Revolution and Sedition
More than 200 people are charged by federal prosecutors for violent crimes related to protests where acts of arson, assaults on federal officers, and other gun crimes are being listed. Attorney General William Barr recently advised federal prosecutors to be aggressive when charging violent demonstrators with crimes, according to a recent WSJ article. Violent protestors face prosecutions for crimes associated with plotting to overthrow the U.S. government through revolutionary means including members of organizations such as Antifa, a designated terrorist organization. Barr stated, “Anyone who has spent a moment at these things and heard their chants and what they’re calling for can see right away that they are, they say they are, revolutionaries, that this is a revolution.” Recent arrests have also showcased the National African Black Panther Party in the Ferguson bomb plot.
A recent report by Anthony H. Cordesman says, “the United States could easily be classed as a Category A to Category B failed state… for its failure to achieve lasting results from its long wars, for its lack of progress in dealing with racism, and for the scale of its failures to use its wealth to deal with inequities in income.” The report, The Greater Middle East: From the “Arab Spring” to the “Axis of Failed States” highlighted important factors concerning the redistribution of USAID in those regions as well as domestic challenges for the US homeland, Europe, Russia, and China. Issues of racism and economic disparity are certain drivers for political change and indeed peaceful protests protected by the constitutional right to assemble, but underneath the veneer of social justice stirs the rise of domestic terrorists in the US who seek an alternative agenda from those of their chosen comrades.
The lines between legitimate civil rights activists and domestic terrorist organizations continue to blur, and this is not an accidental cultural phenomenon but an organized cross-cultural dialogue intended to exploit disenfranchised communities for certain advantages. “While there has been concern about a rise in domestic terrorism in the United States, including before and after the November 2020 presidential election, there has been less public attention about domestic terrorist tactics and targets,” claimed a report by Nicholas Harrington, Research Associate on the Transnational Threats Project at CSIS. “This is a war of ideas on virtual battlefields—just as much as on the streets of U.S. cities and towns,” stated Harrington. So what are some of the tactics we can talk about and who are the targets? To answer this, we need to unpack the ways in which the relative few who are radicalized can steer and manipulate targeted groups and what happens as to those individuals as that influence spreads.
The Landscape of Civil Rights Infiltrated
Americans have watched peaceful demonstrations suddenly turn into violent riots as radical elements within the crowd begin to use force. The right to assemble is protected by the law of the land. By recruiting masses to a legitimate civil rights cause such as issues of racial, gender, or economic disparity, aggressors gain the ability to set the stage. They desire a homefield advantage to plan attacks. By hiding in plain sight under the fog of peaceful protestors, violent terrorists provide themselves with Cover and Concealment in addition to Freedom of Movement. Using the crowd as both a civilian shield as well as camouflage, operations to carry out acts of aggression have a higher rate of return for the terrorist organization if they can remain indistinguishable from other protestors in the eyes of local law enforcement.
This rate of return can be measured directly by loss of life, injuries inflicted, and property damage. It can also be measured by the social influence gained through subsequent media coverage and social media engagement that can be used as tools to recruit additional human capital and collect financial rewards. Throughout the protests following the death of George Floyd, organizations affiliated with BLM collected over $1b. Of course, more deaths followed. The tactic of protesting at funerals, capitalizing on the the death of an individual as a staging area to launch yet another protest, is a borrowed tactic from Middle East culture that has been in the playbook of Islamic resistance for centuries.
Targeted groups often have questions about their identity that can range from ethnic heritage to gender and religion and also question their placement and treatment within socio-economic and political structure. Individuals who become entangled with radicalized elements also expose themselves to entanglements with cartels, gangs, and mafia establishments that can become increasingly exploitive. Non radicalized individuals can become subjected to radicalization and recruiting processes into either type of criminal establishment. Being recruited does not necessarily mean the individual has undergone the psychological shift towards Violent Extremism but may be used to serve in roles that include everything from social media engagement to running errands and carrying messages and performing criminal acts such as theft, illicit trafficking, fraud and money laundering, or cyber crimes. Trends from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia and transnational trends including the US and Europe indicate that women and children are especially vulnerable to various types of exploitation tactics. Victims can find themselves trapped in exploitive relationships for long periods of time trapped in prostitution, trafficking, and slave labor.
The Manipulation of Historiography
Terror recruiting always begins with a narrative blend of history, religion, and a good vs evil paradigm. Recruits generally see themselves as heroes or even saviors in a struggle against evil. The effort may involve addressing a list of wrongs that have been carefully woven into the narrative sometimes artificially and do not necessarily reflect the core objectives of the terrorist organization. The narrative that the history of the United States begins with the slave trade is an attractive and compelling story for sections of the black community and their sympathizers. By situating the founding of a nation to a date marking the trade of slaves opens up a number of other global jihadist avenues due to the fact that the African slave trade was a global enterprise that exported human slaves to every habitable continent on earth for financial gains.
By this rationale, sympathizers around the world may come to view each nation-state that has ever engaged in slave trades including those of the Middle East as grounds for the “tear it down and rebuild it” mantra. BLM protests following events in Minneapolis have stretched across Sub-Saharan Africa. “Nigeria’s government joined in the condemnation and called for those responsible to be held accountable,” stated Bloomberg from Nairobi. Nigeria is a strategic country for global illicit trafficking routes between Africa and Latin America that leads to the US Mexico border. In Nigeria, newborn babies are rented out to panhandlers to increase revenues from begging. The practice has led directly to increased drug overdoses among infants who are subdued by the drugs.
This points to another irony within the historiography concerning the old slave trade that ignores trafficking in humans making up the modern slave trade today. Largely perpetuated by state sponsors of terrorism, Transnational Organized Crime, drug cartels, and gangs all networked together with terrorist organizations, revenues from the modern slave trade have displaced illicit drug sales. These activities are raking in enough booty for establishments to launch their own satellite networks in space, invest in cutting edge drone technology and introduce the latest 2020 Ghost Glider submarine which has been designed according the Small Wars Journal to “avoid detection.” A recent Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report estimates “the value of narcotics-related illicit financial flows affecting the United States, Mexico and Colombia is between US$42.3 billion and US$121.6 billion a year.” Not every targeted individual finds the prepackaged stories of the radical left convincing. In response to one white woman’s rallying cry for the BLM movement, one twitter account user was quick to point out the manipulation of previous events.
Axis of Failed States
Global jihadist movements, state-level corruption, and the war economies of illicit trafficking have left behind an axis of failed states that no amount of USAID can restore. Cordesman’s report proposes to pull back USAID in a number of failed states that have neither shown improvement nor shown the desire to do so since the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring included a number of grassroots movements to bring about democratic processes in the Middle East. These efforts were ultimately quashed by state-level corruption, backward policies, and costly military campaigns with little strategic advantages. Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Gaza and the West Bank are joined by Morocco, Algeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Egypt, and Sudan in ranging from categories D-F failed states. These make up an axis of failed states with little to no hope of recovery. USAID will likely be redistributed to other countries in the region that have shown progress and continue to show the desire to improve. The new AID distribution will likely be utilized to support recently signed agreements between Israel and the UAE and Israel and Bahrain. The lesson learned is that AID does not necessarily buy peace and stability in either a country or a region.
A new model is clearly needed. In the past, the United Nations and World Bank have not had effective measuring tools to decide how much credit should be extended to developing countries and AID was doled out without a clear development strategy. Moving forward, when a country is afflicted with a major crisis and provided AID benefits, the US should also demand clearly communicated expectations for how those resources should be utilized by the receiving nation. For example, if a natural disaster strike leaves a percentage of housing destroyed and that nation is able to utilize AID programming to build new houses, then those merits should be utilized to earn either additional AID, credit for development, or both. To continue the same example, the next round of AID or lending might provide utilities such as power and water, roads, or schools to accompany the new housing developments. This economic model sets up clear pathways for both developing countries and financial institutions to build needed credit and lending tools. These tools can be utilized to work from crises stage support to long-term development of local and regional economies and peace-building initiatives.
It is also clear that mending one’s fences at home is needed by working with civil rights communities that choose peaceful processes to address their grievances rather than the use of violence and other destabilizing tactics. Peaceful protestors should be careful not to become entangled with violent and criminal establishments lest they find themselves marginalized by revolutionary factions that seek a very different agenda than freedom for all. In other words, revolutions are famous for eating their own children. Unity and peace is a building process that takes time with security measures needed along the way. The Trump administration specified in its 2018 counter-terrorism policy that it would utilize “all available instruments of United States power to counter terrorism,” which is needed now to address the current crisis. Let us keep in mind that “all available instruments” includes a range of law enforcement and military capabilities but also economic, educational, community building, and family empowering tools.