America’s Bill of Rights protects U.S. citizens’ rights to free speech, to bear arms, and to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, among other things. But, as the Supreme Court has consistently held, no right is absolute. All rights must be balanced against other societal needs, including and especially public safety. As the threat of domestic terrorism metastasizes in the United States, Americans need to use the practical wisdom that Justice Robert L. Jackson advised in 1949 to ensure the survival of the republic.
In recognition of this growing threat, the Biden administration issued the nation’s first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism in 2021. The strategy recognizes a shift in recent years in the threat the United States faces — from foreign terrorism to domestic violent extremists. The strategy document focuses on four pillars for combating domestic terrorism: enhancing research, increasing resources for prevention, enabling investigation and prosecution, and addressing long-term contributors, such as economic disparities and racism. While the strategy provides a good structure for addressing domestic terrorism, the rapid growth of this problem requires a strategy that goes even further. Perhaps recognizing the limitations of the current polarized political environment, the strategy stops short of some of the more politically fraught but essential steps to countering domestic terrorism with the urgency it requires. But concerns about politicsshould not prevent the country from taking action. As Attorney General Merrick Garland stated in his remarks regarding the strategy, government intervention is “focused on violence, not on ideology.”
This paper looks at the White House strategy and the constitutional challenges of combating domestic terrorism and proposes additional steps that are essential to addressing this growing problem. While domestic terrorism is not a new phenomenon for the United States, the threat has been escalated by a toxic cocktail of social media, mental health challenges, and an abundance of high-powered assault weapons. To address this problem in a meaningful way, the country needs to overcome the political obstacles that prevent it from employing the practical wisdom that Justice Jackson advised.
McQuade, Barbara. "Not a Suicide Pact: Urgent Strategic Recommendations for Reducing Domestic Terrorism in the United States." Texas National Security Law Review 5, no. 2 (2022): 109-122.