Small Wars Journal says the best, perhaps only way, to prevent homegrown violent extremism by Muslims, is to welcome them into our communities and help them become a part of, rather than feeling separate from. This conclusion is from an Air Force Intelligence Officer, who also points out that there have been more attacks since 9/11 in the US by right-wing extremists than by jihadists.
In the ten years following 9/11, there were only eight homegrown terrorist attacks motivated by Islamic jihadist goals, compared to a whopping eighteen inspired by right-wing extremist motives based on political, religious, or identity-based hatred.
Jihadists often recruit by osmosis and may never make personal contact. This makes it harder to spot but still, there may be signs.
ISIL’s ability to plant the ideological seed and foster the growth of violent jihad without tangible assistance or direct communications poses an enormous challenge to intelligence and law enforcement efforts. Aside from the Garland, Texas case, all the attackers studied self-radicalized in relative isolation, meaning there were few if any warning signs and thus little that law enforcement can do to prevent an attack. Some experts have suggested screening Google searches and social media posts for certain keywords and internet “patterns of life” in order to detect potentially nefarious activity. While this tactic would be useful in developing watch lists, it could lead to substantial false positives and more importantly, directly conflicts with the indispensable American rights of free speech and privacy. Certainly, it is not a crime to express one’s beliefs even if they support extreme Islamic ideals. With that said, any explicit threat or ultimatum issued online or via social media, related to Islamic extremism or otherwise, ought to be treated as a serious threat to public safety and handled through law enforcement action.
Also, monitoring all email, social media, texts, etc. looking for possible threats is impossible. There’s just too much data. Even NSA admits they have no way of sorting through all the data they store to get actionable information. So, other methods need to be used.
Doubling-down on efforts to encourage integration of Muslim immigrants into American communities, both respecting and welcoming diverse cultures, would go leaps and bounds in preventing homegrown extremism. In particular, ensuring young Muslims have opportunities to find purpose and belonging in local American communities is critical in reducing the chances that they will turn to ISIL or other extremist organizations to meet these needs.
Such efforts will require a long-term dedication to maximizing social integration of Muslim communities at home, tailoring counter-messaging and targeting communications nodes abroad, and quelling the hatred and violence espoused on social media platforms in cyberspace. History has shown that following Al Qaeda and ISIL there may rise another yet-unheard of fundamentalist organization. Considering the enduring yet evolving nature of this threat, a comprehensive effort to undermine the messaging and motivation driving self-radicalized violent extremism will be the only approach sufficient in securing the American homeland for decades to come.