NJ Homeland Security Conference Focuses on Domestic Terrorism

May 6, 2016 | Law & Public Safety
The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security gathered around 250 experts to focus on domestic terrorism.

By Erin Delmore

While ISIS dominates headlines, another threat faces New Jersey. Domestic terrorism, including homegrown violent extremists, anti-government militias and white supremacists.

“They don’t always get national or international attention, these events, but they can be just as serious a threat to our citizens as anyone coming from Syria or Iraq,” said Dean Baratta, analysis bureau chief for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

According to New Jersey’s annual terrorism threat assessment, more than half of last year’s terrorist activity was spurred by domestic terrorists. Nationally, 17 of the 31 terrorist events last year — including threats, plots and attacks — occurred on the East Coast.

Officials say this area — New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland — is particularly vulnerable.

“We have a lot of critical infrastructure. We have a lot of people. We have a diverse demographic here on the East Coast. And what makes New Jersey even more unique to that is that we butt up right against New York City. And so we want to constantly be sharing information across that river to make sure we know what’s going on there, they know what’s going on here and that we’re collectively analyzing things holistically,” said Rosemary Martorana, director of intelligence for the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

The first-of-its-kind event was closed-door to encourage information sharing and coordination. J.M. Berger led a panel on how social media is used as a recruiting tool.

“People who are involved in ISIS are much more prone to violence, much more prone to material actions than people in a lot of these domestic extremist groups but the people in domestic extremist groups are vastly more numerous so there are hundreds of thousands of domestic extremists relative to probably under a thousand real ISIS sympathizers in the United States,” said Berger, fellow at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism and co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror”.

He’s been focusing on white supremacists. The group’s been on the rise since 2012.

“What happened in Charleston was cut and dry a domestic terrorism event. Dylan Roof, the individual who openly fired his weapon in that church that day, was inspired by white supremacist ideologies,” Martorana said.

Oregon ranchers who opposed federal officials — and a similar standoff in Nevada two years before that — are the kinds of domestic terrorist threats this group has their eyes on. And as political tensions flare ahead of the November elections, officials are alert.

“Well certainly when you have sort of a really contentious political atmosphere there’s always the likelihood that sort of extremists will latch on to that and try to exploit that tension,” Baratta said.

Officials made clear it’s not illegal to share the beliefs. It’s adding the threat of violence that crosses the line.