This book is about terrorism in America. Until very recently, most Americans thought of the United States as a land without terrorism—or at least without serious terrorism. In fact, there has been a lot of terrorism in America over the last fifty years, some of it by foreigners, but most of it by Americans.
In understanding any social phenomenon, good data are important and the more data the better. A simple analysis of good data is to be preferred to a sophisticated analysis of poor data. This book is based on a chronology of over 3,000 terrorist incidents, which allows a comparative analysis of nine waves of terrorism during the 1954-2000 period. Additional information on over 700 terrorism-related fatalities (victims and terrorists) was also collected, as were data on the captures, arrests, and trials of those engaging in terrorism.
At the beginning of September 2001, I had an almost completed manuscript about American terrorism. Then, like millions of others, I watched on television as the horrifying events of September 11 unfolded. The first chapter describes the political and social impacts of the September 11 attack, and the way that the media interpreted the attack. One common journalistic view was that this terrorism represented something completely new, and that it could be explained as a manifestation of “extremism.” Although the scale of the attack was unprecedented, the perception that terrorism was a novelty reveals a certain ignorance of American history. Therefore the second chapter provides an historical overview of terrorism in America, as well as examining the concept of extremism. The third chapter examines the political context of each of the nine waves of terrorism: government policies, public opinion, and support for extremism. The fourth chapter looks at the relationship between extremist movements and the emergence of terrorism, and describes the organizational dynamics of terrorist groups. Chapter 5 analyzes the social and psychological