Terrorism poses a special problem to democratic governments. As Walter Laqueur noted, the constitutional constraints they place on themselves make it more difficult to combat terrorism. Furthermore, if these governments fail to effectively combat terrorism, they are subject to ridicule and contempt by the press. Finally, if they adopt stringent measures, they leave themselves open to charges of oppression and violation of human rights. 1 However, one principal advantage that democratic governments generally have is that they enjoy legitimacy among most of their populations. Thus they can usually depend upon their sustained support in efforts to suppress terrorism. 2
As mentioned in previous chapters, episodes of right-wing extremism and violence have punctuated American history almost from the founding of the republic. Consequently, the government has had to deal with this development on many past occasions. This chapter examines various ways in which the US government has responded to right-wing terrorism and extremism.
The first section provides some historic background on this topic. The Reconstruction Era Klan presented the government with its first major challenge of containing right-wing violence on a large scale. Other major periods of government involvement in this area include the “Brown Scare” from the late 1930s to mid-1940s, and the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s.
Subsequent sections examine and identify the chief government agencies which deal with the public policy issue, and explain how they are organized to do so. The second section looks at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Inasmuch as the FBI is the chief agency that is responsible for investigating and preventing domestic terrorism, it warrants close examination.
The third section looks at the Congress. On several past occasions both chambers of Congress have concerned themselves with right-wing extremism. For example, the erstwhile House Un-American Activities Committee investigated both extreme left—and right-wing groups and issued reports on its findings. In more recent years, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Government Technology has held hearings on subjects related to this issue, including the militias and Ruby Ridge.