Nearly ten years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the failed car bombing in Times Square has reminded Americans that terrorism is still a very real threat. It comes as little surprise to an American public used to Islamic terrorism that Faisal Shahzad is believed to have received training from terror groups in Pakistan. Shahzad lived in the US for more than 10 years, but the influences and planning behind the attack are primarily foreign in character. With all the attention focused on Islamic foreign terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and Pakistan's Tehrik-i-Taliban, little is said about another threat that is largely invisible and just as real: home-grown domestic terrorism.
Two recent incidents confirm the reality of the threat. In February, Joe Stack penned an anti-government diatribe before flying a small plane into IRS offices in Austin, Texas. Little more than a month later, nine members of the Christian extremist group "Hutaree" were arrested in several mid-west states in connection to a plot to target and kill federal law enforcement agents.
Of course domestic terrorism isn't new, and it isn't confined to the extreme right. In the 1960s and 70s, leftist organizations like the Symbionese Liberation Army and the Weather Underground targeted financial and government institutions in attacks on capitalism. By the 1980s attacks by leftist domestic terror groups had waned. In the 90s, extremists on the right took their place. These groups surged with the type of anti-government rhetoric that fueled Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Some experts believe the election of the first black president and uncertain economic times have spurred far-right extremist groups to a level of activity unseen since the early 1990s.
So if there is a dangerous up-swing in domestic militias and terror groups, why has the media been largely silent on the issue? Why isn't there as large of a concern about the next Oklahoma City bombing as there is for the next 9/11? Perhaps it's easier to rationalize that foreigners would try to hurt us, but it's harder to come to terms with the fact that there are American-born citizens who want to do the same. Many were surprised to find out that Islamic radical Faisal Shahzad had lived a fairly typical American life for years before he turned to extreme violence. Then again, so did Timothy McVeigh.
While the threat from Islamic extremism is the most reported (and also, very real) threat, it's important that Americans realize that extremist violence doesn't just come from one religion or political ideology. Whether extremists are Islamic or Christian, radical or reactionary isn't as important as the threat itself - anything taken to the extreme can be deadly.