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Policy group calls for banning weapons at protests, 'incubators of terrorism'

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Policy group calls for banning weapons at protests, 'incubators of terrorism'

  • Domestic-based terrorists have replaced foreign organizations as the major security threat to the U.S.
    Anthony Crider/CC BY 2.0Domestic-based terrorists have replaced foreign organizations as the major security threat to the U.S.

Urban demonstrations and protests in many cities became magnets for “politically motivated violence” that have helped push the threat posed by domestic terrorism in the U.S. to historically high levels over the past two years, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

In 2021, over half of all domestic terrorist incidents–41 of 77 incidents—occurred at demonstrations, the CSIS policy brief found.

The number of fatalities increased from five in 2020 to 30 in 2021.  This level was “roughly comparable” to 2019, when there were 35 fatalities from terrorism in the U.S., CSIS said.

While only a fraction of the demonstrations have been warped by violence, the potential for “lethal” incidents should persuade policymakers to ban or restrict firearms from public gatherings, as well as adopt a more aggressive approach to taking extremist platforms offline, said CSIS, a Washington, DC-based think tank.

“This is a war of ideas on virtual battlefields as much as on the streets of U.S. cities and towns,”  the CSIS brief said. “Virtually all domestic extremists use the internet and social media platforms to issue propaganda, coordinate training, raise funds, recruit members, and communicate with others.”

Legislation banning or restricting the presence of firearms and other weapons at public demonstrations “could ameliorate the security dilemma emerging in some U.S. cities,” CSIS added, noting that a recent study found that armed demonstrations are six times more likely to become violent or destructive than unarmed demonstrations.

Although the number of terror attacks in the U.S. overall actually decreased by 30 percent in 2021 over the previous year, researchers said it was still the second highest level in three decades,  reflecting what it said was growing political polarization as well as the “mainstreaming of extremist beliefs.”

The CSIS acknowledged that of the 10,600 demonstrations and protests held throughout the United States between May and August 2020, 10,000 or 93 percent were peaceful.

But in a minority of cases they have become “incubators of domestic terrorism”.

“This is particularly concerning in light of recent studies indicating that a historically high percentage of Americans believe that violence against the government or against individuals with opposing views can be justified,” the researchers wrote.

One example, during an August 22, 2021, demonstration of anti-government and anti-vaccination extremists in Portland, Oregon, one individual, reportedly showed lynching videos to counterprotesters, made racist remarks and threats with a knife, and then began shooting at counterprotesters.

The event which was intended to show opposition to COVID-19 mandates and demand the release of individuals arrested during the Jan.  6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.

Among the most worrying findings, according to CSIS: government, military, and law enforcement agencies were “primary” targets in 43 percent of the attacks last year.

“U.S. security agencies—particularly law enforcement—are increasingly at risk from domestic terrorism,” warned the paper, noting that security officials were targeted by groups “across the political spectrum.”

CSIS said its findings were based on analysis of a data set of data set of 1,040 terrorist attacks and plots in the United States between January 1, 1994, and December 31, 2021.

It’s conclusions echoed assertions by the FBI and other security organizations that domestic-based terrorists had replaced foreign organizations as the major security threat to the U.S.

“At the core of the dilemma is a situation of spiraling violence in some metropolitan areas of the United States that pits…groups and loose networks as anti-fascists and anarchists against white supremacists, anti-government militias, and a host of others, such as the Three Percenters, Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and Oath Keepers.”

CSIS said the growing use of social media and internet platforms had profoundly changed the picture of U.S. Domestic terrorism, pointing out the example of the Buffalo, NY  shooting last weekend by a racist “replacement theory” adherent who shared his plans and theories in online chatrooms,  exemplified not only  “growing political polarization” but the mainstreaming of extremist beliefs.”

The CSIS said that while there was an increase in the percentage of attacks by anarchists, anti-fascists, and similar groups last year—from 23 percent to 40 percent,  “white supremacists, anti-government militias, and likeminded extremists” were responsible for 49 percent of the incidents and were “significantly more likely to be lethal, both in terms of weapon choice and number of resulting fatalities.”

The remainder of terrorist incidents were attributed to environmental or other ethnic (i.e., Muslim jihadist ) groups.

This report was first published by The Crime Report.

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