Daily Archives: February 29, 2012

Problems in extremism

Recently I was at a training event about homegrown violent extremism (HVE) attending primarily by representatives of state and local agencies (with probably a scattering of federal agencies present as well) and there were a couple of interesting points worthy of exploring.

First, the event began with a question.  The attendees were asked what they thought were the biggest extermist threat facing their jurisdictions.  Answers included:

  • al-Qaida (or similarly) inspired HVEs
  • Right wing extremists
  • Eco/animal rights extremists
  • non-ideologically inspired extremists

Much to my surprise very few (like less than a half dozen of the approximately 150 attendees) mentioned al-Qaida.  I had assumed that its name recognition would mean that it would be the ‘go to’ threat but I was wrong (hence the point of this whole paragraph).

The overwhelming response was the final choice: non-ideological inspired extremists.

Now, it’s not clear to me how that catagory is different from nutjobs with a gun (uh, excuse me, ’emotionally disturbed persons’).  Further, it’s not clear if this catagory should even be considered in the same breath as terrorists.

I can see how one might want to lump them together.  After all, there’s a guy with a gun shooting at innocent people so maybe it doesn’t matter why he’s pulling the trigger.

Only, it does matter why he’s pulling a trigger both ‘left of boom’* (before the incident occurs) and ‘right of boom’ (after the attack begins) in terms of prevention, target selection, method of attack, etc.

So, two questions come to mind as I think about this.  Have we diluted the idea of threat (in terms of talking about ‘homeland security‘ in its strict anti-terrorism way) to the extent that it just doesn’t have much meaning any more?  A victim, perhaps, of the ‘all crimes, all threats, all hazards, all the time’ psychosis?

Secondly, while discussions about the threat of HVEs have increased over the past couple of years, it’s almost always been wrapped in discussions of ideology (and usually there in terms of al-Qaida inspired ideology).  So, assuming this audience was representative, one wonders, what’s going on here.  Is the message from those paragons of informaiton sharing, fusion centers, not doing that great a job of spreading the message? Or is the homeland security community not sending the correct message? Or are they sending the correct, relevant message but doing it so poorly it doesn’t ‘stick’?

*I’ve been dying to use that phrase for years.  Too bad it’s so overused it’s moved into cliche territory.  Still, I shall not be denied!