Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox answered a number of your questions after his presentation, “Demystifying Terrorism: A Critical Examination of Modern Terrorism.” Here are a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Why is it important to accurately distinguish terrorism from crime? Is the creation of typologies important to combatting terrorism? Or is it more a purely academic exercise?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Great question, I can talk for an hour about that. Typologies are important. I think it helps the investigators and those who are studying terrorism and the mind of the terrorists. I go back to Sun Tzu when he said you have to know your enemy. Typology is important for that reason. Like I said it’s kind of ambiguous. There are so many different ways you can type people. You can type them by their motive, by their act. There are so many ways you can do that. I think you have to take it with a grain of salt. It’s still good to know the mind of the terrorist as you’re investigating that sort of thing. On the other side, remember, all terrorists are criminals. It’s about: Do we have violations of law? Then what’s the motive? There might be enhanced felonies. We might be able to charge them with different things. If a person burns down a building and the people in it, that’s a crime. You’re going to have certain offenses. Now, terrorism could be this crime and you might have additional crimes. This can be important. Also, jurisdiction becomes an issue too. Is it going be the state? Is it going be federal? For both of those reasons the typology is very important but also determining the motive. The motive is going to be critical when it goes to the court of law. Because of that, you have to get into the mind of the terrorist. What were their statements? What were their actions? I go back to Fort Hood. They called that workplace violence. It was obvious from day one what was going on. It was terrorism. That changed everything. Also, it helps you because of your actionable intelligence, your actions, your threat levels all those play a role in that.
Audience Question: Are the riots committed by the Antifa in the college campuses where properties are vandalized and people are hurt, is that considered a terrorist act? Would you consider that?
Dr. Jeff Fox: That’s a very hard one. You have to go back and look at those definitions. I think if you have the elements if you do your investigation right, I think you can make a case for that it was terrorism. It’s going to be a tough one because you’re going to have to show the motives. You have to go back to the definition. They have to have some statements, there has to be something out there that you can point to say yes it was politically motivated and these are the things that made it that. It’s definitely a crime. You have that right up front. Is it terrorism? Maybe, maybe not. I might take a beating for this, but I will tell you that I was disappointed at that because that was my bread and butter when I was at the state police. I wasn’t happy when I found out how it was handled. It should’ve been dealt with a lot better than that. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but I did. If you say that the Antifa and the Black Lives Matter were wrong then you say oh my God, you can’t say that. Very matter of factly, both sides were wrong. It doesn’t mean that the white supremacists weren’t wrong. There were wrongs on both sides of the fence. But we can’t say that because that’s not how it’s supposed to be, well, that’s what it is. It’s the facts. For years, I went to civil unrest or potential civil unrest. Our job was to separate both sides.
Because of freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, they can stand there and say what they want. You’re supposed to protect both sides. That doesn’t mean that the other side can assault the other side and the other side is okay because what they stand for was better than the other side. It didn’t matter about that. It’s a difficult thing to get to. That’s a great question. I would say there’s a good potential I would call that terrorism if you have things you can point to and I think probably could, quite frankly. That’s a debate though. What is the Antifa? I personally think I would call them a terrorist group. That’s just me.
Audience Question: Another scenario, would you consider a bank robber who takes hostages a terrorist?
Dr. Jeff Fox: By itself, I would say no. Now, if that bank robber, you could tie the reason why he did that was to further some terrorist act. That was the element, they were getting that money because you can tie them to buying fertilizer that can blow up a building. I would say it’s a terrorist act. If you can’t do that, if you can’t tie them to furtherance to somehow tie it to something that is terrorism, it’s a bank robbery only. That’s a good question because there were crimes that were committed by terrorists that are crimes but are done in the furtherance of getting what they need to continue their act. Something as simple as when the terrorist came to Virginia and got their Driver’s license and what they did, they have probably committed crimes doing it. With that by itself? It’s probably a crime there but you might have more of that if you can put it together. So, by itself no. If you can add more to it, maybe.
Audience Question: If a group has two wings, do you think the political should also be enlisted because their motivation helps fund the military wing? Or should just the military wing be included?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Remember I cannot find domestic anywhere, in Southern Poverty Law Center, they have no legal standing to do any that. They can do it if they want to but there’s nothing that makes that lawful for them to do and say because you’re on their list you’re a terrorist. It doesn’t mean anything. Internationally the Department of State does list terrorist groups throughout the world and countries that support terrorism. Because of that, they can put sanctions on countries like they do in North Korea and like they do in Iran. They can do other things to other terrorist groups. Based on that, they can put them on watch lists and all that. Yeah, I will say they are the same stripe, but they had different roles to play. Now people will debate that. That goes into the whole policy issue. I have trouble with the fact that Yasser Arafat went to the White House grounds and shook Clinton’s hand. Sometimes you must come to the table with your enemies. People will say we’re negotiating with the Taliban right now. Yes, sometimes we must come to the table with our enemies. The IRA worked at times it was weird. They would put people in prison then would let them out. They would run for office so at one point they might be in the military part of IRA and in another point, they would be in the political part of IRA. Great history there to examine on that. They’re probably the premium example to look at on how these two work. There are some places who give some legitimacy to the political wing. Maybe you want to do that if you want to work things out with them. You see that as a lot with the PLO now. A tough one.
Audience Question: Is it realistic or feasible for a country to effectively sign a truce with a terrorist organization? Or is it more likely that that’s terrorist organization is using it strategically and using the downtime to reorganize and rebuild?
Dr. Jeff Fox: I would say that it’s not a good idea to do that. If you study the Qur’an, I know what you are talking about. If studied, not just the Qur’an there are other military documents that Islamic Armies have used over the years. Hypothetically, they’ve used it forever. It’s not something new. No, it’s not a good idea. I think it’s a huge mistake. It’s going to come back and bite us but that’s just me. That’s usually where you see it. I haven’t seen that with other type terrorists. You’re not going to see that with the Klan or with the ELF or ALF. You are not going to see it domestically. You must handle domestic terrorist groups than you do the international terrorist groups. There are two different animals on how you handle it. You are not going to send the Navy SEALs to downtown Birmingham to take out a Klan meeting or any type of meeting. It must be the police and the civilian authorities. In answer to your question, I think that’s a stalling tactic. It’s just a matter of time before they regroup and come back. People will say well you’re pessimistic. I like to be a realist.
Audience Question: How can we debunk terrorists’ dogma, rhetoric, and beliefs to try to undercut pyramid and de-radicalize terrorists?
Dr. Jeff Fox: It’s hard for you to do. This is going to be a touchy-feely answer. Go back to the group. If you’re dealing with supremacists, you must quit teaching kids to hate other people. If you’re dealing with Jihadists, you got to teach him that, tell him some of the things with the Qur’an, a lot of the things in the Qur’an are what they are. There’s a lot of people who are trying to do that. It almost must come within that group. As a society, you can say we are not going to tolerate that. We’ve seen that happen with the Klan. If you go back and look at the history of the Klan, in the 1920s they were marching down the streets and welcomed in D.C. They were there for a political rally and people celebrated, they can still do that. By law, they can still do that. They are viewed a lot differently, things must change a lot. You must change a culture or subculture in some ways. That’s not an easy thing to do. You got to quit teaching kids in certain foreign countries in their Saturday morning cartoons or in the classrooms that it’s a good idea to kill Jews. Until you start doing that, hate starts at a very young age. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree in a lot of cases. That’s really where a lot of this must happen. In the meantime, we have all these other things we must do.
Audience Question: Do you think if terrorists groups want to attack the United States, they would give a warning in advance? Or is it more effective to be done with surprise?
Dr. Jeff Fox: I don’t think they will give a warning. There might be some crazy reason where they might do that, if it was a bluff. I think pretty much they would do it in a surprise way. We really must be thinking outside the box. We must know our enemy. We had 9/11. I would say there were a hundred people holding pieces of a puzzle for so many reasons I can’t go into now people weren’t sharing that puzzle. If everybody would’ve taken their hundred pieces of that puzzle and put it together, we would’ve gotten a really good picture of what was going to happen that day. We might not have gotten a flight number, but we would’ve gotten a really good picture. We got to do much better than that. I don’t think they are going to telegraph us what they are going to do. There are things we should know about, on 9/11, we need to be thinking about that. On holidays, we have to be thinking about that. Remember time and location all those things mean things to them. We have to understand how they think.
Audience Question: What other books, what other resources can you recommend that helps us to get into the mind of the terrorists to try to understand them and anticipate their actions?
Dr. Jeff Fox: At the back of my slide presentation are some references, there’s plenty. This is such a politically-charged thing. Hoffman is a great person to look at. I would look at some of the government documents that are out there. National Counter Terrorism Center is a fantastic place to go to. If you haven’t been there, look at that. The CIA has good information. The FBI has good information. There’s a lot of great YouTubes out there. There are different things to look at. It’s such a huge area. Terrorism has been with us since the dawn of time. People say since the French Revolution. It’s been around way before the French Revolution. It goes very deep. They’ve learned from each other and they study from each other. There’s a good list, right here to go from but I would go to those websites. Of course, I’m going to encourage you to take the class that we offer. As I said from the beginning, I may have stepped on some toes, but I want you to see just how convoluted and ambiguous this can be, and we have to be careful. If you’re a teacher, we have to be careful about what we are teaching the kids. I’m telling you, I want to pull my hair out every day when I’m talking to the students, when I’m answering their questions. People have all sorts of different ideas out there and I have to remind them that this is Homeland Security we’re talking about. It’s just very sad to see the state of misinformation that is out amongst students if it’s amongst them, it’s amongst everybody else too.