Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 26, 2013

Erroll Southers on Domestic Terrorism

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on August 26, 2013

Erroll Southers, former FBI agent and President Obama’s first nominee to head the TSA, has authored a new book, “Homegrown Violent Extremism.”

Unlike many who talk about homegrown terrorism, Southers does not define it narrowly as related to the Al Qaeda-type Islamic threat. Instead it describes it:

“Homegrown violent extremism is terrorist activity or plots targeting the United States and U.S. assets by American citizens or residents who have embraced their extremist ideology largely within this country.”

In a “Security Debrief” blog post, he goes on to explain:

When we look at the diversity of violent extremist ideologies and thousands of followers who present a threat to the United States, we are looking into a mirror.

Domestic terrorism is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing threat. The disrupted Las Vegas plot to kill police officers is only the most recent instance of homegrown violent extremism (HVE), but there are numerous others examples: white supremacist Michael Wade Page’s shooting at a Sikh temple; anti-Semite James von Brunn’s shooting and killing of a Holocaust Museum security officer; Sovereign Citizen Andrew Joseph Stack III’s suicide plane attack on the federal office complex in Austin, Texas; and Floyd Lee Corkins’ attack at the Washington conservative think tank, Family Research Council.

If any of these ideologically inspired attacks had been perpetrated by an al Qaeda actor, there would have been immediate and widespread labeling of the incident as “terrorism.” As it is, however, these attacks have gone somewhat unnoticed in the broader discussion on terrorism and how to prevent it.

He does not stop at defining this problem, but goes on to describe the issues related to addressing it while at the same time not undermining our society’s basic values.

I have not read the book so cannot vouch for Southers’ conclusions.  However, I certainly hope this work expands the conversation.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 26, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

Have not read the book either but is not the question who decides who is the terrorist?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

August 26, 2013 @ 11:00 pm

That is actually a very profound question. And one that has yet to be reliably answered. Thank you for pointing it out.

Comment by Michael Brady

August 27, 2013 @ 9:40 am


Thanks for bringing our attention to Mr. Southers’ new book. Also from his post:

Absent a set of specific criteria, we will continue to direct the vast majority of our national security efforts against only one violent ideology (i.e., Muslim extremism).

The federal government has had a legal definition of terrorism for quite some time.

Title 22 of the U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”


By that measure most (almost all) of the terrorism we have experienced in the U.S. since 1865 has been the work of angry white men, not transnational Islamist extremists. There was a time when the federal government aggressively investigated the bombing of churches and the assassination of civil rights workers without regard to the skin color of the perpetrators or victims. Unfortunately, these days our frightened neighbors and their political representatives are not much interested in chasing anti-government extremists, white supremacists, anti-semites, tax protesters, violent homophobes, or “right to life” bombers and assassins, especially, it seems, if they happen to be white and nominally Christian. There is some tolerance for tracking down the tree-hugging arsonists, animal-loving vandals, balaclava-clad anarchists, but they’re radical lefties and probably atheists after all. I suppose it all depends on whose ox is gored, or what sort of news coverage sells the most advertising.

I look forward to reading Mr. Southers’ book.

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