A secret FBI study found that anger over U.S. military operations abroad was the most commonly cited motivation for individuals involved in cases of “homegrown” terrorism. The report also identified no coherent pattern to “radicalization,” concluding that it remained near impossible to predict future violent acts.
The study, reviewed by The Intercept, was conducted in 2012 by a unit in the FBI’s counterterrorism division and surveyed intelligence analysts and FBI special agents across the United States who were responsible for nearly 200 cases, both open and closed, involving “homegrown violent extremists.” The survey responses reinforced the FBI’s conclusion that such individuals “frequently believe the U.S. military is committing atrocities in Muslim countries, thereby justifying their violent aspirations.”
Online relationships and exposure to English-language militant propaganda and “ideologues” like Anwar al-Awlaki are also cited as “key factors” driving extremism. But grievances over U.S. military action ranked far above any other factor, turning up in 18 percent of all cases, with additional cases citing a “perceived war against Islam,” “perceived discrimination,” or other more specific incidents. The report notes that between 2009 and 2012, 10 out of 16 attempted or successful terrorist attacks in the United States targeted military facilities or personnel.
“Numerous individuals, activities, or experiences can contribute to an extremist’s radicalization,” the report says. “It can be difficult, if not impossible, to predict for any given individual what factor or combination of factors will prompt that individual’s radicalization or mobilization to violence.”
The report is titled “Homegrown Violent Extremists: Survey Confirms Key Assessments, Reveals New Insights about Radicalization.” It is dated December 20, 2012. An FBI unit called the “Americas Fusion Cell” surveyed agents responsible for 198 “current and disrupted [homegrown violent extremists],” which the report says represented a fraction of all “pending, U.S.-based Sunni extremist cases” at the time. The survey seems designed to look only at Muslim violent extremism. (The FBI declined to comment.)