While concern grows about the potential for foreign terrorists carrying out attacks here in the U.S., homegrown terrorism continues to be a problem. Attacks like those at the Pulse nightclub prove that the threat of terrorism comes in many different shapes and sizes. Although making sure we prevent foreign terrorists from entering the country is vital, the fight against domestic terrorism is equally important.
One of the greatest challenges in defeating homegrown terrorism is it’s difficult to predict who might be radicalized. Typically, when we think of our military veterans, we think of people that protect the people of the United States. But for one Army veteran, the opposite was true. Instead of seeking to protect the people, he was arrested in connection with a disturbing plot.
From the Washington Post:
Robert Hester’s time in the Army was short and tumultuous. He joined in 2012 and faced one disciplinary issue after another, court documents say. By 2013, after a general discharge, he was back home in Missouri, well below the government’s radar.
He resurfaced three years later a different man. He had converted to Islam and changed his name, at least on the social media platform where he posted anti-government messages.
And, investigators believe, he had a new desire to murder his former military comrades and civilians on behalf of the Islamic State.
Although authorities believe there are many homegrown ISIS sympathizers in the United States, few of those are veterans:
Hester joins a growing list of more than 100 people in the United States arrested in connection with the Islamic State. But he’s one of just a handful with a military connection.
However, Hester’s military service was far from typical. While serving, he frequently had run-ins with the law, eventually resulting in him being separated from service:
He “was cited for numerous violations of U.S. Army regulations” and received a general discharge in 2013, the affidavit says.
In 2016, confidential sources alerted authorities about Hester’s posts on social media under the alias “Rabbani Junaid Muhammad,” and FBI agents launched an investigation, the affidavit says.
Although it is still unclear why Hester was radicalized, his rocky time in the military may have played a role. Whatever the cause, cases like this highlight just how hard it is to track down and defeat homegrown terrorists.
In this case, Hester was caught before he had an opportunity to carry out his plans, but not all cases have ended without incident. As policymakers debate how to combat terrorism, we cannot forget about the threat from home.
[Note: This post was authored by Michael Lee. Follow him on Twitter @UAMichaelLee]