Dozens of service members and civilian personnel attended the Evolution of Revolution Brief July 12 at the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Headquarters, aboard Camp H.M. Smith Hawaii.
The brief, given by Kelly Damphousse, an associate professor with the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Sociology, was designed to point out trends in domestic terrorism operations to better understand how terrorists adapt to changing tactics and U.S. policies.
“We need to know how we’ve dealt with terrorists, both domestically and internationally,” said Sgt. Wesley Cary, an event coordinator and training noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Service Battalion, MarForPac. “We do it so we can learn how to adapt in order to fight terrorism in the future.”
Damphousse explained how terrorism tactics have evolved from militaristic guerilla warfare, used for centuries, to the complex underground tactics used by terrorist organizations today, and the ebb and flow of terrorist attacks based on America’s security versus privacy policies.
“International terrorism functions a lot like domestic terrorism,” Damphousse said. “If you use what we’ve seen in and around America for the last century, you begin to see trends in how terrorists adapt to us and how we adapt to them.”
Fidel Castro, a revolutionist, used a relatively small contingency of soldiers to take control of Cuba. Inspired by Castro’s success, Che Guevara, who fought alongside Castro, attempted guerilla warfare-style revolutions on a much larger scale throughout South America.
Though he was successful at individual battles, the growing size of his forces became easy targets for bombing raids in their unfortified, austere base camps, Damphousse said.
Terrorist organizations learned that conducting large-scale military operations in rural areas proved to be ineffective when combating a superior force.
According to Damphousse, it was that realization that led to the modern-day urban terrorism strategy experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq. Terrorists hiding in plain sight became the new favored method of warfare.
In addition, terrorist organizations began functioning as individual cells. A lack of central leadership meant there was no head to cut off, as the saying goes. If one cell was eliminated or arrested, another would take its place, unlike Guevara’s revolution, which died when he was arrested and executed.
But long before the current wars, the U.S. fought against numerous terrorist organizations within its own borders.
According to Damphousse, the first example of modern terrorism in the U.S. began during the Vietnam area. Radical Leftist groups formed, believing the U.S. government had too much control in response to the War in Vietnam and forcing Americans into military service.
They believed the federal government was infringing on their first amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
The FBI conducted thousands of investigations that resulted in arrest and confinement of numerous individuals based on the people they associated with and their political beliefs.
In response, President Richard M. Nixon severely limited the FBI’s power. In 1973, the FBI launched more than 20,000 investigations into suspected terrorists. By 1976 they had launched less than 300, according to Damphousse’s data.
No longer under investigation, terrorist organizations began bombings and numerous other crimes around the country, including armed robberies to fund their operations.
In response to the growing chaos, radical rightist groups such as the KKK and other white supremacist organizations took action. They believed the federal government had lost control and immigration was ruining the nation. They became isolationists, armed themselves, trained for war against the U.S. government and raised their children with a twisted interpretation of religion, practices used by terrorists in the Middle East today, according to Damphousse.
In 1983, the federal government gave the FBI a great deal of power back. They immediately began investigating numerous suspected terrorist groups.
In 1984, right-wing domestic terrorist groups declared war on the U.S. government. In 1985, the FBI conducted numerous raids on their compounds, virtually wiping out the right-wing movement overnight.
“Terrorists learned that if the government knows where they are, you’re an easy target,” Damphousse said.
Domestic terrorist attacks decreased and the FBI’s ability to investigate and confine on a broader scale resulted in the prevention of potentially deadly attacks around the nation.
“The point is that when the American public feels secure, they demand their privacy,” Damphousse said. “But as soon as they no longer feel secure, they are willing to give it up.”
With the FBI’s new investigative authority, domestic terrorists adapted again. They began using the internet to coax individuals into committing acts of violence without ever meeting them, phrasing their messages in a manner that was not considered illegal.
“They’d target abortion doctors and put out bulletins saying, ‘I’m not saying you should do anything, but if you’re in the area and you have a gun on you, here’s their address,’” Damphousse said.
A more recent example of America’s power struggle between security and privacy was the Patriot Act. Enacted after 9/11, it gave the federal government the authority to investigate and charge on a much broader scale, which limited the internet terrorism tactic seen for years. Now, nearly nine years after the attack, and after several amendments to the Patriot Act, which limited the federal government, the vast majority of Americans believe it gives too much power to the federal government, according to Damphousse.
“When the Patriot Act first came out, people wanted it and accepted it,” he said. “Now that they feel safe again, they want it gone.”
According to Damphousse, the right-wing extremist movement is beginning to rise again in the United States due to the shift from security to privacy happening today.
“Terrorism continues to evolve based on U.S. counterterrorism policy. The trick is to keep evolving and get ahead of them,” he said.
“Will there be another 9/11 in the U.S.? I don’t know. But if we don’t find a balance between national security and the privacy Americans demand, there could very well be. ”