The campaign for “see something, say something” is an effective strategy in having citizens stop terror attacks.
In the years after 9/11, the campaign to activate citizen participation in stopping terror attacks had a simple narrative. That narrative centered around people from Middle East / North Africa; and it usually involved watching for people leaving a backpack unattended.
Watching for unattended backpacks is still a narrative, but it’s part of a much bigger narrative now because what qualifies as terror has drastically broadened in the last two decades. In U.S. theme parks for example, there are security officers dressed as tourists who are looking out for exactly these scenarios, but security protocols at large have widened to account for different types of scenarios. Major U.S. attractions, tourist hot spots, communal watering holes like malls and shopping centers and now even schools and online spaces are looking for diversified behavior patterns that raise a red flag.
The public is better informed on what terror attacks look like and how terror has morphed from 9/11. Homegrown attacks are more typical and nationally we accept that terror doesn’t have a skin color, fixed national identity, or ideology.
Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch, for example, reported on story where “the militia members who plotted to bomb Somali and Muslim communities in Kansas had conducted surveillance to identify potential targets, stockpiled firearms, ammunition and explosives, and planned to issue a manifesto.”
The plot to terrorize Muslim communities came after the 2016 elections with other chilling details reminiscent of hateful rhetoric that comes from any group looking to dehumanize another:
- The targeted population was referred to as “cockroaches,” which is the same rhetoric often used by neo-Nazis and Islamist supremacists against Jews.
The fact is, there is only so much any organization or government can do, but every individual who believes and repeats this type of rhetoric will have shared these ideas long before they plan or carry out any attacks. This is where citizens have the power to stop terror attacks before they happen.
We can do this by being engaged with our families, our neighbors, schools and our community to help identify the warning signs where someone might be pushed or pulled into committing acts of terror. If we can be better in tune with each other, we can be better aware of who might be suffering grievances that make them vulnerable to extremist ideologies.
In this way, we’re able to do for each other more than just spotting a potential act of terror as it is about to be committed. We can spot the condition and root experiences that drive someone to this behavior to begin with.