Homegrown Terrorism

Homegrown Terrorism

by Sahar F. Aziz

Thank you very much for inviting me. It’s a pleasure to be here and its good to see such a diverse audience. I see members of the military and also domestic law enforcement and members of the public. So, I am looking forward to having an engaging conversation.

The focus of this speech is homegrown terrorism from the perspective of the communities affected. Before I went to the DHS, I was an advocate for many Muslim civil rights organizations, and I was also a member of the community outreach group in the office for civil rights at the US Department of Homeland Security, so I have seen this from various angles.

There are three main points related to homegrown terrorism.

First: There is an exclusive focus on terrorism committed by Muslims. As all Americans know, homegrown terrorism pre-dated 9/11. Before 9/11, homegrown terrorism evoked images of the Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups. The Unabomber, and Timothy McVeigh also conjured up images of homegrown terrorism. Thus, it goes without saying that there are all kinds of terrorists; and the single-minded focus on Muslims ultimately keeps us less safe as plots by other groups are ignored. For example: in Georgia there were four Anglo males, 60 years and older, who attempted to bomb an IRS building, a Justice Department building and other government buildings. The plot was in full swing and fortunately law enforcement intervened in time to stop it.

Second: Ultimately, this targeted focus on Muslims has a very adverse impact on Muslim communities. Muslims are unnecessarily and needlessly stigmatized. These are not abstract issues for members of these communities. This is not race bating. This is not whining, complaining or simply a mentality of victimization being played out. These are real people’s lives being adversely affected in very palpable ways.

Third: There is a disconnect between the government’s talk and the government’s actions. The government talks like a partner but acts like an adversary, which creates a very big problem. As a resut, there exists a lot of skepticism about community policing unless we can put some things in order.

And then finally, I want to note the fine line between unlawful homegrown terrorism and lawful offensive political speech. It is important to be very careful with our First Amendment rights, because they are not only Muslims’ First Amendment rights, but all of our first amendment rights. The First Amendment was passed so that people in power could not oppress people who did not agree with them, and then hold onto power indefinitely. The result is a “Muslims Only” homegrown terrorism club (code for Muslim Terrorists) after 9/11, which has led to some highly problematic practices.

In the notoriously coined “King Hearings,” Congressman Peter King (R-NY) has held three Congressional hearings focused exclusively on Muslim terrorism. He refuses to address domestic terrorism committed by non-Muslims.  Another troubling development is the NYPD radicalization report. A nd then there is The Third Jihad—“radical Jihad”—which is the training that law enforcement and the NYPD uses on Islam as a violent political ideology.  These training videos are quite gruesome. Apparently, it is just blood and guts everywhere.  Sadly, this is how they train law enforcement about Muslims, about terrorism in America, and about the threat of terrorism.  Therefore, it is no wonder Muslims are stereotyped as terrorists and dehumanized in the eyes of law enforcement.

When Representative King was critiqued faced criticism inquirying why he was solely focused on Muslims in his hearings, he responded with the following statement. “To include other groups, such as neo-Nazis and extreme environmentalists in this hearing would be extraneous and diffuse its efficacy.  It would also send the false message that our Committee believes that there is any threat equivalency between these disparate groups and Islamist terrorism. Very simply, the Committee cannot ignore the fact that al Qaeda is actively attempting to recruit individuals living within the Muslim American community to commit acts of terror…I will not allow political correctness to obscure a real and dangerous threat to the safety and security of the citizens of the United States.”

Although that statment sounds plausible and feasible, we have to look at the data, because that is what you call a conclusory statement. We can all make a bunch of conclusions that are in the interest of this case; in his situation, it is a political agenda that ignores genuine threats in favor of ideology.

For example, Joseph Stack flew an airplane into the IRS based on his anti-tax political beliefs. He had a political agenda. He sought to impact policy. He did not simply “feel” like flying a plane into an IRS administrative building in Austin, Texas for no reason.

In the case of James Cunningham, the FBI went to his house and found him dead. His wife shot him in self-defense. She was not prosecuted because, as it turns out, he was beating her. He was a rampant neo-Nazi who loved Adolf Hitler and was in the process of building a dirty bomb. He had quite a few dangerous chemicals ordered from pharmaceutical companies. No one reported his suspicious behavior because his name was James Cunningham, not Mohammed Yousef.  The FBI admitted they knew nothing about it until his wife killed him.

In the case of Jared Lee Loughner, it is established that Loughner was mentally ill. A lot of terrorists have a mental health problem in varying degrees of extremity. He shot and almost killed a congresswoman. He shot and killed a judge. Six or seven other people died. Was he a terrorist? There was not a lot of information about the case. In the court of public opinion, if his name had been “Mohamed” there would have been no question. Now maybe lawyers would have stepped back and said, “Does this fall into the elements of what a terrorism attack is or is this just ‘a shooting spree?’” We, as Americans, call “going postal,” but it is not “terrorism.” But, reasonable minds can disagree.

No one disagrees that abortion clinic bombers are terrorists. There is definitely an agenda. They are trying to influence civilians, and government policy, i.e. to make it unlawful for women to have abortions.  And yet they were not addressed in Representative King’s hearings.


Similarly, White Militia Groups, who are primarily Anglo, own a lot of guns, havevery strong anti-government ideology, and believe it is their right to stand up and rebel against the government. If they have to, they will do so violently.  And yet they were not addressed in Representative King’s hearings.

In addition, Patriot Groups and Sovereign Citizens are essentially these are a conglomeration of anti-government groups. As a Washington state judge recently informed me, these groups are quite a problem for the authorities, especially because they have killed six law-enforcement officers in the Northwest since 2000. Sovereign citizens believe that state governments and the federal government is illegitimate, and that they don’t have to pay taxes. They believe that when the American government went off the gold standard, it essentially lost legitimacy and that paper money is just that, paper—it is nothing, it is worthless. So when someone arrests them for speeding, they say, “You have no authority, I am a sovereign citizen.” These types are lone wolves—meaning that they are not very networked. Since 2000, sovereign-citizen extremists have killed 6 law enforcement officers. They have 100,000 ardent followers and 200,000 sympathizers across the country. Anders Breivik is a Norwegian terrorist. He killed 8 people via bombing, then 69 (mostly) teenagers based on their political persuasion.  Again, they were not addressed in Representative King’s hearings.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is a reliable source that focuses on hate groups targeting African Americans and Jewish Americans, and now, they include anti-Muslim bias, hate-groups against Muslims. Their statistics are telling. Since our first African American President Barack Hussein Obama was elected, America has seen a huge jump in anti-government “Patriot Groups.” They hate him. They think he is a Muslim, and that he shouldn’t be President. They consider Obama to be illegitimate. 149 such groups existed in 2008; 512 in 2009; 824 in 2010; and 1,274 in 2011. Many of them have organized and attempted assassination against the President of the United States. Those are serious terrorist acts. Of course we don’t hear about it in the media, but then maybe we’re not supposed to. There is a strategy of not highlighting gangsters’ activities in order to deny them the publicity they desire. The point is: this is a valid issue and a threat that should have been addressed in Representative King’s hearings.

David Schanzer spoke about the Duke Report on Muslim Homegrown Terrorism that Muslims committed. If you see the numbers, there is no way to underestimate the importance of this. One terrorist attack, as we know, can kill thousands of people if not more. But we also have to keep things in perspective, so that we use our limited resources wisely. We should make sure we don’t focus on one group, while another group kills us. Once you’re dead, you’re dead—it doesn’t matter who did it.

20 Muslim-Americans were indicted for violent terrorist plots in 2011, which was down from 26 who were indicted in 2010. But since 9/11, 193 have been indicted which is just under 20 per year. All of this is compared to 14,000 murders in 2011.

Let’s return to our own Joseph Stack. Some may think that categorizing Stack as a terrorist is an exaggeration. But let’s look at the facts. He killed one IRS employee—a veteran, the reason he didn’t kill more is because it was lunchtime on a Friday, so there was definitely a risk of more casualties. There was a huge amount of smoke in north Austin and everyone was saying, “The Muslims have attacked in Austin, Texas.”

Joseph Stack’s suicide note read, “I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand. It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”

If you took that suicide note, changed it, put some al-Qaeda references in there, some Muslim references in there, and changed Stack’s name to Mohamed Yousef, would we even be having a discussion about whether he was a homegrown terrorist? No. There was a huge debate as to whether Stack was a terrorist, and those who called him a homegrown terrorist got attacked for the categorization. The standard line was: “No, that doesn’t count.”

Returning to Anders Breivik. He planted a bomb in an Oslo government building that killed eight people. Then he shot and killed 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a Labor Party youth camp on Norway’s Utoya Island. Breivik has a 1500-page manifesto in which he cited Robert Spencer, one of the anti-Muslim misinformation experts, and his blog, “Jihad Watch,” 162 times. Breivik was a self-described Christian Conservative. So, I propose that we surveil all churches that have anything to do with his ideology. If he identified himself as a Lutheran, then I say we go into all the Lutheran churches and do what the NYPD did. I propose that we go to all the student groups, that are Christian Lutheran Student groups, and we keep an eye on them. Because you never know who’s going to go and read his 1500-page manifesto and decide that they are going to attack a bunch of teenagers. That is, of course, ridiculous. When I speak to audiences, I usually say, what if we did it to some group you’re familiar with or a group you would fit into? It’s just not rational. It sounds very exaggerated. But Robert Spencer is one of our favorite friends. He does these “hit pieces” on a lot of Muslim-Americans, and he loves to go after those who discuss these types of issues. It’s how you know that you are on the “A-team.”

But Professor Aziz, you are in denial, because the Muslims, they support terrorists, even if they don’t tell you, it’s secret. Well, there was a Gallup Poll conducted in 2010 and Gallup has a reputation to preserve—they are not just going to put out bologna statistics. Of course, no poll is perfect, but the question read: “Some people think that for the military to target and kill civilians is sometimes justified, while others think that kind of violence is never justified. Which is your opinion?” 78% of Muslims said it is never justified for the military to kill civilians, 21% said it depends. 38% of Protestants said it is never justified, 58% said sometimes it is.

Now let’s get to private citizens, individuals killing civilians, terrorism. The same Gallup poll. The question read: “Some people think that for an individual person or small group of persons to target and kill civilians is sometimes justified, while others think that kind of violence is never justified, what is your opinion?” Muslims said 89% not justified, never justified, 11% said sometimes justified. Over 25% of Catholics and Protestants, however, said that violence against civilians is sometimes justified. Who should we be going after? It looks like the Catholics and the Protestants. Those are the ones who are raising my eyebrows; I’m a bit suspicious of them. I’m being facetious. But you can find 1, 2, 3, 10, 20 people in any demographic who have done something wrong and associate guilt on everyone who shares those characteristics. That’s intellectually lazy.

The NYPD Report shows just what they are teaching the NYPD. The NYPD sets up its own little FBI, (and the NYPD sets a precedent for many police departments across the country) and tells their officers to look for “radicalization”. The typical signatures of homegrown terrorism or radicalization are: (1) –Giving up cigarettes; (2) gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes; (3) wearing traditional Islamic clothing; (4) growing a beard and; (5) becoming involved in social activism and community issues. The NYPD report sums it up this way, “In the example of the homegrown threat, local residents or citizens gradually adopt an extremist religious/political ideology hostile to the West.” Basically, the more orthodox you get, the more suspicious you act. This probably impacts religious freedom in a negative way.

Then there is the NYPD-CIA Surveillance Project. We don’t as of yet know just how much of a partnership there is between the NYPD and the CIA, but there’s some record of either current or former agents working with the NYPD and sending “Mosque Crawlers” into mosques to fish with no individualized suspicion, no predicate act. They’re not following a suspect. They’re just casting a wide dragnet focused on behaviors such as (1) endorsing conservative religious beliefs, (2) businesses having devout Muslim customers, and (3) Mosques of concern which are selected based on ethnic orientation, group affiliations—all of which are raising a red flag. Would you feel comfortable, safe and like you could pray openly and freely if there were informants infiltrating your house of worship? What if they were listening to everything that was said during the sermon and any questions you had for your religious leader?

Now on to Community Policing: The government talks—President Obama, in particular (you can’t ever blame him for his oratory skills, and he hires people that are good with words)—they talk a really good game, but when you look at their actions, it’s very adversarial. And it’s not surprising because we have a very adversarial process. We have a defense attorney, and we have a prosecutor. As David Schanzer said, there is one way of dealing with the threat of terrorism—the law enforcement way—and then there is the community policing way. The law-enforcement way is the dominant way. The community policing consists of public relations to smooth over and diffuse the grievances from the law enforcement. The FBI is using outreach programs to gather intelligence—names and contact information, affiliations, statements.

So you’ve got AUSA’s who sit at community outreach tables and also prosecute people who are connected to people who are in community outreach. These AUSA’s are using abusive informant tactics and coercive recruitment methods. People are essentially being prosecuted for false statements. The FBI goes and asks for voluntary interviews, people agree because they want to be Good Samaritans, they lie about some stupid thing and then go to jail for five years for lying. They don’t lie about terrorism-related issues—they lie along the lines of “I travelled when I didn’t travel,” or “I sold this or I didn’t sell that,” or “I paid this much money or I didn’t,” and then they catch them on that and say, so we can make this all go away, or we can make your life hell. If you want to make it go away, you can be our informant. And this is in addition to having unreliable informants.

To state the obvious: Women are always kept out of the picture. I have a piece coming out in the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Review for anyone interested in understanding the impact on stereotypes on Muslim women post-9/11 entitled, “From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: American Muslim Women Caught in the Cross-hairs of Intersectionality.” What is essentially happening in the backdrop is that Muslims are being racialized. Race is a social construct, therefore Muslim is both a religious and racial identity. So now Women who wear”the Veil”- are the terrorist “other,” and once you can do that and convince the public that they are intrinsically violent terrorists, you can get away with a lot in terms of how you enforce homegrown terrorism.

Eleven years after 9/11, in September 2012, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 49 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Islam. This was 10% higher than in 2002. You would think the numbers would be reversed. The government’s actions must have something to do with it. A question in the same poll asked: Now thinking specifically about Muslims, do you think each of the following applies, or does not apply, to Muslims living in this country? Muslims living in this country are sympathetic to the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. So 56% of Protestants say no not sympathetic, 63% of Catholics say no—which still leaves substantial numbers who believe the opposite.

Another example of the increasing bias against Muslims is evinced in an ad in a restaurant in Texas proclaimed: “It is Patriotic to Lynch Muslims”. This was last fall—Not 20 years ago. Not during the oil crisis in the 70’s. It says, “Let’s play Cowboys and Iranians!”

You have to look back in history for this type of attitude. A lot of it resembles what happened to the Japanese during World War II. Some would argue maybe it’s worse, although Muslims were never interned, though there was some talk about it. California Land Law allowed confiscation of Japanese individuals’ land during internment. But this is Justice Murphy talking about what led to laws that confiscated the land of Japanese while they were interned: “All the propaganda devices then known – newspapers, speeches, films, pamphlets, leaflets, billboards, and the like – were utilized to spread the anti-Japanese poison. The Japanese were depicted as degenerate mongrels and the voters were urged to save ‘California-the White Man’s Paradise’ from the yellow peril because they couldn’t be citizens because our laws made it illegal for any Asian to be a citizen even if they had been here for 80 years. If you were born here, yes, but not if you had immigrated.” So is this happening today? Some people would say yes, but it has happened before.

In my article Sticks and Stones: The Words That Hurt in the New York City Law Review (available at http://www.AmericanMuslim.org), I s,how how post 9-11 employment discrimination against Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians has skyrocketed. There have been 264 or more mosque vandalizations or threats against mosques or attacks against people at mosques since 9/11. In 2004, Steve King claimed that 85% of mosques in America were controlled by “Islamic fundamentalists” and described their members as “an enemy living among us”.

Do I need to fear taking my young children to the mosque? I hope not, but when you see these numbers, you can’t help but worry. A Pew Research Center Study in May 2007 showed that a majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I am a part of this 53% and I’m not special. My position as a law professor does not protect me. It actually exposes me more. I hope no one sends me a nasty telegram after this talk. I received the following e-mail, among other more vulgar ones, after I spoke at a 9/11 10th Anniversary Civil Rights Conference sponsored by the Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division: “Keep it up and soon we will have the political support to be able to expel all of you. It happened in Spain; it’ll happen here.”

And so finally, this is the ultimate outcome: a lot of Muslims feel it’s harder to live as equal citizens in the United States.  Morevoer, if we adopt the “Us v. Them” narrative, not only is it divisive for our country, but it also has major legal implications, On top of this, al-Qaeda benefits—they want the U.S. to think in these terms. The al-Qaeda narrative is that the West is at war with Islam and Muslims. This narrative is strengthened every day by those who suggest all Muslims are terrorists and all those who practice Islam are jeopardizing U.S. security. Selective enforcement ultimately reinforces al-Qaeda’s narrative.


Speech at Duke University April 20, 2012

Sahar Aziz is an associate professor at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law and a legal fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She serves on the board of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. Her area of scholarship focuses on the intersection of national security, civil rights, and American Muslims. She is the author of Caught in a Preventive Dragnet: Selective Counterterrorism in a Post-9/11 America; From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: American Muslim Women Caught in the Crosshairs of Intersectionality; Terror(izing) the Muslim Veil; and Sticks and Stones, the Words That Hurt: Entrenched Stereotypes Eight Years After 9/11. She can be followed on Twitter @saharazizlaw


Google