorism. Many joined new Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Ambitious prosecutors increasingly looked for terrorists to indict. Most states stood up intelligence fusion centers, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) soon fed with threat intelligence.
The intensification of the search was bound to produce more arrests, even without more terrorism, just as the Inquisition was sure to find more witches. Of course, unlike the witches, only a minority of those found by this search are innocent. But many seem like suggestible idiots unlikely to have produced workable plots without the help of FBI informants or undercover agents taught to induce criminal conduct without engaging in entrapment.