The United States is under serious threat of a terror attack from within. That statement is not panic or hyperbole but is based in the very real attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and messages monitored by federal law enforcement and security officials about follow-up actions contemplated for the days up to the Inauguration Day.
Just short of 20 years ago, in the wake of 9/11, the nation united. It resolved to defend itself against jihadists and others who would seek to bring down our government or our society.
Those attacks brought us color-coded threat warnings that kept Americans on edge (a new warning system replaced it 10 years later). There also came war against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, new laws enhancing surveillance of ordinary citizens and a new Department of Homeland Security, which was supposed to coordinate intelligence and prevent our ever again being subject to the kind of attack that brought down four commercial jets, the World Trade Center and, very nearly, the Pentagon.
In the interim we’ve seen more deadly attacks by Muslim extremists in Boston, San Bernardino, California, and elsewhere, yet nothing at a scale that caused us to question our ability to survive as democratic and free, one nation indivisible.
This time is different.
There have been no mass casualties linked to the recent unrest (beyond the five dead at the Capitol), yet the threat is more ominous. We are not united. We find ourselves questioning the allegiance of Capitol Police officers and even of some members of Congress. We are stunned to hear military leaders remind troops that their loyalty is to the Constitution, because the reminder tells us there were doubts.
We have seen domestic terrorism before, the deadliest example being the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, so there is no excuse for ignoring anti-government and right-wing movements. White supremacist extremists are the nation’s deadliest terror threat.
Yet we’ve lacked sufficient resolve to combat it. And perhaps sufficient know-how, because how does a nation address a mass delusion that government is run by Satan-worshiping child-sex traffickers, or an odd alliance between those misguided souls and violent racists, all cheered on by the president of the United States in service of the lie that his phantom reelection was stolen from him?
The anti-terror infrastructure we adopted in the wake of 9/11 has not kept us from this crisis. We exulted then that we survived the attack and so could survive anything. May that still be true.