Domestic terrorism attacks targeting electric companies rare but not unprecedented

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Potential links to domestic terrorism investigated in Moore County
Federal, state and local law enforcement officers in Moore County are not ruling out domestic terrorism in the targeted take out of two power substations by gunfire.

MOORE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said authorities are still investigating whether the attacks against Duke Energy in Moore County may be considered domestic terrorism.

"Investigators are leaving no stone unturned as to what this is. They are looking at every motivation that could possibly occur here and they want to find the perpetrators," Cooper said during a press conference on Monday.

More than 30,000 remain without power after vandals shot and damaged two substations in Moore County Saturday night.

Deliberate attacks against substations across the United States are not uncommon.

Around 90 domestic terrorist attacks targeted utilities and 60 involved electricity since 1970, according to the Global Terrorism Database from the University of Maryland. None of the attacks were in North Carolina according to the data. A third were attacks in California and the database shows the attacks stem as far back as 1970.

"They're not at least targeting killing specific individuals, but we've been concerned for a very long time since 911, especially about the potential for individuals or organizations to take actions against what we would call critical infrastructures," said David Schanzer, the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. "Really for 20 years, the Department of Homeland Security has been working to try to help us harden these infrastructures."

Schanzer said for the incident in Moore County to be classified as domestic terrorism, authorities will need to find out the suspects' motivation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) defines a domestic terrorist attack as acts that occur in the U.S. and appear to intend to intimidate people, influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of government 'by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.'

The Global Terrorism Database lists more than 3,100 domestic terrorism incidents over the past 50 years in the United States. Just 2% of the incidents involve utilities, instead, top targets include businesses, people and the government.

Between 2015-2019, the FBI determined around 88 incidents were significant. Two were in North Carolina that involved individuals arrested after allegedly stabbing their associate in Yanceyville in 2016 and another individual in Jacksonville who was arrested for allegedly planning to target synagogues for a mass shooting in 2019.

The Global Terrorism Database lists nine incidents of domestic terrorism in North Carolina since 2000 and 35 since 1970.

Between 1999 and 2015 fewer than 50 attacks a year occurred but these incidents have been increasing in recent years with the Global Terrorism Database reporting 103 attacks across the U.S. in 2020; a 43% increase from 2019.

Still, Schanzer said these attacks are still relatively rare compared to decades before. However, Schanzer did say the motivation spurring these incidents is changing.

"Concerns relating to Islamist terrorism happening in the United States, people taking action, homegrown terrorists who are inspired by Al-Qaeda or ISIS are ideas that have declined fairly sharply, he said. "We've seen an increase in acts of terrorism by those motivated by anti-government bias, by white supremacy, what we tend to call right-wing or forms of domestic terrorism."

In the October 2022 Strategic Intelligence Assessment and Data on Domestic Terrorism, the FBI stated, "the greatest terrorism threat to the Homeland we face today is posed by lone offenders,2 often radicalized online, who look to attack soft targets with easily accessible weapons. Many of these violent extremists are motivated and inspired by a mix of socio-political goals and personal grievances against their targets."

A majority of the FBI's domestic terrorism investigations are classified as 'anti-government/anti-authority violent extremism' and 'anti-riot-laws/ civil unrest.' Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism made up around a fifth of the domestic terrorism incidents the FBI investigated in 2021.

The FBI reported 2019 was the most lethal year for domestic violence extremists since 1995 with five attacks responsible for the death of 32 people. Last year, domestic terrorism-related attacks killed 13 people. The FBI arrested 800 people in 2021 for these investigations, a four-fold increase from 2020. The increase is largely driven by the high number of people arrested in relation to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Schanzer said authorities can continue to take additional steps to reduce these incidents further.

"Things like upping and criminal penalties on these kinds of actions. And certainly finding the perpetrators and punishing them and making that quite public would I believe an important to determine the effect on the future acts of this nature," he said.

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