When it comes to fears about a terrorist attack, people in the United States usually focus on Osama bin Laden and foreign-based radical groups. Yet researchers say domestic extremists who commit violence in the name of their cause - abortion or the environment, for example - account for most of the damage from such incidents in this country.
These home-grown groups are seven times more likely than overseas groups to commit some kind of violence in the United States, a panel reported yesterday in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In many ways, actions by these domestic extremists can be termed "terrorist" cases, the researchers indicated. "The typical 'terrorist' is an alienated guy, usually a young male," said Brian Forst of American University in Washington.
"They take comfort in like-minded souls and develop an idea they think will make a splash," he said. They do not always carry it out, but sometimes they do, he said. "They are not lunatics."
More research is needed into these domestic extremists and what leads them to commit violence, said Gary LaFree of the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism in College Park, Md.
That is what Kelly R. Damphousse of the University of Oklahoma has been working on - where the extremists live and work, where they meet and build their weapons, and where and when they strike.
Damphousse said right-wing extremists spend the most time meeting, preparing, and planning before committing a violent act - some 480 "events," whether that is a phone call or some other form of plotting. On a smaller scale are environmental activists who commit violence. On average, it is 59 preparatory activities, he said.
"Environmentalists don't need much. They need a spray can. They need a match. They don't have to build a bomb," Damphousse said. Often, he said, they are simply frustrated by the political process and decide "let's go do something."
While some domestic extremists travel long distances, most strike within 30 miles of where they live, Damphousse said. Environmental extremists tend to strike within 10 miles of home.