ISIS in the United States of America

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Chicago police SWAT team
Chicago police SWAT team (Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images)

The number of ISIS supporters in the United States who have been arrested for planning to commit acts of domestic terrorism is relatively low. However, we must take this very seriously because of the magnitude of potential damage and because terrorists who are radicalized online are difficult for authorities to track.

According to the George Washington Program on Extremism’s report, ISIS in America, as of July 2017, “The number of individuals charged in the United States on offenses related to the Islamic State stands at 131.” At first glance, this does not seem like a very large number.

Let’s look at the statistics more closely. Of those 131 people, “30% were accused of plotting domestic terror attacks.”

There are 39 people who were arrested for actively planning terror attacks within the borders of the United States.

We can also safely assume that the number of aspiring domestic terrorists is higher than the 39 ISIS supporters already arrested. The FBI simply does not have the resources to track every potential terrorist. According to Politico in The FBI’s Growing Surveillance Gap, “Experts say it’s a big problem – one that’s been brewing for more than two years as the Bureau has struggled to keep up with a wave of aspirational homegrown jihadists, who act faster and leave fewer clues than would-be terrorists a decade or two ago.”

The threat is compounded by low-key profiles of some current Islamist supporters. According to an in-depth report, Terrorism in America After 9/11, “[T]he most likely threat continues to be lone individuals or pairs inspired by jihadist ideology without the type of extensive plotting, communication, or travel activity that would tip off the layered counterterrorism defense system.” ISIS supporters can easily fly under the radar if they are radicalized online and are not communicating extensively with larger terrorist cells.

Operation 250 is an organization dedicated to educating children, parents, and teachers about violent extremist material online. Their report, ISIS on Social Media states, “The number of individuals leaving the west to go to Syria has been decreasing over the past year…ISIS is now encouraging people they have recruited online through social media to stay in their home countries and carry out attacks.”  ISIS is encouraging supporters to commit acts of domestic terrorism rather than travel to fight in Syria.

We need to keep this in perspective – the number of Islamist terrorists who are planning to commit domestic terror attacks is quantitatively low. However, we still must take this seriously because Islamists who are self-radicalized online are difficult for authorities to track and arrest, and because their goals are to inflict maximum damage and casualties.


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Shoshana Palatnik

Shoshana Palatnik is the producer of Clarion’s upcoming films KiDS: Inside the Terror Factory (working title). Learn more about the film at https://clarionproject.org/kids

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