When most of us think about anarchists we imagine teenagers wearing scarves over their faces who run around outside economic summits and tip over cars and trash cans. While this is obnoxious, we don’t place them in the same threat category as a group like Al Qaeda that has demonstrated an ability to plan and executed relatively sophisticated terrorist attacks. Could this situation change in the near future?
As a retired Delta Force squadron commander once told me, “The western world has a thing about predicting future terrorist acts, a field where we seldom have success. The enemies have the advantage of time, many potential targets, and methods of attack. Some groups copy others so past actions may re-occur in similar guises, for example on one occasion the Delta and 22 SAS commander said we should quit training for aircraft hijackings as they did not expect anymore hijackings because such techniques have gone by the wayside. Terrorists use terror as political theater and different terrorist groups are at different levels of maturity. However, terror organizations did not all emerge at the same time or under the same conditions. Different groups have different audiences, different goals, and are not at the same level of organizational maturity. Emerging groups may copy others and put their own twist to similar actions.”
A recent FBI report from 2016 compares anarchist movements in America with those found in Europe, drawing the conclusion that American anarchist groups are less sophisticated than their European counterparts but that this could potentially change in the future given the right circumstances. The FBI writes, “The vast majority of US anarchist extremist attacks targeted property likely due to the location’s accessibility and as a symbol of capitalism and globalization. Most foreign anarchist extremist attacks targeted persons likely because of the cohesiveness of the movement and greater emphasis on issues that can be blamed on local, individual targets.”
American anarchists come across as hoodlums and brigands but the manner in which they form decentralized cells and communicate using encryption demonstrates a certain type of technical know-how, even if their competency for kinetic operations is very low at this time. If you want a snapshot of the American anarchist who tries to engage in actual operations, you end up with a guy sitting around drinking tea and smoking cigarettes in Rojava (Kurdish Syria) but again, this may not always be the case.
If the tactical competency of Anarchist groups suddenly improves I would suspect one of three scenarios.
Over the years, I have seen some veterans radicalize in their political viewpoints to both the far left and the far right. There is an anarchist enclave right in my city called The Base (translated into Arabic this means Al Qaeda, but moving on) for instance that is used for legal political gatherings. If a US military veteran(s) with a background in tactics, unconventional warfare, and intelligence operations joins up with an anarchist group, it could give them the kind of turbocharge they need to do a lot of damage over a short period of time.
The FBI currently has a difficult time assessing how much communication takes place between American and European anarchists. Considering the difference in their targets and tactics, it seems that they are not overly influencing one another, but this could be an assumption. These are anarchists after all, not Jihadists, and cannot be expected to behave in a somewhat uniform manner. Nonetheless, if the more dangerous elements of European anarchism began to influence American anarchist groups, it could lead to a spike in violent terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage. Because anarchists are technologically savvy, we have to assume that they learn from each other over the internet.
A third concerning scenario would be if, “a foreign intelligence service attempts to foment US unrest by facilitating anarchist extremist violence domestically.” This could be done by using a European anarchist group as a proxy to influence American anarchists as well. Russian intelligence services have demonstrated an understanding of where American cultural schisms lie and the means exploit them. If the Russian FSB or Chinese MSS were to fund American anarchist groups directly with Bitcoins or indirectly through a proxy, it is unlikely that anarchists will care where they money is coming from as long as they are able to carry out their anti-state agenda.
Amongst anarchist groups there is also significant overlap with other groups and agendas, making it that much harder to discern who is who. Take for example this attack in Mexico that sounds like something from the Unabomber manifesto:
From April 2011 to February 2013, a Mexico-based anarchist extremist group known as Individuals Tending Towards Savagery (ITS) engaged in a letter bombing campaign of 7 attacks against individuals involved in nanotechnology research, resulting in several injuries. According to the group, they are opposed to nanotechnology experiments such as those being conducted by their targets because they “contribute to the destruction, manipulation, and taming of the Earth.” There have been no arrests, according to media reporting.”