Transition 2021 Series: Domestic Terrorism Post-Insurrection

Tuesday, February 16, 2021
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Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Council on Foreign Relations; @hoffman_bruce

Professor, Harvard Kennedy School; Former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2009–2010); CFR Member

Professor, Communication and Political Science, University of Delaware


National Security Correspondent, NPR; CFR Member

Panelists discuss the rise of domestic terrorism in the United States, and the threat of white supremacist organizations, QAnon, disinformation and fake news, and conspiracy groups following the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. 

The Transition 2021 series examines the major issues confronting the administration in the foreign policy arena.

MYRE: Thank you. I'd like to welcome everybody to today's Council on Foreign Relations Transition 2021 Series meeting, "Domestic Terrorism Post-Insurrection." I'm Greg Myre, national security correspondent with NPR, and I'll be presiding over today's discussion. We have three great speakers and you have their full bios. I'll introduce them very briefly here: Bruce Hoffman, speaking about a topic he's covered for a very long time and he's now doing so for the Council on Foreign Relations; Juliette Kayyem is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Dannagal Young is a professor of communication and political science at the University of Delaware. And this meeting is part of CFR's Transition 2021 Series, which examines major issues confronting the Biden-Harris administration. We have many members registered for this virtual meeting, and we'll do our best to get to your questions during the Q&A at the bottom of the hour. But let me get started with you, Bruce Hoffman, and jump right in here. You've studied this for a very long time. Could you give us a quick background history? We heard about the domestic extremism in the '70s and '80s and then the militia groups in the '90s and then it seemed to fall off the radar for a little bit. Can you tell us how we got from there to here?

HOFFMAN: Well, we've tended over the past twenty years to think of terrorism that is something that happens overseas or that is imported to the United States. But in point to fact, the history of the United States has often been caught up in terrorism going back to the mid-nineteenth century and in many cases we see some of the same themes today—extreme xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment was perhaps the genesis of the first, sort of, terrorist movements, racism, anti-Semitism, of course. In the twentieth century it was mélange. Radical left-wing extremists were the most active. In fact, in 1970 alone, we had five hundred terrorist bombings. That's more than one a day. The vast majority committed by radical left-wing terrorists, ethno-nationalist terrorists, various separatist organizations or independence organizations, and the right wing. But as I said for the past twenty years we've really been focused on terrorism from abroad—Salafi-jihadi terrorism or inspiration of individuals in this country. What we're seeing now, though, is much more of a grassroots and indeed a national movement.

MYRE: Right. Juliette Kayyem, you served in the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration. What should we be focused on? What should we be looking at? Should we be looking big and broad at QAnon supporters who may be a very large group but may ultimately not be prone to violence? Should we be focused on many of the smaller groups, a small militia group that really is very much involved with its weapons? You know, where do you put your resources? 

KAYYEM: You put them on the violence side because that's the criminal side. In other words, even though we don't have a domestic terrorism statute we have crimes. You can do certain things. And so I think it's really important for people focused on this issue to separate the lawful supporters of Trump, which is nearly half the nation, or close to it, the conspiracy theories and all sorts of other things that you're reading about like QAnon, which do not normally have a violence nexus, though they can, and then the militia groups and others that we're starting to see that are now being arrested. And so you focus on the last, which is what the Biden administration is focused on. And the data is looking really interesting. I should just tell folks that—we'll talk later about all the different kinds of groups—but when you look at the arrests, about two hundred arrests post-January 6, only about 16 or 17 percent of them are conspiracy arrests. In other words those people had ties to a white militia violent group and those are the ones that are probably getting the highest profile. Most of the other arrests are, in a good way, the people who saw Trump as the cause. In other words, if you're worried about off-ramping and all the other issues, that's a good number for you because they don't seem to have any affiliation. So I think that's my, you know, glass-half-full aspects to sort of the world that we're in now. And then when you ask me what do I focus on from the resources of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, you're focused on the criminal violent cases and then you're focused on recruitment. And that's where I think Biden will be so different from President Trump because you had a—I'll be, you know, I don't think I'm surprising anyone—but, you know, you had a former president, sort of, nurturing or at least, you know, bothsidesing groups that were white supremacist groups and other groups that let them nurture, let them feel wanted and protected. You heard that in some of the testimony like "I thought we were okay. The president said we were okay." You want to stop recruitment so these groups don't get bigger and that, I think, comes essentially from the Oval Office.

MYRE: So, Dannagal, let's pick up on that. You've looked in your work in a very psychological level about how people are recruited or how you might at a direct family level or friend level unrecruit somebody. Could you talk to us a little bit about how you go about that?

YOUNG: Sure. So when we're thinking about mis- and disinformation in the context of some of these domestic terror events and strategies, you really have to think about what is it at the individual level that might be encouraging someone to want to adopt these views. So I know Juliette presents the glass half full, I will say because there is such a large percentage of those individuals who are part of the insurrection who were not part of these formal militia groups, that to me is like a glass half-empty kind of thing because then these are individuals who because of their own psychological proclivities, and because of their own media exposure, sort of self-radicalized. That's not to say, and I do agree with Juliette, that the role of elite voices or political leaders are paramount. And in fact, there's wonderful work coming out from Lily Mason and Nathan Kalmoe about how language of unification that comes from political leaders can actually reduce partisans' embrace of political violence as a possible means to an end. And it does so for members of both parties. But I just want to get back to the psychological piece here, mis- and disinformation are attractive to people for the narratives that they present that offer them some form of control. So if you look at the rhetoric that Trump delivered, it was very much about something being stolen from you, that your values are going to be, sort of, put in the dumpster, and that this is a great disservice to these great patriotic Americans. That sort of solidified this sense of loss of control. And for individuals who already—social and cultural conservatives—in the research from political psychology are statistically more likely to be high in need for closure, to be prone to heuristic judgments guided by intuition, guided by emotion and loyalty, these kinds of trigger phrases were very effective at mobilizing

MYRE: So just a quick follow up to that if you're trying to get somebody to deradicalize or even just move away from a being a QAnon supporter, let's say, is it most effective for this to be dealt at a friend level or family level or a leader of the group? Is there anything that the Biden administration can do that will reach these people or will it have to be somebody they're already following?

YOUNG: I do think for those folks who are kind of in the large swath in the middle who might be conspiracy curious, for those folks language of unification, even from a partisan source like Biden, if it comes across as authentic, that can reduce their acceptance of violence. Most important, though, in terms of deradicalizing, like what regular people can do, is recognizing that the heart of this comes from an overemphasis on political identity, especially in these online interactions in these conservative media ecosystems that they may be in all the time. And so realizing that because it comes from a place of emotional and psychological need, emotion and psychological connection, these are the things that will get these people back. So capitalizing on relationships like preexisting relationships that have nothing to do with political dialogue at all, reconnecting on shared values, reconnecting on aspects of your relationship and friendship and love and history to dilute that political identity, which has become so dominant.

MYRE: Bruce, let's talk definitions for a moment. We've titled this discussion "Domestic Terrorism," that's the phrase that floats around, yet we've often had trouble defining what that is and, in fact, we don't have a really a legal statute to charge somebody with the crime of domestic terrorism. Tell us what the definition is in your view and how we should frame this discussion.

HOFFMAN: That's exactly right. There's a definition of terrorism, whether it's international or domestic. It's in the 18 U.S. legal code 2331 paragraph five and it's quite basic. It's basically the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce either the government or the civil population in the furtherance of political or social objective. So that's very clear. I think where there's a big difference is that the international side of defining terrorism gives the government powers to designate terrorist groups, for example. This facilitates the interdiction of terrorist groups who finance the movement of money, which, of course, is critical. Even more critically, it puts people or lands them on no-fly lists, which prevents them from traveling. And I think at a time when the boundaries, in essence, between domestic and international terrorism are eroding, that a lot of these distinctions are very important. But you've hit the nail on the head there is no specific domestic terrorism statute. There is, of course, a hate crime statute and I would argue that hate crimes are, in fact, the ultimate form of terrorism. And one of the benefits of having a specific statute, let's say for hate crimes, is, firstly, it puts an imprimatur, that societally this is unacceptable and therefore the penalties can in some cases be four times greater than for the actual crime itself if it is proven to be a hate crime.

MYRE: So we don't have this statute and sometimes you'll hear both from the FBI saying, "We want to investigate crime. If there's violence, we'll investigate that. We don't want to make lists of who is or isn't a terrorist group." The ACLU will, sort of, tell you the same thing. So Juliette, do we need a domestic terrorism statute?

KAYYEM: I am not for one, surprisingly, mostly because I've seen all of these cases prosecuted without one. So Boston Marathon bombers and whatever, I get the point of having both the symbolic statement and also the sentencing parity but you could get that other ways. But I'd worry about the words in the statute. Let's just be honest here, we are not going to always have a President Biden as president and that can easily be turned. So if I were for one, it would definitely be what is the exact language.

But if I could just pick up on something that Bruce said, which is really important, we have focused, and I think it's the vast majority of the people as we've all described are people without maybe a strong identity to a group. But I don't want to forget that group that emerged, which is ultimately motivated by race and motivated by hate. So this is the point about we do have hate crime statutes. When we cannot as a society forget the news, forget the Confederate flag, forget what animates a lot of these guys online, and certainly the Proud Boys and others, which is a combination of the great replacement theory where, you know, they view the existence of diversity as replacing them. And the irony or the coincidence of 2016 is not only does Trump become president, it's the first year that the U.S. Census determines that non-white U.S. babies born was a larger number than white U.S. babies. I'm not even including immigration in this number. For most of us, hopefully, all of us on this call, that's like, you know, we weren't that way before. I mean we live in a society where that is valued. That has been taken as a sort of replacement and the reason why replacement as a theory is important because it justifies violence. They then get together on their social media platforms, which I think I saw there might be people from Facebook and others on here but, you know, so that there's no lone wolves, right? In other words, the lone wolf identity is over. They are feeding off each other. They're talking about a date, they're talking about a time, they're talking about the president. And so that animus for some proportion of the violent extremism wing is purely rooted in race and animosity, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Jews, you name it, and I think we can't forget that in the narrative even though QAnon and others are really fascinating to us in a good way, in the sense like maybe there's something we can do. But that conspiracy theory group is not the same as the "I will use violence" to assert a racial supremacy, which was also present in January.

MYRE: Dannagal, your work has touched on a lot of this so feel free to pick up on that if you want.

YOUNG: Great, yes, that was so great Juliette. So I will say the idea—I recognize the distinction between those folks who are violent, they've already allied themselves with these groups versus, kind of, that sort of large group that is kind of just in it maybe because of Trump. However, I'll say the data suggests that there are things to be concerned about because all of these things we're talking about do cluster together. So what do I mean? Those folks who are likely to have socially and culturally conservative views, that is on the topics of immigration, and race, and criminal justice, and sexuality, right, all of those things cluster together and those individuals do tend to have certain psychological traits that will accompany those. Again, this is not deterministic, this is just associations. What that means is that these are folks who are guided by intuition, who prefer closure and order and predictability. Because I work at the intersection of psychology and the media environment, that to me is what's most dangerous. That to me is what's most interesting and fascinating and horrifying because the more that our media environment incentivizes microtargeting of information, cultivation, and curation of information that doesn't just tell you what you are interested in but gives it to you in the aesthetic package that you are most likely to emotionally respond to, therefore, the economics of those platforms will respond in kind, right, because then the more you like and share and get mad and make the angry-face click, the more money is made. I see this integration of psychology, this microlevel psychology of social and cultural conservatives, the exploitation of those traits that are actually a really wonderful and necessary part of our democratic society and the economics of the media environment that can incentivize the exploitation of those trades as wicked dangerous.

MYRE: Bruce, could you give us a little perspective here? On January 6 it seemed we were caught really flat-footed. We knew this rally was happening. We knew it was at a sensitive moment and yet the law enforcement wasn't prepared for it. Now we've still got several thousand National Guardsmen around the Capitol. We've got fencing around it, which may stay indefinitely. How do we have the, you know, right size this where we're looking in the right places, we're using the right level of resources to prevent attacks, but we're not having the National Guards surround every Capitol building in the country? You know, every state capitol, the national Capitol, in this, sort of, security overdrive?

HOFFMAN: Well, from a terrorist perspective we're kind of in unchartered waters because we're not talking about terrorist groups. We're not talking about terrorist leaders. When you think about it, the twenty years of the war on terrorism where we've been really effective is taking out leaders, decapitation, and also interdicting how these organizations operate. But what happens when you don't have a terrorist organization? And that's, I think, the fundamental challenge that faces law enforcement and intelligence both in the lead up to January 6 and since then, clearly on all sorts of social media and anybody who was observing. Things like, this was on December 28 on Telegram, "We're going to march into the Capitol building and make them quake in their shoes,” is pretty explicit. But again, we weren't talking about top-down command and instructions being passed on to foot soldiers. It was something that was a spearhead, was prepared to storm the Capitol and then brought people along with them. I mean that's why I think we do need a domestic terrorism statute. I think Juliette is absolutely right that it has to be sculpted the right way. I would not be, for instance, in favor of designating groups as we do internationally. Although what is to say in January 1995, the Clinton administration proposed an international and domestic designation. After Oklahoma City the international designation was enacted in law. The domestic law wasn't. But what I think what would be helpful is that, firstly, we need uniform collection of information. And we don't have that now because domestic terrorism statistics are not collected by the federal government so I think that would be important. Secondly, I see a disparity in sentencing. For example, the program on extremism at George Washington University calculates that the average sentence for someone providing materiel support to ISIS is over thirteen years. Well, last year a Northern Virginia man was arrested stockpiling weapons that he was selling. He was a member of Atomwaffen, which is a terrorist group. We're not talking about a militia. We're not talking about a conspiracy movement. Atomwaffen is a flat-out terrorist group with international connections, which again, is very difficult to mobilize against. But he was buying weapons. He was employed at a gun store. He was selling them to his friends. He had joined a second white supremacist group the day before he was arrested. He had a prior felony conviction. He got a year and a day in prison. So I think a domestic terrorism statute would close that disparity.

MYRE: So it seems we are going to have all these legal issues we're going to have to deal with, but Juliette, after 9/11 we had to wrestle with a lot of tough civil rights questions. Are we going to have to go through that all over again but now on the domestic, more on the, you know, sort of with domestic actors as opposed to foreign actors in many cases?

KAYYEM: Yes, I think so and I think that this distinction that we're all talking about, sort of the hardcore group. I mean, whether it's a domestic terrorist group or Proud Boys or whoever, the people who identify and would use violence versus the curious, the onboarded, the recruitable, there's a clear distinction in terms of where you would want to put your resources and therefore you would want and it exists, the sort of triggering aspects of when you can start that investigation. We also have very permissive gun laws. So the mere presence of weaponry, despite what some of these numbers look like, does not de facto mean that you are planning something violent in this country. So there will have to be probably some new guidelines for the FBI as it begins to increase resources, and I want to be clear, towards the threat that the FBI views as most threatening to U.S. security. So it isn't that this panel is ignoring foreign terrorism, we recognize it's there, nor left-wing terrorism or violence, which is also there, we're just looking at the data coming from the FBI and saying, "I'm looking at 80 percent versus 20 percent. I have a problem. This is where I'm going to put my resources." It doesn't mean that we're ignoring those issues. And then just one thing on Bruce and it's just a great point, I think we can't know right now what the continuing isolation, arrests, shaming, if that's appropriate in some cases, a lack of access to banking and capital, a country this is kind of sick of being mad at each other all the time. We were all kind of feeling, like I call this, you know, this is like the napping era, like, we're all like, do we really want to go back to that, like just a whole bunch of things that are going on that six months from now or nine months from now, what does that—there will still be some hardcore people—but what I always look at recruitment, what does the recruitment ramp look like? And it's hard for me to predict. I like what I'm seeing, I really do. But that could change if, you know, a lot of things happen or even one successful attack can change recruitment efforts and stuff. But I think that these arrests and deplatforming and all the other things that are going on are part of focusing on recruitment because that's the thing you worry about, right? I can deal with a known problem. I can't deal with an unknown problem with all sorts of people thinking this is the way to behave.

MYRE: So Dannagal, let's pick up on that. Do you have any good news for us in terms of the social media front, the right-wing echo system? If this was so important in ramping up this environment, creating this environment, can it either, of its own accord or through things like lawsuits and deplatforming, can it be ramped down in the same way?

YOUNG: Right. So a couple places where we see some good news. One is, you're correct, what we're seeing in the context of what's going on like with the lawsuits against Fox News and Fox News personalities and Newsmax is that there are some legal avenues that can be pursued to basically call for accountability. The issue that I have, though, with lawsuits, I don't love the idea of moving in that direction just for democracy sake. I don't love that idea also because those lawsuits can exist when there is a plaintiff that says, "Hey, we're losing money." Right? Like Smartmatic, the company saying, "We are losing money because of the lies you're telling." But who files a lawsuit on behalf of like democracy or public health? Like who files that lawsuit? That I see as potentially problematic. Every good is going to also have a bad. The other good is that during COVID it basically was the special sauce for conspiratorial thinking and radicalization. What do I mean? You have conditions of uncertainty. You have a really abstract threat that no one really understands. You can get sick and possibly die just by being within six feet of another person. I mean, that's bonkers when you think about that. The economic devastation that accompanied that, the fact that everyone is at home, everyone is socially isolated and everyone is online—these are bad things. I mean, they're great things if you're a conspiracy theorist who is trying to recruit other folks to your team. Okay, so now, as we get this vaccine rollout, as we get back to normal, because I'm an optimist who says, "Yes, we'll get back to normal," people are going to have more diversified life experiences. They're not going to be sitting dwelling in their own pessimism and angst all the time. That is very, very good from the standpoint of national security. Where I'm not optimistic is in the land of conservative media. The brand of conservative media that has been very successful for them is distrust in all mainstream legacy news organizations, distrust in government, and everyone who's participating in it, and the idea that all the people involved in government and media and anyone on the left, don't just disagree with you, but hate you, disrespect you, mock you, make fun of you, and wants you, you know, out of their sight. What that does is that exacerbates those feelings of being socially maligned, which we know self-esteem and feeling socially maligned are some of the triggers that can lead people to then embrace conspiracy theories and mis- and disinformation. So I've seen some of the literature on the public shaming. You think it might be good because social norms are good, but you have to be very careful because shaming also brings with it a risk of the backlash as a result of that feeling of being mocked and insulted.

MYRE: So we're just about ready for questions. But one very quick answer from all of you to the same question here. Did in any way January 6, sort of, scare us into, you know, into an awareness of what kind of threat we're facing, like 9/11 did, but without the mass casualties of 9/11? Did it scare off some of the people who might have been prone to doing that kind of thing? In any sense, do you think this might have generated both a response from law enforcement, the public, and those who might be prone to this kind of activity and therefore we're less likely to see violent action or a series of violent attacks in the coming year or two? So very quick answers from all of you. Bruce Hoffman, you go first.

HOFFMAN: Well, I think for those watching January 6, they saw this and were either responsible for it or cheered it on. They see this as the beginning and not the end. And certainly what I see on social media amongst these extremist groups is there's a lot more traffic than there's been before. I worry that we're on the trajectory towards another Oklahoma City. In the lead up to Oklahoma City in 1995, the main theme, the dominating theme, was federal overreach, was federal suppression of fundamental civil liberties and rights, coming from militias, coming from groups who did not carry out the bombing of the Murrah building. Again, it was not a terrorist group, it was Timothy McVeigh and two accomplices. And that's, I think, my main concern.

MYRE: Okay. Juliette?

KAYYEM: So I think this probably does have an impact on the curious, the sort of, oh, my God, that was for real. And I think we all had that moment, like, my God, they really did intend on trying to find Pence and Pelosi and I think that really did come out strongly in the impeachment. So once again if I'm looking at recruitment, maybe the disaster that almost happened will have benefits. But I agree with Bruce and we do have a hardcore issue that viewed the ease of which they dealt with law enforcement as a success. So I'm going to end with good news again. Two things—one is the almost aspect of it got the FBI to wake up. So these arrests are for real and these are conspiracy arrests, which I love because it means people that weren't there are now also likely to be investigated. The second part of these arrests is a lot of them are being done through either the mythology or reality of the informant on the inside. This is what the CIA used to do. They used to call it black propaganda where they would convince terrorists that the other terrorists were the bad guy or informants and then they'd all, you know, go after each other. We have some evidence that that's starting to happen now, that sort of fear of the informant. That means they go underground. It means they become paranoid. Look, a terror attack delayed is a successful counterterrorism effort for now. So I think just putting those in those two camps and sort of what we would see and then—

MYRE: Dannagal, last word?

YOUNG: I echo Bruce's concerns about the, sort of, radicalization of the violent right. I also echo Juliette's optimism about those who were curious and now saying, "Oh, my gosh, that is not what this whole thing was about. I thought we were just having a good time." And I'm going to add, to be the tiebreaker, optimism, because of the behavior of the large platforms on the day of the insurrection. I believe that they have their work cut out for them in determining how to deal with some of these platforms of these elite voices. But on that day in the face of imminent threat they did the right thing.

MYRE: Great, thank you guys. It's time for some other questions from our members. So I'd like to invite our members to join our conversation with their questions. As a reminder, this meeting is on the record and the operator will remind you how to join the question queue here.

STAFF: We will take the first question from Rachel Oswald.

Q: Hi, can you hear me?

MYRE: Yes.

Q: Thank you for this great event. My question pertains to FBI and the Justice Department. Following the "Unite the Right" rally, Congress did hold hearings about the threat of violent far-right militias and press the FBI to release statistics about hate crimes by white supremacists. And the FBI still has not done that years later. In fact, they are months and months overdue with an NDA report. Can you talk a little bit about what's going on there? Does Congress need to take more action? Why has the FBI been so resistant to producing breakout information about white violent extremism? Thank you.

KAYYEM: My understanding is that the Senate reissued that call. The answer why is the FBI was trying to do these investigations, I think, without the support of the White House and now has the support of the White House. So I do think that there'll be changes in both the reporting and then, obviously, as more cases are going on we'll get more transparency in terms of how the FBI is operating like with informants or threatened informants. So my understanding is that this morning there was a call for that. So, you know, it's only two or three weeks in so my guess is that will change?

STAFF: All right, we will take the next question from Lawrence Wright.

Q: Hi, thank you for this. Senator Patty Murray, when she was holed up in her office during the riot on January 6, heard the rioters running down the hall and they were shouting, "Kill the infidels." Now, that phrase really resonates with me and I just wonder what do you make of it? I mean, is this the cry of wannabe terrorists who are emulating their model? Or is it something else going on? I have been scratching my head ever since I heard about it.

HOFFMAN: Well, it's a great question, Larry. You know, there's this, I think, an endless feedback loop amongst terrorists that they learn from one another and imitate one another. It's, you know, up to governments to learn as well from other successes. But I think, firstly, the two most consequential trends that we've seen in terrorism in this century—lone actors and radicalization and recruitment on digital means—did not originate in the Middle East and South Asia with al Qaeda or ISIS. It was white supremacists in this country in the 1980s. And even after 9/11 they were very vocal in declaring that they needed to have a Christian jihad. So it's not surprising, I think, that they're embracing some of the same rhetoric. They also, I would argue, a very much the same sort of strategy or philosophy, which is accelerationism. In other words that the system is so rotted, their enemies are just so hateful, that the only option is really to precipitate this collapse to stimulate and foment chaos and violence in hopes of achieving this goal. And of course, you know, at least in my view, the sort of the source of American accelerationism is The Turner Diaries, this dystopian novel that was published in 1978, which talks about the "day of the rope" where the liberal, progressive corrupt politicians, Jews, persons of color, all their enemies, will be held accountable. And it's not at all surprising that in front of the Capitol on January 6 there was a scaffold with a hangman's noose and a sign that said, "The Day of the Rope," an emulation of this accelerationist philosophy.

STAFF: We will take the next question from Laura Holgate.

Q: Hi, folks. Great to hear this discussion. One of the things that my colleagues and I who pay attention to nuclear security had been thinking about is to what degree does the combination of ideology and, in some cases, access to nuclear materials, nuclear weapons, how do those intersect? It's quite shocking to see the number of military personnel involved. Law enforcement, I think, we have to assume. Similarly for the private security groups that guard our nuclear facilities in both the Department of Energy and nuclear power plants. How does the nuclear destruction piece fit with how these folks think about it? And particularly, as Bruce mentioned, Atomwaffen, which explicitly, you know, pulls on that thread?

HOFFMAN: Well, certainly The Turner Diaries, of course, climaxes with a nuclear exchange and it's very much about repopulating society after a nuclear apocalypse. I mean, this is such a good question because it's basically forty years ago when I first started studying violent far-right extremism and violent far-left extremism in the United States. It was precisely because of this issue, it was people getting jobs, in some cases who belong to Christian Identity churches, which was a highly racist church, and would plead religious freedom and how you investigated them. Clearly, anyone who's had a security clearance and has filled out an SF-86, it talks about whether you are not engaged in sedition or treason and that you support the Constitution. Obviously, the persons going through that process are going to have to be subjected to greater scrutiny in respect of the, you know, 20 percent or so of veterans or active military personnel and law enforcement who were involved on January 6.

KAYYEM: I'll just say a couple things, it's not on the access issue because I don't know enough to be as smart as the two of you. But on the no tolerance issue, this has been, I think, I wrote my first article on, you know, white supremacy. It seemed so quaint then, you know, in the military like six years ago this sort of rise of concerns, people were talking about it but they weren't taking it as seriously. You also had a recruitment demand. So the fact that you're trying to get more people in, and particularly the Army, meant that standards were not enough. And we've just got to have a no tolerance rule. This is also where on the law enforcement side, you know, we always talk about having people, you know, run for office who are, you know, more reflective of the way society is now. These unions need a revamp. I mean, you look at everything from the federal unions to the local unions, they are not consistent with the kind of safety and security that we need in a diverse society. So the next wave of a new generation of people coming for leadership, if the unions want to save themselves, they should be looking to that new generation because this is not sustainable to have unions protecting the kind of people that they're protecting.

YOUNG: I would love to address this just quickly from the psychological standpoint of, you know, the unique combination of individuals who have a high-threat salience, who are actively monitoring for threats in their environment. And this tends to be accompanied by more conservative political views, especially on those core social and conservative issues. An area of research that has been increasingly interesting over the past few years in political psych has been introduced as the concept “need for chaos.” And there have been some folks looking at “need for chaos” as this interesting, sort of, dimension that helps to predict Trump conservatism as opposed to other forms of conservatism. And that might speak a little bit to your concerns too.

MYRE: Operator, we'll take the next question.

STAFF: We will take the next question from Heera Kamboj.

Q: Hello, good afternoon. Excellent event. After dealing with the shock of January 6, much like the immediate security response following 9/11, the response to terrorism became about CVE—countering violent extremist—or longitudinal efforts. What lessons can we apply longitudinally or over the long term to this problem domestically? Thank you.

MYRE: Who wants that one?

HOFFMAN: I'll dive in, but it's a tough question. Part of the problem are the moderates that we identify as the interlocutors, which was, as to my understanding, a lot of the countering violent extremism efforts that we applied to, let's say, overseas terrorist threats, I mean, especially in this hyper-charged environment where the definition of a patriot or patriotism or constitutional rights or defending the Constitution is so enormously contentious it's often volatile. I mean, how do you confront someone who says, "I'm a true patriot. I'm defending the Constitution and defending our constitutional rights?" So I don't think, I'm always one that believes we should never reinvent the wheel, and as I said earlier, governments need to be as good as terrorists at learning from past campaigns and experiences and not starting de novo. But this is a tougher one in the United States, particularly because First Amendment rights and freedoms has often been that line that makes it very difficult to approach these issues.

KAYYEM: I just have two quick things. First of all, I think Farah Pandith is somewhere in this group of five hundred and who has written a book on the international terrorism side but sees similarities. So the first is obviously the local approach, that this has to come from the community. And that gets to my second point, which was one of the challenges in January, a viewing of what happened, and in February too, through a partisan lens rather than an institutional governance democracy lens was—and I'm from the Arab-American community, so I lived this—we did everything after 9/11 to say, "They are not us. They are not us. We're not going to defend them. They're claiming they're Arabs. They're claiming they're Muslims. They are not us." And there was a lot of pressure on my community to do that as if we weren't doing it. We knew that the only way to move forward for our community, let alone for America, was to excise the cancer. That absence, for the most part, is a real challenge for the similarities. And that's why I can't believe someone like—you know, that's why I think whatever the hypocrisy, whatever people are saying online about Mitch McConnell's speech, I'm kind of grateful he gave it, I am, because I do think that was the beginning of the "they're not us, they're not us." And we can't come from Democrats, which I clearly am, but they can't come from Democrats.

YOUNG: I would love to add to that because the idea that, you know, everyone's individual voice matters but some voices matter more. And if we are ignoring the importance of elite voices in, sort of, shaping and gatekeeping what constitutes the makeup of the party and the philosophy of the party, I think that is a mistake. So, I think, long term, if you look at—so I think we all approach this at different levels, right? And I'm a theorist who's more explanatory than predictive. So I'm going to go big picture. So when I think about these issues, I see them tied to elite political polarization that is more polarized-issue positions in Congress by Democrats and Republicans, which leads to affect of polarization in the population—that is, we hate the other side more and more over time—all being accompanied by the parties becoming internally more and more homogenous, right? That is going to necessarily, especially when baked in the media environment we're in, which will lead you to constantly be reinforcing your worldview, I don't know where else that can end up then kind of where we've gotten. And so if you start at the top and you say, "Okay, what has precipitated some of these phenomena?" Elite polarization. And not just at the level, again, of policy positions. Of course, it's fine to have two parties that have unique policy platforms. It's about compromise across the aisle conversation. It's about how the other side is talked about. So I was also with Juliette on the, you know, applauding McConnell speech, because it is necessary and we know that it matters.

MYRE: Operator, we'll take the next question.

STAFF: We will take the next question from Peter Katona.

Q: Thank you, good afternoon, I was curious to learn more about antifa, which seems to be this [inaudible] of the right and how little is known about their numbers. So I wondered what you think their influence is and what actually are their numbers?

HOFFMAN: I'll dive in again. You know, again, this goes back to my point about the right is we're not talking about organized, identifiable terrorist organizations that we've mostly fought for the past twenty years if not longer. We're talking about social movements that are much more loosely organized without any kind of command and control. You know, the answer is, and I don't mean this facetiously, is how long is a ball of string? I mean, we don't know what the numbers are. We know that individuals claiming allegiance to antifa or to anarchism or to the black bloc or any other groups have engaged in acts of violence, particularly in Portland, some in downtown Washington, DC, the torching of the AFL-CIO building, for example, St. John's Episcopal Church. So there's clearly violence coming from left-wing extremists. It's very difficult to put a finger on it and say how many there are and, in some cases, what the threat is. What I could say is that the threat is completely incongruent to the threat we receive from violent far-right extremism. And one only has to look at what was in force on Inauguration Day. Seventeen years ago I was in Baghdad working for the Coalition Provisional Authority and then subsequently for the Multinational Force headquarters helping to plan the January 2005 elections there. In my wildest dreams, a decade after that, I could have never imagined that Washington would come to look like Baghdad. And we know why that's the case. And it was not because of violence from far-left extremists, which we have to call out. I mean, after all, one of the most serious acts of violence occurred four years ago when a congressional baseball practice with Republican members of Congress, including the then-majority leader, was grievously wounded if not for the bravery of the U.S. Capitol Police. And that's clearly one of the most serious terrorist incidents in recent years. And it came from someone who identified as an extremist, one can say, on the left but didn't belong to any organization, wasn't following anyone's orders. And this, I think, is the challenge we see that law enforcement and intelligence faces now is they've got to look at both ends of the spectrum where similar phenomena are unfolding, including that accelerationist philosophy I talked about earlier that is shared by both extremes.

YOUNG: It might be useful to know, too, that when we talk about some of these associations I mentioned earlier between psychological traits and cultural political ideology, everything gets out of whack when you hit the ends of the spectrum. So the folks on the far left and the far right actually look quite similar—ecological traits. They both have a very high need for order, high need to evaluate, high need for closure. So it's almost as though they have these psychological needs and they just want some targets at which to aim them. And it's whoever got there first.

KAYYEM: I mean, that's exactly right. Nashville. I mean, think December 25, ten days before, you know, is he right or is he left? Is 5G paranoia right or left? Is China—I mean, it's difficult to gauge in that sense of some of these folks.

YOUNG: Yes, in fact, so there's a wonderful book that I will recommend that is just opening my mind and in wonderful ways. [J. Eric] Oliver and [Thomas] Wood wrote a book called Enchanted America and it came out in 2018. And they talk about epistemic beliefs. That is, how we come to our sense of what is true, where do we locate the origins of knowledge. And they look at the fact that, well, it used to be the case that people who came to the origins of knowledge through intuition or gut remotion used to be pretty evenly distributed across both political parties. Because of various changes within the parties themselves, a lot of those folks are clustering on the right And so they kind of map this onto all different kinds of beliefs in conspiracy theories, etcetera. But it's not a foregone conclusion that they are all on the right. In fact, there are a lot of intuitionists, or as they call magical thinkers, on the left as well. And that poses problems in terms of how people are equipped to navigate a very complicated information environment like the one we're in right now.

MYRE: Operator, we'll take the next question.

STAFF: We will take the next question from Trudy Rubin.

Q: Thanks for doing this, it's so interesting. And I wonder if you could follow up a bit on the question of penetration of the military. General Austin has made a major point of trying to go after this but how can you go after it? Do you go to try to look at everybody's social media history, if they joined the media and then you come up against First Amendment. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that and also whether there are any lessons from other countries. Outside Germany, I know, some comparisons have been made. And the Germans are much more willing to collect data on radical goals without bringing any criminal charges, so they have more data on people who go into the military. So just that whole ball of wax, how do you handle this in the military?

KAYYEM: So thank you for that question. So first of all it does start at the top, so that the fact that this was the first thing that the new secretary of defense focused on now, you know, the Pentagon is big, the services are different, permeates down. So a couple things. So first of all, in most of these instances it's never a surprise. So remember, you're not sneaking around, like, "Oh, there's Bruce Hoffman, normal guy, but he has this, like, neo-Nazi life, you know, online." I mean, they have tattoos. Proud Boy fliers have been found on bases, right? So they're recruiting, someone's recruiting. You can figure out who these people are. So before you get to the super squirrely, you know, you're checking Facebook and stuff, you can actually limit your pool relatively quickly by both recruitment questions and physical things like, you know, we're now not permitting certain tattoos and things like that to who's passing out these flyers. So I actually think this is—there's a pool of people you're going to be able to expel or at least ask questions of relatively quickly. And I think that we're seeing that. I mean, all the military guys who we saw or who have been arrested were given up by their colleagues either in the military or their family and friends. This is how community policing works. So I'm actually pretty optimistic. Not that optimistic, okay, but I'm getting more optimistic that actually with focus, you can weed out some of this stuff but not all of it. Then you go to the Facebook and the other less obvious or I guess I would say more time intensive investigation. But this can be expelled and must. I mean, this is madness.

HOFFMAN: If I could add something, I mean, this is not a new problem for the military. In the 1980s and in the 1990s there was the exact same problem. In fact, when one thinks about that earlier wave of far-right violence, many of the main actors—Louis Beam, Bo Gritz, Randy Weaver, Frazier Glenn Miller, Eric Rudolph, the one responsible for the Atlanta Olympics bombing—all had military backgrounds in one respect or another. And as we've heard from Secretary Austin when he was lieutenant colonel at Fort Bragg in 1995, he had to deal with this issue. I think the problem is that we kind of focused on overseas terrorist threats for the past twenty years and forgot to do these kinds of things in the United States, which are so enormously important especially when one thinks that the military is being the greatest success, at least, in integrating people from across the United States. And this is something that's a point of pride, and that therefore, I think, requires the attention it was once given and that will be resurrected. One other thing which was fascinating this morning in the Washington Post, and the FBI has known this for years, is that extremists on both sides, far left as well as for right, are looking to recruit people with the expertise acquired in the military. After twenty years of the war on terror, there's a greater reservoir of those individuals that even if they don't have combat experience, do have experience in logistics, in organization, and in weaponry. So what we're seeing is that these groups on both sides actively recruiting these individuals and I dare say it's not just going to be a responsibility of the U.S. military to police this but also the Veterans Administration. They’re targeting veterans, people who are out of the military who sometimes feel very disillusioned, very cut off for whatever reason, and become susceptible to either side, blandishments or encouragement to join them.

MYRE: Operator, I think we may have time for one last question.

MYRE: All right, we will take the last question from Mercedes Fitchett.

Q: Great, thank you, Mercedes Fitchett, U.S. Department of Defense. I was reading a daily update today from the Soufan Center where they actually mentioned March 4 as the next possible date for extremists to act, referencing March 4 is the historical Inauguration Day for president. If any of you could comment on what we should be doing to prepare for that.

KAYYEM: So from the homeland security perspective there's going to be a permitting process but we still have a First Amendment. What are the numbers? What's anticipated? No open-carry rules in DC. You're going to want to monitor travel. I think this was interesting, I think they got this wrong in January because the stuff I was hearing was that they were not seeing—nothing was big about January, maybe there were seven or eight thousand people down at the Mall, even fewer who went up the Hill. But you're monitoring who's coming in. The platforms are doing what they need to do what. Airbnb, look what Airbnb did around Inauguration Day, just cancelled all reservations if they think the numbers are getting too big. And then of course there's intelligence, there's the disruption, there's the paranoia you want to create amongst this group that they don't actually know who's an informant and who's not. I like all that stuff. And then here's the interesting thing, when I said, "We have no idea what the deplatforming of Trump will mean for this movement." He just came out with a statement when we were talking. It was wordy. Let's just put it that way and it was against McConnell. So March is also going to be a very interesting data point if we can just step outside the emotion of it for what is the legacy of violent extremism, right? There's going to be all sorts of supporters of Trump for a long period of time. Because no one can go into that date not thinking that it's just, you know, that it couldn't lead to violence. So I'm also curious about what we can do to disrupt it.

MYRE: And I think we may have to wrap it up, folks. I'd like to thank you for joining today's virtual meeting. And a big thanks to all our speakers on the panel for their insights. Please note that the audio and transcript of today's meeting will be posted on CFR's website. So thank you again, everybody.


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