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As has been stated multiple times in the past, preventing terrorist attacks, in all forms, remains the FBI’s top priority. The nature of the threat posed by terrorism—both international terrorism (IT) and domestic terrorism (DT)—continues to evolve.
The most significant threat to our homeland is posed by lone actors who often radicalize online and seek out soft targets to attack with easily accessible weapons. We see these individualized threats manifested within both domestic violent extremists (DVEs) and homegrown violent extremists (HVEs). Although they have different ideologies, they both typically radicalize and mobilize to violence on their own and are both located primarily in the United States. Individuals who commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of ideological goals stemming from domestic influences—some of which include racial or ethnic bias, or strong anti-government or anti-authority sentiments—are described as DVEs, whereas HVEs are individuals inspired primarily by achieving global jihad, but not receiving individualized direction from Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs).
Domestic and homegrown violent extremists are often motivated and inspired by a mix of sociopolitical, ideological, and personal grievances against their targets, and more recently have focused on accessible targets to include civilians, law enforcement and the military, symbols or members of the U.S. government, houses of worship, retail locations, and mass public gatherings. Selecting these types of soft targets, in addition to the insular nature of their radicalization and mobilization to violence and limited discussions with others, challenges law enforcement to detect and disrupt the activities of lone actors before they occur.
The top threat we face from DVEs continues to be those we identify as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs), specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race, and who were the primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents of violence in 2018 and 2019. It is important to note that we have recently seen an increase in lethal DVE attacks perpetrated by anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, specifically militia violent extremists and anarchist violent extremists. Anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists were responsible for three of the four lethal DVE attacks in 2020. Also, in 2020, we saw the first lethal attack committed by an anarchist violent extremist in over 20 years.
Consistent with our mission, the FBI does not investigate First Amendment-protected speech or association, peaceful protests, or political activity. The FBI holds sacred the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment freedoms. Non-violent protests are signs of a healthy democracy, not an ailing one. Regardless of their specific ideology, the FBI will aggressively pursue those who seek to hijack legitimate First Amendment—protected activity by engaging in violent criminal activity such as the breach, destruction of property, and violent assaults on law enforcement officers that we witnessed on January 6 and during lawful protests throughout the U.S. during the summer of 2020. In other words, we will actively pursue the opening of FBI investigations when an individual uses, or threatens the use of, force, violence, or coercion, in violation of federal law and in the furtherance of a political or social ideological goal.
The FBI assesses HVEs as the greatest, most immediate international threat to the Homeland. As I have described, HVEs are United States-based individuals, located in and radicalized primarily in the U.S., who are not receiving individualized direction from global jihad-inspired FTOs, but are inspired largely by the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda to commit violence. An HVE’s lack of a direct connection with an FTO, ability to rapidly mobilize without detection, and use of encrypted communications pose significant challenges to our ability to proactively identify and disrupt them.
The FBI remains concerned that foreign terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda, intend to carry out or inspire large-scale attacks in the U.S. Despite their loss of physical territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS remains relentless in its campaign of violence against the United States and our partners, both here at home and overseas. To this day, ISIS continues to aggressively promote its hate-fueled rhetoric and attract like-minded violent extremists with a willingness to conduct attacks against the United States. and our interests abroad. ISIS’s successful use of social media and messaging apps to attract individuals seeking a sense of belonging is of continued concern to us. Like other foreign terrorist groups, ISIS advocates for lone offender attacks in the United States and Western countries via videos and other English language propaganda that have at times specifically advocated for attacks against soldiers, law enforcement and other intelligence community personnel.
Al Qaeda maintains its desire for large-scale, spectacular attacks. Because continued pressure has degraded some of the group’s senior leadership, in the near term, al Qaeda is more likely to continue to focus on building its international affiliates and supporting small-scale, readily achievable attacks in regions such as East and West Africa. Over the past year, propaganda from al Qaeda leaders sought to inspire individuals to conduct their own attacks in the United States and other Western nations.
Iran and its global proxies, including Iraqi Shia militant groups, continue to attack and plot against the United States and our allies throughout the Middle East in response to U.S. pressure. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) continues to provide support to militant resistance groups and terrorist organizations. Iran also continues to support Lebanese Hizballah and other terrorist groups. Lebanese Hizballah has sent operatives to build terrorist infrastructures worldwide. The arrests of individuals in the United States allegedly linked to Lebanese Hizballah’s main overseas terrorist arm, and their intelligence collection and procurement efforts, demonstrate Lebanese Hizballah’s interest in long-term contingency planning activities here in the Homeland. Lebanese Hizballah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah also has threatened retaliation for the death of IRGC-QF Commander Soleimani.
As an organization, we continually adapt and rely heavily on the strength of our federal, state, local, Tribal, territorial, and international partnerships to combat all terrorist threats to the United States and our interests. To that end, we use all available lawful investigative techniques and methods to combat these threats while continuing to collect, analyze, and share intelligence concerning the threat posed by violent extremists, in all their forms, motivated by any ideology, who desires to harm Americans and U.S. interests. We will continue to share information and encourage the sharing of information among our numerous partners via our Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country, and our legal attaché offices around the world.