The events of 6 January 2021 at the US Capitol served as a stark example of the evolving threat of domestic violent extremism in the United States. This threat has ebbed and flowed in intensity over the past several decades, with some experts suggesting the more recent manifestation of what the country is currently experiencing started a decade ago, if not earlier. The threat landscape is also multi-dimensional, fragmented, and bears little resemblance to the international terrorist threats the United States has focused on in the post-9/11 era like al-Qa'ida, ISIS, or even Iran and Lebanese Hizballah. Further, the counterterrorism policy tools, resources, authorities, and capabilities that have been utilized against threats overseas have little utility in the domestic context, especially because of blurred lines between what constitutes Constitutionally protected activity and what falls more in the criminal domain. Lastly, shortcomings in US law about definitions and criminal penalties for domestic violent extremism also complicate efforts to better understand and roll back this threat.
This course uses a dynamic and interactive format involving instructor lectures, group discussions, student presentations, and guest lectures to provide an in-depth perspective on domestic violent extremism. It begins with an examination of the policy and legal landscape on this threat, and how it has evolved in the modern era. It then transitions to an examination of the different types of violent extremist threats in the United States--like from white supremacist extremists, anti-government extremists, racially-motivated and other hate-based extremists, conspiracy theorists, and those on the far-left of the spectrum. It next explores the impact of different drivers and their impact on the threat landscape, both currently and potentially in the future. The last portion of the course then considers possible new approaches from the federal government, state and local government, private sector, and civil society that can provide policy solutions to this complex issue.