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Domestic Violent Extremists: A Major Threat to Critical Infrastructure

National Guard on duty securing the Capitol building
"National Guard on duty securing the Capitol building"

January has been a month to remember as one of the most contentious periods of American political history. With many in the middle the far left and the far right are still at odds with each other and the way the country is being run. The purpose of this article however does not focus on right or wrong nor is it meant to be political. Today, I am discussing these events and how the movement behind it brings to light security concerns which until recently have been passed over and in some cases ignored completely.

While these protests are not made up of a single group or movement. it is important to realize that these issues are incredibly complex, and these fringe groups exist on either side of the political spectrum. Many of the organizations involved are also comprised of people from several different backgrounds from those truly wanting a peaceful resolution to their problems to those dubbed by the US Federal Government as Domestic Violent Extremists (DVE’s)[1] and Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVE’s)2 from herein referred together as Violent Extremists (VE’s) resulting to the use of force to drive a catalyst for to further their goals.

The Oklahoma City Bombing is a textbook example of what could happen, however prior to the riots in Seattle, Portland, and the recent “capital riots” in Washington D.C. there have not been as many incidents leading to violence or planned attacks as there are now including the explosion in Nashville Tennessee intent on targeting critical telecommunications infrastructure.

VE’s can be embedded in seemingly normal and harmless organizations. While VE’s associate with organizations that may not be considered dangerous by themselves, their very presence in such an organization could prove it to be. VE’s use recruitment tactics in organizations that foster ideas like their beliefs. It’s common for recruiters to seek out their targets based on an assumed weakness or other marker which may make them easier to radicalize.

VE’s pose the greatest threat to critical infrastructure and government facilities but may lead to the unplanned death of bystanders or damage to nearby businesses and homes. The goal of many VE’s is to cripple governmental services or support services on a federal, state, or local level including police, fire, and ems services. VE’s also have knowledge and skills to commit a wide variety of attacks sometimes using firearms, explosives, and vehicles for ramming attacks to disrupt or completely shut down certain target buildings, services, or infrastructure.

Social media provides VE’s an easy tool for communication and coordination of protests and attacks, although social media companies are trying to stop them by censoring, banning, or deleting users and content. An example of one type of censorship that has been used is Facebook’s Fact Checking algorithm which may have also targeted those who are not VE’s. This could have unintended consequences of converting non-violent persons and pushing them towards more radical and dangerous ideals.

The Department of Homeland Security recently stated in their publication Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020 that Domestic Violent Extremists and Homegrown Violent Extremists pose the greatest threat of terrorism within the United States as either lone wolf or small cell style attacks While the US federal government tackles the legal issues behind litigating such groups, citizens and private business owners are now becoming aware of this threat. Major private companies owning and operating critical infrastructure such as railways, ports, bridges, and tunnels, as well as telecommunications and others now find themselves facing a major threat to their business continuity. Denial of this infrastructure to citizens could cause inconvenience at the best and widespread panic at the worst.

Video Surveillance Systems have provided us benefit by identifying key individuals associated with the riots and attacks to help make arrests and better protect against these kinds of attacks in the future. Properly designed and implemented systems can provide this as well as limiting attack points on targets and detecting would be attackers at a greater range providing more time for a response.

With all that has happened in the past year, one thing is clear. This radicalization of fringe political ideologies will continue to be a concern for years to come.

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1. Domestic Violent Extremist (DVE): An individual based and operating primarily within the United States or its territories without direction or inspiration from a foreign terrorist group or other foreign power who seeks to further political or social goals wholly or in part through unlawful acts of force or violence. The mere advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric, or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics may not constitute extremism, and may be constitutionally protected. Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020 2. Homegrown Violent Extremist (HVE): A person of any citizenship who has lived and/or operated primarily in the United States or its territories who advocates, is engaged in, or is preparing to engage in ideologically motivated terrorist activities (including providing support to terrorism) in furtherance of political or social objectives promoted by a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) but is acting independently of direction by an FTO. HVEs are distinct from traditional domestic terrorists who engage in unlawful acts of violence to intimidate civilian populations or attempt to influence domestic policy without direction from or influence from a foreign actor. Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020

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