22 Years After 9/11, US Faces Threat of Homegrown Extremism

This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. On Sept. 11, memorial services were held across the United States with President Biden urging Americans to stand united and reject extremism at a commemoration event in Alaska. Twenty-two years later, the U.S. has far from achieved the envisioned goal of creating a more united, safer and more prosperous America. Instead, it has become mired in the escalating violence of homegrown extremism.

The events of 9/11 not only profoundly changed U.S foreign policy but also reshaped its perception of security. Over the past 22 years, the main security threats to the U.S. have gradually moved from overseas to domestic. On Sept. 11, 2022, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in an MSNBC interview that the national threat to the United States had evolved from foreign terrorism to the “domestic violent extremist.” This change is closely related to the spread of terrorist ideologies, hateful rhetoric, anti-government sentiments and disinformation within the United States. It could be said that in the past few years, increased political polarization, continued societal division and escalating racial tensions have become catalysts for rampant hostility and violence in America.

Ideologies such as racism and white supremacy have continued to threaten the safety and security of minority communities in the United States in recent years. On Aug. 26, a racially motivated shooting in a mainly African American neighborhood in Jacksonville in northern Florida killed three African American people. The gunman then committed suicide. It was reported that, before the incident, he had written a suicide note and a manifesto making white supremacist statements. This is the latest example of gun violence in the United States being motivated by racist ideology. Prior to this, the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the 2019 shooting at an El Paso Walmart and the 2022 supermarket shooting in Buffalo, New York, were all closely linked to racism.

These incidents clearly demonstrate the severe and negative impact of racism, terrorism and political and social polarization on the security situation in the U.S. On Aug. 28, NBC quoted unnamed federal officials as saying that racism is “a national scourge” and “one of the most lethal forms of modern domestic terrorism” in America. A comprehensive review conducted by the federal government in 2021 found that the perpetrators of the attacks had different motivations, “but many focus their violence towards the same segment or segments of the American community.” The review stated that “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” particularly those who adhere to “ideologies rooted in a perception of the superiority of the white race,” are a “serious and evolving threat” faced by the United States.

Furthermore, escalating political violence is eroding Americans’ confidence in the stability and security of its institutions. The Capitol Hill riot of Jan. 6, 2021, shocked the world and was officially characterized by the FBI as a domestic terrorist incident. Since April of this year, former President Donald Trump has faced ongoing criminal prosecutions, becoming the first former president to face criminal charges from federal and state authorities. Although these cases have not yet gone to trial because the U.S. has already entered the 2024 presidential election cycle, Trump’s position as the front-runner in the Republican Party primaries has raised suspicions about the political motives for these prosecutions. The furor on social media every time Trump appears in court, together with the heightened vigilance of local law enforcement and security services, highlights the negative impact of political violence on U.S. society. A poll published by British newspaper The Guardian on July 25 revealed that increasing numbers of supporters from both political parties believe that violence is justified to achieve their political goals. Australia’s The Conversation website has suggested that the 2024 election cycle could result in more threats to American democracy. It is fair to say that the intensifying political violence has completely ripped away the fig leaf of U.S. democracy and further caused Americans to lose confidence in the nation’s future.

Twenty-two years have passed since 9/11, and, in that generation, the United States has held five presidential elections and started and messily ended two wars. Yet the sense of security of the American people, instead of being enhanced, has been steadily eroded. This predicament deserves some serious reflection by U.S. politicians.

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