While the Afghanistan withdrawal and Taliban takeover has likely heightened terrorism threats facing the U.S., domestic terrorism remains a greater threat to our country, according to Virginia Tech expert Ashley Reichelmann, an assistant professor of sociology and associate director of The Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.

Quoting Reichelmann

“Homegrown white supremacists are currently a greater threat to our democracy and our rights than individuals who commit terrorism under the guise of Islam because white supremacists are essentially hidden in plain sight,” says Reichelmann.

“The very extremism we have spent time, money, and lives fighting on the shores of distant countries has and continues to be present in the United States. However, we frequently focus on international terrorism for legal, conceptual, and social reasons.”

Reichelmann says that 9/11 caused both the media and the American public to focus their attention on terrorism rooted in religious extremism and from international spaces, even though terrorism has been prominent on U.S. shores for decades. However, the ideological framing of domestic terrorism has shifted. In the 60s and 70s, it was consistently committed by left-wing advocates. In the past five years, terrorism committed in the name of racism and white supremacy have become quite prominent threats.

“The extremism that caused 9/11 took many lives and that cannot and should not be neglected,” says Reichelmann. “However, domestic terrorism has always been a greater threat than international terrorism. It does not matter how you slice it or categorize it according to religion or political ideology.” 

“Many anti-anything movements -- government, immigration, free speech, ‘tough on crime,’ vaccination, science, truth -- are deeply imbued with white supremacist values that are often couched in religious or meritocratic framings.”   

“With domestic terrorism, we don't know who the enemy is; it can be our neighbor, our boss, our friend, our family member. It is much harder to cognitively grapple with this reality,” says Reichelmann.

“This is in effect what makes domestic terrorists, particularly white supremacists, so dangerous. Their message is disseminated easily through daily interactions and the very institutions that frame American democracy, such as freedom of the press, religion, and speech.” 

About Reichelmann

Dr. Ashley Reichelmann is also an affiliate faculty member of the Race and Social Policy Research Center at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on collective memory and past violence as a cause and consequence of contemporary violence and prejudice, specifically focusing on the concept of threat. With specializations ranging from hate crimes and school shootings to prejudice and identity theory, her work sits at the crossroads of social psychology, race studies, and criminology, attempting to better understand how past violence impacts modern identity and intergroup relations.

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