Since the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress, the U.S. Government, and U.S. allies have devoted significant resources to making sure another large-scale, foreign-directed attack does not occur on U.S. soil, and they have been successful in this regard. However, many analysts warn that the terrorism threat today is more diffuse and diverse and thus more difficult to tackle than before. Moreover, emergent technologies and social media have added a dangerous accelerant to the diffusion of extremist beliefs and recruitment around the globe. To contextualize the contemporary terrorist threat to U.S. interests and the U.S. homeland, the Stimson Center’s Security for a New Century (SNC) program hosted a panel of experts to explore the intentions and capabilities of lone actors and extremist groups, both at home and abroad; how trends in the United States and Europe, in particular Germany, differ and intersect; and the role Congress can or should play in addressing this pervasive but evolving terrorism threat. The discussion touched on a complex array of issues spanning national security and counterterrorism policy, domestic law enforcement, civil rights and liberties, and private sector technology policy.
The webinar was a closed-door program for Congressional staffers, conducted under the Chatham House Rule. The panelists offered a combination of senior-level U.S. government experience and analytical expertise. The panel highlighted that terrorists have demonstrated their resilience and ability to expand operations and are looking to take advantage of the pandemic, and while the jihadists threat has not gone away, there is a need to rebalance and focus more attention on domestic extremism from the far-right, white supremacist groups. The panel noted that far-right terrorist attacks in Western countries have increased by 250% since 2014, and since the 1980s, white supremacist groups have adopted a leaderless resistance strategy, encouraging organization and violent action by individuals or small cells. To confront this trend, the panelists discussed steps Congress and the Biden administration could take, including: increasing research on how far-right terrorisms differs from other forms, bolstering training to identify insider threats in state and local law enforcement, creating a commission to investigate the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and investing in deradicalization/exit programs, among others.