The past several years have been marred with hate crimes or violence spawned by different ideologies, beliefs and expressions of freedom. The array of beliefs that exist across the U.S. and the rest of the world are what make individual nations and their people diverse, unique and extraordinary. At the same time, however, those different ideologies and beliefs can sometimes lead to violence or threats to public safety and national security.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a surge in domestic terrorism and radicalization has occurred since the mid-90s. The CSIS says that the number of domestic terrorism incidents peaked at its highest so far in 2020. Since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities, the data shows. Attacks and plots ascribed to far-left views accounted for 66 incidents leading to 19 deaths. More than a quarter of right-wing incidents and just under half of the deaths in those incidents were caused by people who showed support for white supremacy or claimed to belong to groups espousing that ideology, the analysis shows.

Victims of such incidents come from diverse backgrounds, including Black people, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Asians and other people of color. Dozens of religious institutions — including mosques, synagogues and Black churches — as well as abortion clinics and government buildings, have been threatened, burned, bombed and hit with gunfire over the past six years, according to the data.

Further CSIS data showed that 73 far-right incidents made up an all-time annual high in 2020. Left-wing attacks reached 25 in 2020. Those incidents included attempts by extremists to derail trains to hinder oil pipeline construction and multiple incidents in which police and their facilities were targeted with guns, firebombs or graffiti.

For private and public organizations, the threat of domestic terrorism or radicalization is real, and the consequences could end in reputational damage, property damage or death. To prepare for and mitigate such risks, security leaders can evaluate hiring practices, firing practices, reporting practices and other processes and procedures within their organization. Teams should be educated on risk factors and behaviors associated with domestic terrorism, workplace violence and other insider threats.

In the U.S., the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) is tasked with researching and analyzing data in regards to domestic threats and terrorism, and there are a few common risk factors linked to social radicalization that enterprise security leaders and organizations can incorporate into their greater insider risk mitigation efforts.

Domestic terrorism risk factors, according to the NIJ, include:

  • Criminal history
  • Mental health issues
  • Unemployment
  • Being single
  • Social isolation
  • Military experience

While none of these risk factors alone would be enough to label someone a domestic terrorist, the general risk factors are important to monitor, according to government experts.

And, while risk factors are certainly important for any insider risk program to keep track of in regards to potential radicalization or domestic terrorism, another critical consideration for enterprise security professionals is reporting and response procedures. NIJ researchers have found that peers are likely to notice early signs of radicalization, yet reporting remains low.

Enterprises can champion a security culture, encouraging peers and employees to “see something, say something” by creating an open-door policy with security teams and the greater organization. Proliferating a culture of awareness and inclusion beyond just tasking employees with security responsibilities can go a long way in encouraging employees to have an open dialogue and report potential warning signs to security teams.  

In addition, security leaders say that just as with larger insider risk threat mitigation programs, having clear processes and procedures for handling reporting, communication after reporting, and conducting follow-through on reports is equally important to risk mitigation, as well as ensuring that other employees feel safe, secure and heard.