National Policy
• Published
August 4, 2021

The History of Terrorism in America

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Terrorism is an extensive word that encompasses a wide variety of events. Generally, it is used to describe the hostility and dispute between two nations, individuals or groups of individuals, or organizations in order to strike terror to fulfill a political goal.

The roots of terrorism in U.S. run deep. Having had one of the longest histories of terrorism, this article serves as a compilation of some of the major acts of terrorism in the U.S. and how American forces have dealt with such acts.

  1. The September 11 Attacks - The deadliest and most well-known terrorist attack on U.S. territory took place at the World Trade Center, New York on this day. Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. This resulted in around 2977 deaths, 6000 individuals injured, and the complete destruction of the Twin Towers in less than two hours. In response to this, the UN passed the Security Council Resolution 1373, which called on states to prohibit terrorist financing, pass anti-terrorism laws, and prevent suspected terrorists from traveling across international borders. Then President George Bush also enacted the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which created the Department of Homeland Security. Congress eventually passed the USA Patriot Act, claiming it would help detect and prosecute terrorism and similar crimes. 

  1. The Lawrence Massacre - Quantrill’s attack during the American Civil War took place on the 21st of August, 1863. The state of Kansas, despite being a part of the Union led by President Abraham Lincoln, was a significant battleground between the Confederate and Union states. The city of Lawrence served as the headquarters of the Jayhawkers, who wished to eliminate civilian support for the Confederate guerrillas. Because of this, they carried out an attack against Osceola, Missouri, a Confederate stronghold. Many Jayhawker leaders like Charles "Doc" Jennison, James Montgomery, and George Henry Hoyt terrorized Western Missouri, angering both pro-Southern and pro-Union civilians and politicians alike. The raid was less of a battle and more of a mass execution. In retaliation, Quantrill's raiders entered Lawrence with lists of men to kill and buildings to burn. Approximately 450 individuals raided the city, burned several of its buildings, and attacked its residents. The attacks resulted in 204 fatalities. However, by the next year, the raiders had disintegrated as a unified force.

  1. The Oklahoma City Bombing - The Oklahoma City attacks were the brainchild of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who shared the same survivalist beliefs. On April 19, 1995, a bomb exploded at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which happened to be a 9-story building housing 14 federal agencies in Oklahoma City. It seemed to be a strategic location, since it provided better picture opportunities for propaganda purposes and protected the occupants of nearby non-federal buildings. The explosion was strong enough to break the windows in 258 surrounding buildings and resulted in the loss of 168 lives, over 680 injuries, and 86 damaged cars nearby. Fortunately, within 90 minutes of the explosion, McVeigh was chased by Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger and arrested for having a concealed weapon. 

  1. The Orlando Nightclub Shooting - On the June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old solitary gunman named Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. This attack killed around 49 people and injured more than 50 individuals. This incident is considered the deadliest attack against the LGBT community in the U.S. The violence was triggered by the U.S. killing of Abu Waheeb, an ISIL military commander in Iraq. In the next 45 minutes, about 100 officers were dispatched to the scene. After a round of gunfire between Mateen and an officer, two officers shot at him and Mateen was pronounced dead. Later, many recreational sites such as shopping malls and movie theaters re-examined their security procedures. Stricter regulations and stronger security measures were imposed at significant LGBT landmarks and Pride Month events. 

From these examples, there is no doubt the U.S. military maintains the skillsets and leadership to confront terrorism. It has been somewhat successful in banishing major terrorist campaigns and sites, but terrorism still has not been completely eliminated.

America’s Response to Terror Threats

Under President George W. Bush, the “four pronged” strategy — the use of force, diplomatic cooperation, increased role for the U.S. intelligence community, and global law enforcement cooperation — came into existence. Bush perpetually emphasized the importance of “use of force,” insisting that sustainable multilateral cooperation would serve U.S. security interests. Thus, Bush signed the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa and the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership in response to the 2001 September 11 attacks on the U.S. These programs aim to defeat terrorist organizations by strengthening regional counterterrorism. But the U.S. has still faced a number of the world’s deadliest terrorist attacks, either due to Islamic extremism or terror from abroad in the last two decades. 

So, are leaders prepared to support counterterrorism measures until the mission objective is completed? 

Unfortunately, there have been several U.S. presidents that have undercut the mission of countering terrorism, either through inadequate strategies or the premature withdrawal of U.S. forces. 

Many critics believe that the economic impacts of counterterrorism strategies are often overlooked by U.S. leaders. With threats to U.S. security continuing to mount, officials may not have the capability to implement new techniques to defeat the enemy. The U.S. has deployed conventional forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, but the Bush and Obama administrations cannot claim the defeat of the terrorist groups that operated in those countries. Overall, the U.S. has made some strides in countering terrorism, but there is still much work to be done.

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