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The incidence of domestic terrorism has sharply increased in the United States over the past decade.

From high-profile incidents like the US Capitol attack on January 6, 2021 to racially motivated acts of violence, these events have shed light on the need to understand and address the threat of domestic terrorism.

What is domestic terrorism?

According to the FBI, domestic terrorism encompasses violent, criminal acts that individuals and/or groups use to further their ideological goals from political, social, racial, or environmental influences within the country’s borders.[1]

These acts appear to be intended to:

  • Intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
  • Influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
  • Affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

These individuals and groups are separated into five different threat categories, which help officials understand the motives of criminal actors better. These categories include:

  • Racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism;
  • Anti-government or anti-authority violent extremism;
  • Animal rights/environmental violent extremism;
  • Abortion-related violent extremism;
  • All other domestic terrorist threats, with agendas such as personal grievances, or bias related to religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

It’s important to note that rather than being charged with domestic terrorism, prosecutors use other federal and state charges to prosecute people indicted in federal domestic terrorism–related cases.

How many domestic terrorism events occur in the US?

According to the Government Accountability Office, there were 231 domestic terrorism incidents with known offenders between 2010 and 2021, with the number of incidents generally increasing over time.

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There were also 145 deaths and 370 injuries caused by domestic terrorism-related incidents with known offenders. Of these, 94 deaths and 111 injuries came from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, making up the largest category of incidents over this period. These attacks were often the most lethal of any threat category, such as the racially motivated shootings of police officers in Dallas, Texas in July 2016 and grocery shoppers in Buffalo, New York in May 2022.

A pie chart depicting what proportion of domestic terrorism incidences occur by category, with racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists making up the largest percentage.

The second largest category, anti-government or anti-authority motivated violent extremism, resulted in 15 deaths during the same period.

The number of federal defendants charged in domestic terrorism-related cases stayed relatively stable before 2019 but rose in 2020 and then double in 2021. An unusually high number of federal cases from 2021 were filed in Washington, DC, although the data does not identify which of these cases are related to the US Capitol attack in January of that year.

How has the government responded to domestic terrorism?

The FBI is tasked with leading domestic terrorism–related investigations and collaborates with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis to identify internal threats to national security.

The FBI has a growing number of open domestic terrorism–related cases, with a growth rate of 357% from 2013 to 2021. This rate rose sharply beginning in 2018.

The number of potential domestic terrorist attacks which have been interrupted rose roughly around the same time. A disruption is the interruption or inhibition of a threat actor from engaging in a criminal or national security–related activity.

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In 2019, the DHS released a strategic counterterrorism framework that included increased information sharing between internal agencies, such as the FBI and CIA, to closely monitor how homegrown terrorist organizations are influenced by foreign actors and identify potential perpetrators of hate crimes early on, among other preventative actions.

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Domestic Terrorism: Further Actions Needed to Strengthen FBI and DHS Collaboration to Counter Threats
Last updated
February 2023

Agencies like the FBI and Department of Homeland Security use similar, but not identical, definitions of domestic terrorism.