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In contrast, of the small slice of the FBI budget that goes to counterterrorism, only a tiny portion specifically goes to investigating right-wing extremist organizations.Third, the government would be quick to act at even the hint of violence.FBI agents posed as members of a fictional right-wing extremist group and collected information on real like-minded groups by attending conventions and other gatherings as well as reporting on private conversations. It’s hard to feel sorry for these individuals, but the result—that individuals not guilty of any crime found it harder to exercise freedom of assembly and speech—should trouble everyone.
The expansion would seek to uncover heretofore-unknown connections and otherwise anticipate and disrupt threats before they manifest. With suspected jihadists, the FBI often employs undercover agents and informants who claim to be members of a foreign terrorist organization.
They engage individuals they feel have radical ideas and encourage them to take prosecutable actions.
As I noted in a longer essay, a lot of right-wing violence clearly qualifies as terrorism even if the legal framework and political discourse haven’t caught up to that reality. government policy went beyond rhetoric and truly treated right and left-wing groups that use violence as it treats Americans suspected of being involved with jihadist organizations like ISIS?
But even if we were consistent in our use of the terrorism label, what would this mean in practice? Consider, notionally, an individual suspected of ties to ISIS and one suspected of ties to the Ku Klux Klan (or, turn a molehill group into a mountainous one, substitute Antifa).
The public social media accounts of potential radicals would also be scrutinized. Using link-analysis software, metadata and greater information gathering, the government would know not only suspected right-wing terrorists, but also their friends, family members and other parts of their network.
The volume of analysis of groups, causes and individuals would also grow exponentially.Intelligence penetration of the right-wing community (and any relevant left-wing groups) would soar. counterterrorism programs single out Muslims unfairly, and expanding the use of informants and surveillance against right-wing communities would expand the numbers under the microscope.The array of tactics would include: monitoring phones and electronic communications of individuals with possible links to terrorists; planting informers in right-wing radical groups; regular police check-ins with leaders of legitimate right-wing causes to encourage them to provide information on potentially violent members; and trying to “turn” current group members to inform on their associates. Because of the greater intelligence coverage—and lower regard for the privacy of the affected citizens—the amount of information on right-wing groups and individuals would skyrocket.Social media sites contain a staggering number of anti-Semitic and racist threats, and the FBI would have its hands full.Given the politicized nature of America today, if an administration focused largely on right or left-wing groups, it would be accused of suppressing opposition, not fighting terrorism. In the early 1990s, the FBI conducted a program called PATCON (or Patriot Conspiracy). Berger found that the investigation produced little that could be used for criminal prosecution because it did not meet a high standard of evidence, but it did provoke paranoia in the groups being monitored, with some members being removed as suspected spies.As investor guru Warren Buffett noted, “If a cop follows you for 500 miles, you’re going to get a ticket.” Credit card fraud, drug use and other minor crimes would serve as justification to arrest and disrupt suspected terrorists and as leverage to convince them to cooperate in investigations of their associates.Indeed, the government at times does not pursue criminal charges if the offense is deemed minor or resources are needed elsewhere, but this would be far less likely if there was a perceived terrorism link.If a suspect got a gun or tried to acquire bomb-making materials, law enforcement officials would swoop in.Imagine a group of legally armed protesters marching through a town chanting slogans extolling the virtues of and the government pleading that it can’t stop them due to the First and Second Amendment. Neither can I—even though it seems similar to a group of legally armed protesters shouting out anti-Semitic and racist slogans.According to the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, in 2016, 80 percent of ISIS-related prosecutions involved a material support charge.And when the material support case proves too challenging, suspected jihadists are often convicted of lesser charges to get them off the streets.