The almost catastrophic terrorist attack no one is talking about

Remember a terrorist named Anders Breivik? He was the Norwegian self-styled Knight Templar who set off an explosion outside government buildings in Oslo in July 2011 and then proceeded to an island where the Workers’ Youth League was holding a summer camp and opened fire. 77 people in all were killed (8 in the bomb blast and 69 on Utoya). For a country like Norway it was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

In the US, unfortunately, shootings of this nature, albeit perhaps not always of this scale, are all too common. They are seldom terrorist in scope – Breivik was convicted in part on terrorism charges – and are often tied to workplace or relationship disgruntlement or some other cause. Lax US gun laws are usually cited as part of the reason why that country seems to suffer these events more often.

What then to make of a plot foiled last week by the FBI in which a US Coast Guard Lieutenant, Christopher Hasson, was arrested after it was discovered that he had ‘white nationalist’ leanings and was “dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth.” He had amassed an impressive arsenal which he would use as part of his goal to “establish a white homeland” through violence. Interestingly, he had looked into the Brievik attack for inspiration.

This story came out on February 21 and already seems to have become yesterday’s news. There are a few things about it that I think are important to point out:

  • do you think this plot would have been dismissed with a shrug if the terrorist’s name was Muhammad?
  • Mr. Hasson’s defence stated that β€œIt’s not a crime to think about doomsday scenarios.” I get freedom of speech and everything but does anyone really think that having what the FBI described as an ‘arsenal’ is not a very worrying sign? Thank God the Bureau looked into this guy when it did and before he acted. Yes, yes Mr. Hasson is innocent until proven guilty but this does not look like innocent ‘thinking’.
  • More chilling from my perspective is the fact that this ‘arsenal’ is not that scary, at least according to a former student of mine at George Brown College in Toronto who knows a helluva lot more about guns than I do. He wrote to me that “(These folks) basically blend in with a huge population in the US. Reading that article, I’m asking myself how authorities can even differentiate between someone who is a prepper or guys who like collecting survival gear or guys who are truly nuts. ” In other words, in normal circumstances a person with this firepower would not normally come to the attention of law enforcement authorities in the US. Am I the only one bothered by this?

I think that this case illustrates something very dangerous in the US. We know that there are jihadi plots, both successful (Orlando, San Bernardino) and foiled on occasion in that nation. But when you try to measure the actual threat landscape south of the border you have to acknowledge that the far right constitutes a level of potential extremist violence (i.e. terrorism) several orders of magnitude greater than Islamist extremists.
I know that US law enforcement agencies are more seized with this form of terrorism (which they call ‘domestic’ – not an accurate term as far as I am concerned) than we are in Canada, and for good reason.

I fear that the aforementioned non-existent gun control coupled with increasing political polarisation and a President who feeds intolerance and hate could lead to more plots of this nature. I hope that my prediction of more attacks planned is wrong but I don’t put a lot of confidence in that hope. I am also hopeful that this type of terrorism will not spread to our nation but there too my confidence is only slightly higher.

Kudos to the FBI and their partners in getting to this guy before he killed dozens.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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