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Domestic terrorism ‘single most significant threat’ in U.S. right now, expert says

Seth Jones with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C. said threats, plots, hateful speech on social media on the rise this election season
Posted at 8:11 PM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 20:11:02-04

MICHIGAN — Thursday afternoon, state officials announced that 13 men have been charged, six federally, for allegedly plotting to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before the November election.

Seth Jones, who studies domestic terrorism for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., said there’s been a rise in threats during this election season. And, it’s the norm.

“It was terrible,” said Jones about the plot against Gov. Whitmer. “It’s a terrible situation where there are individuals inside the United States plotting attacks against government officials.”

Jones is the director for the Transnational Threats Project at CSIS, a bipartisan and nonprofit think tank where they’ve been tracking and studying domestic terrorism since the 1990s. He said today there’s hundreds of groups like the Wolverine Watchmen and one of the first things people should know is that many of the groups lack structure.

“U.S. extremists organizations often organize around a principle of leaderless resistance,” Jones said during a Zoom interview on Friday October 9. “So, what we don’t see a lot of is hierarchically-structured groups in the U.S. The second is most of them so far have not committed a lot of fatalities at least in 2020.”

He said there’s been violence, arson, and threats. However very few fatalities as compared to recent years.

“We had the Pulse night club shooting in Florida. We had San Bernadino, California. We obviously had Timothy McVeigh back in the 1990s, [and] 9/11,” Jones said. “Those years the level of fatalities from terrorists in the United States are much higher.”

He said what’s unique about the Michigan case is that it involved men from other states like Delaware. Typically, when a plot is planned or carried out the extremists, he said, work alone or with a small group. The Wolverine Watchmen had 13 members. And, like many groups, they met, communicated and worked online.

“They are espousing hate both physically, coming to rallies. They conduct training camps in and around almost all states in the United States,” Jones said. “But they’re also heavily involved on social media. So we should be aware that there does appear to be an increase in hate.”

And also an increase in the use of firearms, explosives and aggressive force, he said, which in the Wolverine Watchmen case included storming into the capitol building, taking the governor and harming other state officials and law enforcement, he said.

Jones said he believes that domestic terrorists are the “single most significant threat” in the U.S. right now, and plots and threats may increase well past the election in November.

“I have every reason to believe right now that we’re in for a bit of a haul here regardless of who wins,” Jones said. “And even if it’s [Joe] Biden and [Kamala] Harris we’re in for a haul because I think there are a lot of people creeping out of the woodwork right now and they’re heavily armed.”