Skip to content

'If a Tree Falls' in Context

Domestic Terrorism in the United States: U.S. Domestic Counterterrorism

At the helm of the domestic counterterrorism effort is the FBI, which works closely with state, local and other federal agencies to gather, archive and analyze massive amounts of information on U.S. citizens and residents reported by law enforcement officers or fellow citizens to be acting suspiciously.

While the initial charges that triggered potential terror enhancements for McGowan were derived from laws written in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11 has emboldened domestic law enforcement personnel, who have received increased funding and resources to pursue cases.

Days after the 9/11 attacks, then-recently appointed FBI director Robert Mueller sent his field offices a memo that made prevention of any future terrorist attacks the FBI's "one set of priorities." According to the FBI's website, the FBI "needed to become more adept at preventing terrorist attacks, not just investigating them after the fact." The key to actualizing these priorities, said Mueller, was intelligence. In November 2001, the U.S. Department of Justice began conducting investigations, seeking individuals whose intentions, rather than actions, constituted a threat. This precedent has since been institutionalized as a permanent law enforcement priority.

According to a 2010 investigation by The Washington Post, there are currently 3,984 federal, state and local organizations working on domestic counterterrorism. Of those, 934 have been created since the 9/11 attacks. Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded $31 billion in grants to state and local governments to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists.

After the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was passed by Congress in 2006, the law extended the range of legal prosecution of activists, making it a criminal offense to interfere with not only "animal enterprises" but with any property of a person or entity having a connection to, relationship with or transactions with an animal enterprise (food or fiber production, zoos, pet stores, clothing stores and medical research, among others). Tying prison terms and fines to tiers of 'economic damage' experienced by victims, the law criminalizes actions that intentionally damage property, cause profit loss and/or place a person in "reasonable fear" of death or serious bodily injury by a course of conduct that does not necessarily have to include physical violence — but involve any two of the following actions: "threats, acts of vandalism, property damage, criminal trespass, harassment or intimidation."

In 2008, FBI special agent Richard Kolko said that special-interest extremism "remains what we would probably consider the number one domestic terrorism threat."

Read the full Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act »

View a searchable transcript from United States v. Thurston, in which government attorneys seek "terrorism enhancement" for Daniel McGowan and other activists.


Photo caption: Aerial view of a prison in Marion, Illinois which contains an ultra restrictive facility for convicted terrorists Credit: Photo still from If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
» Abramson, Larry and Maria Godoy. "The Patriot Act: Key Controversies." NPR, February 14, 2006.
» American Civil Liberties Union. "How the USA PATRIOT Act Redefines 'Domestic Terrorism.'"
» Anderson, John. "Activist or Terrorist, Rendered in Red, White and Green." The New York Times, June 8, 2011
» Arnold, Ron. "Ecoterrorism: A Darker Shade of Green – What Happens When a Commitment to Save Nature Results in Crime?" BlueRibbon Magazine, March 1998.
» Bartosiewicz, Petra. "To Catch A Terrorist." Harper's Magazine, August 2011.
» Bernton, Hal. "Is Ecosabotage Terrorism?" The Seattle Times, May 16, 2006.
» Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise. "Staff and Advisors."
» The Conservative Monitor. "Interview with Ron Arnold, March 1998."
» FBI. "Domestic Terrorism in the Post 9-11 Era."
» FBI. "A New Era of National Security, 2001-2008."
» FBI. "Protecting America from Terrorist Attack: Our Joint Terrorism Task Forces."
» FBI. "Testimony of James F. Jarboe, Domestic Terrorism Section Chief, Counterterrorism Division, FBI Before the House Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, February 12, 2002: 'The Threat of Eco-Terrorism.'"
» FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 76, no. 12 (2007).
» Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. "USA PATRIOT Act."
» "FBI: Eco-Terrorism Remains No. 1 Domestic Terror Threat."
» Government Printing Office. "Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act."
» Knickerbocker, Brad. "'Ecoterrorism' Case Stirs Debate in US." The Christian Science Monitor, May 18, 2007.
» Office of the Law Revision Counsel. "United States Code."
» PBS NewsHour. "Lesson Plan: Homegrown Terrorism — a Major Domestic Security Problem."
» Priest, Dana, and William M. Arkin. "Monitoring America." The Washington Post, December 20, 2010.
» RAND Corporation. "Domestic Terrorism."
» Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Green Revolution: The American Environmental Movement, 1962-1999. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.
» Shoot, Brittany. "Why Does the Govt. Treat Peaceful Enviro Activists More Harshly Than Extremists Who Aim to Kill?" Alternet, May 13, 2011.
» Smith, Rebecca K. "'Ecoterrorism'? A Critical Analysis of the Vilification of Radical Environmental Activists as Terrorists." Lewis & Clark Law School's Environmental Law 38, no. 2.
» The White House. "National Security Strategy, May 2010."

Are you aware of our Comment Policy?

* Your email address is for verification purposes only and will not be published, shared, or sold to other entities.