The Preamble of the United States Constitution establishes one of the responsibilities of government is to “ensure domestic tranquility.” This broad and somewhat elusive phrase was written to address a very real and, to many, threatening event: Shay’s Rebellion, a revolt of Massachusetts farmers who in 1786 took up arms against the state government in hopes of stopping foreclosures on their farms. The rebellion was short-lived and many of the perpetrators were captured or escaped into the wilderness. However, this event was on every delegate’s mind at the Philadelphia Convention in the summer of 1787 when the Constitution was written. The framers hoped the power they proposed for the federal government would adequately address any future rebellions.
In addition to establishing a federal government with the power to raise a military for domestic as well as foreign attacks, the Constitution also (through the First Amendment) provides a pressure valve to dispel most of the discontent Americans can feel from time to time. Also, there are open elections, where citizens can ‘vote the rascals out of office” when they feel they aren’t being represented fairly. And if matters truly warrant a major change in the way the government operates, there is the amendment process as outlined in Article V of the Constitution where citizens can propose changes to the way government operates.
Despite the best efforts of the Constitution’s framers, Americans have little apprehension toward rebellion when things aren’t going their way. U.S. history is replete with examples of individuals purposely disrupting the domestic tranquility in order to express their displeasure with the government or organizations who they disagree with. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s; the South Carolinian battery attack on Fort Sumter in 1861; the anarchist bombings in New York and Los Angeles between 1910 and 1920; the Oklahoma City bombing; and the 2001 anthrax attacks to name a few. Domestic terrorism has been a part of American’s DNA since the republic began. And during that time the government has taken steps, sometimes controversial, to protect citizens from “homegrown terrorism.”
Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been an increase in the number of domestic terror incidents and arrests. The people and groups range from eco-terrorists to anti-abortionists, white supremacists and anti-government militias to animal rights activists. In a free society as ours, freedom cuts both ways. The First Amendment allows people to express and publish radical opinions and openly meet with likeminded people. They can oppose other’s political ideas, oppose the groups themselves, or even oppose the U.S. government, as long as their actions are within the law. The other side of freedom guarantees anyone accused of unlawful action the Fourth Amendment protection of privacy, the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process, and 14th Amendment assurance of equal protection under the law. Thus, all Americans are faced with the difficult task of balancing civil liberties while trying to “ensure domestic tranquility.”
In this lesson, students will review several historical acts of homegrown terrorism and analyze their impact on domestic security and civil liberties. They will then view PBS NewsHour news segments summarizing recent acts of homegrown terrorism and different views on why it occurs and what to do about it. Students will then examine scenarios of possible homegrown terrorism, make recommendations for a course of action, and identify the possible ramifications on civil liberties.
A good background lesson is “Your Safety and Security or Your Civil Liberties – Which is more Important?” found on NewsHour Extra’s website.
- Internet connection
- Poster size paper or butcher paper
- Student Handouts
- Activity 1: Timeline on U.S. Domestic Terrorism
- Activity 2: Video News Segment
- Activity 3: Domestic Security and Civil Liberties Procedure
Activity 1: Timeline on U.S. Domestic Terrorism
Before conducting this activity, you might want to share with students the Overview (above) on the nation’s attempt to ensure domestic tranquility while protecting civil liberties.
- Divide class into pairs or small groups, one for each of the domestic terrorism entries on the U.S. Domestic Terrorism Timeline (student handout 1). For larger classes, more groups can be formed that review the same sections of the timeline.
- Distribute student handout “Timeline on U.S. Domestic Terrorism” and ask students to review the entire document. (This could be assigned as homework the night before.)
- Assign each group to research the specifics of one of the terrorist acts following the guidelines on their handout. Tell students to be prepared to report their findings to the class.
- As student groups report to the class, create a room-size timeline of the events placing their posters up on the wall or front board.
- Lead a discussion to have them synthesize the timeline with the following questions:
- Which aspects of most or all of these incidents would classify them as an act of terrorism?
- What do you think motivates this type of violence by Americans against Americans?
- What do you think prevents these types of attacks from happening more often?
- What precautions could the government have taken to prevent these types of attacks? What civil liberties might be threatened by these government actions?
Activity 2: Video News Segment
In this activity, students will examine two recent examples of domestic terrorism in the United States to get an idea of its nature and some of the problems law enforcement officials face. In the first report, a terrorist organization from North Carolina planning “violent jihad” has it plans thwarted and members are arrested. The other is the failed car bomb attack in New York’s Times Square. Students will view the news segments and discuss the incidents’ implications.
- Divide students into small groups of 3-5 or show the video segments to the entire class.
- Distribute the student handout, “Homegrown Terrorism” to all students.
- Have students in their small groups discuss the questions on their handouts.
- Summarize the activity by having students address this questions:
- Explain the dangers of homegrown terrorism and the difficulties law enforcement officials have in combating it?
- What do you think of the theory that there is a profile of people who might engage in homegrown terrorism? Should law enforcement officials try to develop a profile of a would-be domestic terrorist? What problems might arise from using such a profile?
- What positive and negative role does the Internet play in combating homegrown terrorism? Should any restrictions be placed on people’s use of the Internet and if so what would they be? If not, why not?
- Should the government engage in more surveillance of Americans on the Internet to help prevent an act of domestic terrorism? Explain.
- Comment on Mr. Ramey’s (from the first interview segment) and Ms. Stern’s (from the second interview segment) suggestions that an effective way to address the problem of homegrown terrorism is to engage individuals who might be tempted by terrorist groups with dialogue and education.
Activity 3: Domestic Security and Civil Liberties
Briefly review with students how various provisions in the Bill of Rights help protect us from law enforcement infringing on our rights. The First Amendment prevents government from infringing on freedom of religion, speech, and association with anyone we want. The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fifth Amendment essentially presumes we are innocent until proven guilty and guarantees due process in legal proceedings. The Fourteenth Amendment defines citizenship and denies the state and federal government the authority to deprive any person of equal protection under the law.
Then tell students the purpose of this next activity is to explore the difficulty citizens and government officials face balancing the civil rights guarantees with the need to prevent another terrorist attack by any group for any purpose.
- Distribute student handout 3, “Domestic Security and Civil Liberties.”
- Divide the class into three groups. One third of the students will work on Scenario A, the other third on Scenario B, and another group on Scenario C. Then have each group divide in half to review their scenario following the accompanying questions.
- After the groups have finished discussing the questions, have each scenario group join together and come to a consensus on the possible course of action and the final question of their respective scenarios. Tell students to make note of dissenting views.
- Act as a moderator to review each scenario group report their findings to the class.
Students are to write a letter to the editor or an OP/Ed column that addresses that expresses their opinion on how to manage the threat of domestic terrorism in the United States in the context of the civil liberty protections afforded in the Constitution.
- Have students look into how President Obama’s administration has handled domestic terrorism in his first term in office. Has it changed any of the policies of the Bush administration or has it continued to practice them? How have his actions thus far aligned with the proposals made on the 2008 campaign trail?
- Have students explore the current status of the USA PATRIOT Act and how the law has recently been applied to domestic terrorism. What aspects of the act have assisted law enforcement officials in combating domestic terrorism? What aspects of the law are still controversial in relation to people’s civil liberties? Ask students to make recommendations on any changes to the law or modifications in its application to domestic terrorism.
- Illegal immigration has been associated with domestic terrorism in recent years. Some government officials and political pundits have expressed concern that illegal immigration threatens national security. Have students research this topic and trace the logic behind this view. Their essay or presentation should site evidence to either support or refute the claim. Students should develop a conclusion on the premise and make recommendations.