Honor, Gratitude and Vigilance 9/11

Honor, Gratitude and Vigilance 911

Lead Author: Pete Thomas – Managing Director, Cobblestone Consulting, LLC
Co-Author: Sal Lifrieri – President, Protective Countermeasures Inc

Monday was the 22nd anniversary of 9/11, a time of national reflection. It is time to pray and remember the people who died in the attack or were injured. It is time to remember the families who lost their loved ones. It is time to thank the police, firefighters, and emergency personnel who risked their lives and health to rescue people. It is time to thank the doctors, nurses, emergency room staff, and spiritual leaders of all faiths who healed the injured and consoled the grieving. It is time to remember and thank the legion of volunteers who stepped up to help their fellow Americans. It is also time to thank and honor federal law enforcement agencies and the intelligence community. It is time to thank and honor the men and women of America’s armed forces who answered the call to protect all of us. It is time to be grateful.

It is also time to remember that the Al Qaeda attack was successful in September 2001 because terrorism, at that time, was not a priority for the United States national security hierarchy. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing was a red flag that, in hindsight, failed to trigger a sufficiently significant realignment of national security communities’ priorities. This failure to prioritize terrorism resulted from a Cold War focus, limited resources, cognitive bias, and historical blindness.

In 2023, international terrorism no longer has the United States national security priority it had since 2001. However, Al Qaeda and the Islamic State still spread jihad in the Middle East, Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa. While these Salafi-jihadi terrorist groups look to undermine the “near enemy,” they have not forgotten the “far enemy” and the Great Satan. These terrorist groups look to undermine the West and have a particular focus on the United States. American counterterrorism is an essential constraint on Al Qaeda’s and other Salafi-jihadist’s ability to attack the United States. In addition, in a multipolar world, there is the omnipresent threat of nation-state terrorism. If the United States and its allies are distracted or complacent, these extremists will take advantage of any failure to be vigilant.

Vigilance begins with an understanding of the history of terrorism. Historical blindness and regional chauvinism are significant impediments when studying terrorism, whether as a national security advisor or an underwriter.

Terrorism, unfortunately, is an indivisible aspect of the human condition. Bible study classes, for example, teach about Judaism’s Zealots and the Christian Crusaders. People are fascinated by stories of Islam’s Assassins in history classes, popular literature, or video games. These are stories of terrorist campaigns. 

However, modern terrorism began in Russia in the late 1870s with the anarchist moment. David Rapoport is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California. Professor Rapoport identifies four waves of terrorism:

  • The Anarchist Wave (1878 -1919)
  • The Anti-colonial Wave (1920s – 1960s)
  • The New Left Wave (mid-1960s – 1990s)
  • The Religious Wave (1979-?)

Rightwing extremism has been and continues to be a criminal and national security threat. The rightwing movement is nationwide but concentrated in the West, Midwest, and the South. Groups such as Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus, Covenant Sword, Arm of the Lord, the Base, Oath Keepers, Patriots, Proud Boys, and the One Percenters are among the well-known rightwing extremist groups. It is not unreasonable to consider rightwing extremists a distinct wave. 

A terrorism schema is helpful as a guide but can be arbitrary and when considering terrorism, incomplete regarding a specific country. (See Waves of Global Terrorism by David C. Rapoport.) It is reasonable to note that these waves overlap and can co-exist. The historical, operational, and global characteristics of terrorist groups are essential considerations. The telegraph, steam-driven ships, and newspapers made the anarchists a global threat. In the same way, air travel, the internet, and social media allow modern terrorists to operate globally. Modern terrorists use techniques pioneered by Russian anarchists in the 19th Century. 

There are few times in American history when political violence, rebellion, riot, insurrection, or terrorism was not an issue. In a short blog, listing these events is impossible, but commenting on a few incidents broadly characterized each period is helpful.  

American before 1878

President George Washington struggled with Shay’s Rebellion (1786), the Paper Money Riot (1786), the Doctors Mob Riot (1788), and the Whiskey Insurrection (1791). 

The 19th Century was a violent time, and the lists of political terrorist acts, racial and ethically motivated terrorist attacks, riots, race riots, draft riots, insurrections, and violent labor protests before the Civil War are too numerous to list in a short blog. With 620,000 Americans dead, the Civil War is a cautionary tale for modern politicians. Politicians who use the concept of a “civil war” as a debate gambit or a pandering sound bite need to appreciate the horror of that suggestion. 

The end of the Civil War did not end the violence as the country wrestled with changes brought about by emancipation, industrialization, and immigration. The contemporary newspapers reported on race riots, labor riots, lynch mobs, voter suppression, and domestic terrorism. In 1865, the Ku Klux Klan was born in Pulaski, Tennessee. The second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan (1915-1944) was a successful and politically influential organization in the 1920s whose white supremacy and immigration political platform would be recognizable today. The last iteration of the Klu Klux Klan (1946-) and they are active in 22 states. The Ku Klux Klan is America’s most infamous domestic terrorist group.

America 1879 – 1920s

At the end of World War I, America faced rampant inflation, unemployment, horrific race riots, immigration riots, and massive and violent labor strikes. The Bolsheviks allegedly coordinated a national bomb plot with sixteen explosive packages designed to go off on May Day, 1919. Then, on June 2, 1919, there was a second series of bombs. One of these destructive packages destroyed the home of U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. (Palmer predicted a May Day 1920 revolution in the United States, which never happened.) On November 7, 1917, the FBI raided the Union of Russian Workers and arrested two hundred people. On January 2, 1920, the FBI raided over thirty cities and detained two thousand to three thousand people. The government deported an estimated seven hundred and thirty people. The brutality of the raids, their questionable constitutionality, and Attorney General Palmer’s failed prediction of a May Day 1920 revolution in the United States damaged Attorney General Palmer’s reputation and reduced the red scare hysteria. 

In September 1920, Italian anarchist Mario Buda created the first “car bomb.” He exploded a horse-drawn wagon with dynamite and scrap metal on Wall Street, killing 40 people. Buda viewed himself as the “avenging angel of imprisoned and deported anarchists.” Many Russian anarchists joined the Bolsheviks to campaign for revolution. (See Buda’s Wagon by Mike Davis)

America 1917- 1960

The end of WWII accelerated the anti-colonial movement. The Axis powers lost their overseas territories, Britain was exhausted by decades of war, and people worldwide demanded self-determination. The territories occupied by colonial powers especially wanted their freedom and self-determination. These terrorist groups were more organized. While each group had its heroes, the Irish revolutionary groups provided the operating model. 

Domestically, the United States did not experience much of the anti-colonial movement during this period except for separatist groups like FALN (Puerto Rico separatist group). However, the United States did experience riots, racial terrorist events, and labor riots. 

  • 1917: East St. Louis Riots: A race riot in East St. Louis, Illinois
  • 1921: Tulsa Race Massacre: A white mob attacked the Black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leading to the deaths of an estimated 100–300 people and the destruction of a prosperous Black neighborhood.
  • 1934: Minneapolis Teamsters Strike: Violent clashes between striking truckers and police resulted in several deaths and contributed to labor reform.
  • 1943: Zoot Suit Riots: Clashes occurred in Los Angeles between white service members and Mexican-American youths in zoot suits.
  • 1943: Detroit Race Riot: One of the most significant race riots during World War II resulted in 34 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
  • 1958: Bombing of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple of Atlanta

America 1960s – 1990s

During this third wave, four hundred and forty left-wing terrorist groups were operating. (Rand, Rapoport). The United States’ most famous left-wing movement was the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). At its peak, SDS had fifty thousand members across 150 universities. The Weathermen Underground Organization (WUO)was another domestic terrorist group active between 1971 and 1975. The WUO conducted seven known bomb attacks. The WUO attacked the U.S. Capital, the State Department, the Pentagon, and other government and military facilities. Time Magazine reported in September 2016 that in the “1970s, protest bombings in America were commonplace, especially in hard-hit cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Nearly a dozen radical underground groups, dimly remembered outfits such as the Weather Underground, the New World Liberation Front, and the Symbionese Liberation Army, set off hundreds of bombs…”

A partial listing of some of these terrorist events:

  • 1969-1977: Weather Underground – dozens of bombings and other terrorist activities
  • 1969: Marine Midland building bombing 
  • 1969: Federal Building bombing in New York City
  • 1969: Armed Forces Induction Center in New York City
  • 1969: Manhattan Criminal Court bombing
  • 1971: United States Capitals Building bombing
  • 1973: United States Navy Recruiting Center bombing in Portland, Oregon
  • 1974: Gulf Tower Building bombing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 
  • 1983: United States Senate bombing
  • 1984: Brooklyn Bridge shooting 
  • 1995: Oklahoma City Bombing
  • 1996: Centennial Park Bombing
  • 1997: Empire State Building shooting
  • 2002: Los Angeles International Airport shooting
  • 2006: Seattle Jewish Federation shooting
  • 2008: Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church shooting
  • 2017: Congressional baseball shooting

America 1979 to 2020

9/11 is a reflection of the dark side of religion. Al-Qaeda, a Sunni terrorist group under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, planned these three attacks. Osama bin Laden’s fatwa declared,” All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messengers, and Muslims. The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -civilian and military -is an individual duty for every Muslim…”

There are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, and Islamic terrorist groups. The two most prominent groups are al-Qaeda and ISIS (the Islamic State). ISIS expanded its global network in 2022 despite leadership losses. Last July, a drone strike killed Ayman al Zawahiri; his death is a significant setback for al-Qaeda. Al Qaeda remains a significant threat to America and its interests. 

The terrorist events during this period illustrate the overlapping operation of different terrorist groups:

  • 1983: United States Senate bombing
  • 1984: Brooklyn Bridge shooting 
  • 1993 World Trade Center bombing
  • 1995: Oklahoma City bombing
  • 1996: Centennial Park bombing
  • 1997: Empire State Building shooting
  • 2001: World Trade Center bombing
  • 2002: Los Angeles International Airport shooting
  • 2006: Seattle Jewish Federation shooting
  • 2008: Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Church shooting
  • 2011: Spokane bombing attempt
  • 2012: Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting
  • 2014: Los Vegas Shooting
  • 2014: Overland Park Jewish Community Center Shooting
  • 2017: Congressional baseball shooting
  • 2017: Charlottesville attack
  • 2018 Charleston Church shooting
  • 2018: United States Mail bombing attempts – at least a dozen
  • 2019: El Paso shooting
  • 2021: United States Capital Attack 
  • 2022: Buffalo shooting


 The GAO has reported that there have been two hundred and thirty-one domestic terrorism attacks, as defined by the FBI, between 2010 and 2021. These attacks have resulted in one hundred forty-five deaths and three hundred- seventy injuries. Ninety-four deaths and one hundred-eleven injuries came from racially or ethically motivated extremists. 

Extremism is a continuous threat, and extremism is on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Justice Center in 2022 identified 1,225 hate or anti-government groups across the United States. There is a hate group for every grievance. 

The absence of terrorism in social media feeds or on the front page of a newspaper is not an indicator that the threat of terrorism has gone away. The threat of terrorism may vary in intensity, but it never disappears. History tells us that some people with agendas are willing to use violence to achieve their goals. 

9/11 reminds us to honor and grieve for those who died and were injured. 9/11 reminds us to honor and thank those heroes who help, heal, and defend us. 9/11 reminds us that our federal constitutional republic is worth protecting and defending. 9/11 reminds us that we have to be vigilant.


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