Travel Bans are not Enough
Travel Bans are not Enough
In the wake of last week’s terrorist attack in Pensacola by a slimy Saudi participating in training there, many conservatives are once again demanding more extensive travel bans.
Daniel Horowitz, writing for the Conservative Review asks how many more Americans must die before President Trump shuts down mass migration and visitor visas from the Middle East.
On Friday, just hours before the commemoration of the 78th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, a naval base in Pensacola was attacked by a Saudi Arabian national. At least 10 other Saudis are also training there. Unlike at Pearl Harbor, however, this attack was committed by an enemy within that we electively brought into the country, and then onto our military bases. Why?
Three years into the administration, Trump has only suspended travel from five Middle Eastern countries, and Saudi Arabia isn’t even on the list, despite being the origin of 18 out of the 192 foreign-born terrorists from 1975 through 2017 who committed attacks in the United States.
Saudis were also the deadliest; they murdered 2,351.8 people and injured 11,717.4, entirely because 15 out of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Each terrorist from Saudi Arabia has murdered about 131 people in attacks on U.S. soil.
That’s a legitimate question. The United States considers Saudi Arabia an ally – especially with Iran getting froggy in the Middle East – and Horowitz rightly says that the Trump administration should shut down military programs that allow radical Islamic extremists to legally enter the United States, endangering the lives of Americans. “At a bare minimum,” Horowitz writes, “the president should call on Congress to suspend the A-2 military training visa program until an audit is conducted.”
I don’t disagree.
But while the attention of the nation is focused on high-profile attacks, such as the one in Pensacola, we underplay the role homegrown violent extremists play in plotting and conducting attacks in the United States – something a travel ban is not going to remedy.
Attacks by foreign-born terrorists from Trump’s travel ban countries resulted in no casualties, although they injured 32—accounting for 0.19 percent of all injuries caused by foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil – both Somali. And while the risk is there, we are overlooking what’s right under our noses.
In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security released a report (Adobe Acrobat required) that showed most foreign-born, US-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after they entered the United States. Nearly half of US-based violent extremists entered the United States at age 16 or younger, and a separate DHS report indicated that recent foreign-born violent extremists began radicalizing on average 13 years after entering the United States, which means that those entering aren’t the problem. The problem is the wide availability of radicalizing materials to which they have access in the United States.
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and preparedness identifies homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) as the greatest threat to the state.
Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) are individuals inspired—as opposed to directed—by foreign terrorist organizations and radicalized in the countries in which they are born, raised, or reside.
While international terrorist organizations have encouraged HVEs to carry out attacks, in many instances, personal grievances influence their ideology, target selection, and violent acts.
HVEs may draw inspiration from multiple foreign terrorist organizations and become radicalized through a variety of methods, including online. Foreign terrorist groups and their supporters will produce and disseminate propaganda on social media—including Facebook, YouTube, and Telegram—and various online platforms in order to encourage attacks in the West or support terrorists overseas.
They radicalize in the United States. They don’t need ISIS or al-Qa’ida to direct them to act. No travel bans would stop them. They are inspired by the materials they access online or from friends. The DHS report says that parents who entered the United States with minor children likely did not espouse radical, extremist ideologies at the time of entry, so the young people who enter this country radicalize here, and travel bans likely would have done nothing to change that.
The conclusion that the main threat to the United States is ISIS-inspired and ISIS-enabled, but not ISIS-directed, mirrors the statements of a variety of government officials. In January 2019, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats testified: “Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) are likely to present the most acute Sunni terrorist threat to the United States,” echoing his similar testimony in 2018 and 2017. In October 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified: “The FBI assesses HVEs are the greatest terrorism threat to the Homeland.”
Ali Muhammad Brown was born in the US and lived in Washington. He was motivated by hateful, Islamist ideology.
Joshua Cummings was born in Texas. Cummings said he supported ISIS.
Alton Nolen was born in the U.S. and lived in Oklahoma.
Syed Farook was born in Illinois, although he imported his ISIS bride from abroad.
Carlos Bledsoe, who shot up a military recruiting office in Tennessee was born there and converted to Islam.
Omar Mateen – the violent bigot and ISIS supporter – was born in New York.
Naveed Haq, who murdered one and injured several others in the Jewish Federation shooting in Seattle, was born in Ohio.
Nidal Hasan – the radicalized Islamist who shot and killed 13 people at Ft. Hood 10 years ago – was born in Virginia.
Corey Johnson, accused of stabbing a boy at a slumber party in Florida this year, claiming Allah was instructing him to kill unbelievers, was born in Florida
Sure, Saudi Arabia is the country from where a large number of terrorists who attack in the United States come, but the threat is here. It’s real. And all the travel bans in the world will not stop it.
We treasure our First Amendment rights in the United States. We have access to information, no matter how nutty or extreme. We have the right to read, to listen, to make our own decisions about what we believe to be right. We have the right to assemble, even if the people with whom we are meeting might be deemed “unsavory.”
Do we gut the First Amendment to stanch radicalization? Do we track Americans’ web browsing, reading, and religious meetings? Do we restrict mosque attendance?
If we did, we would stop being America, and we would be opening the door to every belief and person of faith being targeted, all dependent on who is in power. Turning our nation into a police state is not the answer.
And yet, we do need to focus domestically, not just scream for travel bans when an attack happens. Our law enforcement agencies need to use their investigatory powers to gain insight into the culture of radicalization, and tech companies in particular should take steps to prevent abuses of their platforms by all extremists, although as we have seen relatively recently, this comes with its own set of problems, silencing conservative voices and painting anyone who may disagree with the prognazi dogma of the day as abusive or extremist.
Do we engage with youth who radicalize? A few months ago, I wrote about the Arhus model of combating extremism that seems to have been successful in Denmark. Can we adapt that model to our extremists here?
I don’t have the answers. I’m merely throwing out ideas. But I do know that travel bans are not enough.