Peter Bergen - Investigating Domestic Terrorism in "United States of Jihad"

February 2, 2016 - Peter Bergen 02/02/2016 Views: 11,633

"United States of Jihad" author Peter Bergen examines the role of the Internet in homegrown terrorism and weighs in on the biggest threats to Americans' safety. (6:29)

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My guest tonight is CNN'snational security analyst.

He's also a bestselling authorwhose new book is called

United States of Jihad:

Investigating America's Homegrown Terrorists.

Please welcome Peter Bergen,everyone!

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

(whooping, applause)

Thank you so muchfor being here.

Let's start at the top.I mean, what a great title:

The United States of Jihad. I like that.

Uh, homegrown terror--it makes it sound so wholesome.

-(laughs) -It really does.It sounds like something

you'd find at Whole Foodsor something.

Unfortunately,it's not that wholesome.

What does "homegrown terror"mean, for people who are

just gonna get into this book,which is really fascinating.

-What is "homegrown terror"?-Well, you know, it's Americans

who are attractedto Jihadi groups.

And, uh, we--my research team--

assembled a databaseat the foundation we work at,

New America, 300 cases,and we found that, uh,

you know, four out of fiveof these cases

were American citizensor residents.

So this isan American phenomenon.

And it's strangethat a decade after...

a decade and a half after 9/11,you know, American citizens

are still signing upfor these ideas.

After all,they're anti-American groups.

Here's what's mind-blowing is,you see people all the time

talking about, you needto stop people from coming in...

-Yeah. -because that'show you stop the terrorists.

-Yeah. -But then whenyou're reading this book,

you realize thata lot of the terrorists are in

because they're from here.

They're as American as anybodywatching this program.

They're notas American as... you.

Well... 'cause I'm not American.

-(laughing) -So I'm safe.I'm not a terrorist.

Thank you. Whew!Glad we cleared that up.

That is such an evil laugh.Oh, my word.


That is such an evil laugh.I love it.

Yeah, but this is insane,though.

This is such... I mean,it goes counter to everything

that everybody believes.

-Yeah. -So these peopleare being radicalized,

and the craziest thing the book, you talk

about the fact thatit's being done online?

Yeah. Of course, you know,I mean...

the Internet wasan American invention,

and yet, in a senseit's being used by these groups

that are very anti-American,like ISIS.

Which is recruitinglots of Americans,

or a relatively large numberof Americans,

to ISIS's, you know,claims that they're creating

-an Islamic utopia. -But's what I don't get.

It doesn't seem like...I haven't been to Syria,

-but America looks a lot nicer.-Yeah.

How do they get people to join?

How do they get peopleto be a part of that madness?

Well, they claimthat ISIS is creating

this perfect Islamic utopia,that this is the caliphate,

that, you know,basically everybody, you know...

some people are going thereto get married,

and we're seeingquite a lot of females

going from Europeand some from the United States,

and they thinkthey're gonna meet

the man of their dreams there.

The jihotties.That's what they're called.

-Yeah. The jihotties.-This is true.

I did not make that up.

We've done research on it.Jihotties.

-That's what they call them.-Yeah.

It's such an insane story.

What I also found intriguingabout it in the book is,

you talk about how these arepeople who are middle-class.

You know, you always thinkof terrorism as being,

you know, people whoare gonna come from places

where things are notgoing well in their lives.

-Yeah. -They might bevery poor, they might...

But these are peoplethat are doing fairly well.

Middle-class citizens who seemlike everything is good,

-and then... -Yeah, well, lookat the San Bernardino couple.

I mean, they were...he had a good job,

they had a kid, you know, theywere living the American dream.

And yet, somehow they decidedto kill 14 of his coworkers.

When... when lookingat all of the data,

when lookingat all of the information,

you go,homegrown terror is a thing,

what's scary, though, is...

the lengthsthat people are going

to try and preventthe terrorism from happening.

'Cause you say somethingvery interesting in the book,

and that is, America's doinga very good job...

-Yeah.-of managing the terror...

And it's very interestingthat you say "managing"

as opposed to "eliminating."

Yeah. Managing is all we know, managing, containing,

that's all we can reallyhope for, because terrorism

as a tactic's been aroundsince the dawn of time.

But if we had had thisconversation, Trevor, in 2002,

and we said only 45 Americanswould have been killed

by Jihadi terroristsin the United States

over the next decade and a half,and that's the actual number,

that would have seemedabsurdly optimistic.

But the fact is-- and of course,each of those deaths

is a tragedy-- but this isn'ta national catastrophe

like 9/11 was,or anything close.

We've done a pretty good job,the U.S. Government.

Both the Bushand Obama administrations

are making the country,you know, a hard target.

Why is it still so scary, then?

I mean, you hear peopleat the debates,

you hear many candidates saying,"This is the number one threat

to America," and yet the numbersdon't seem to back that up.

Well, it's completely... youknow, it's an irrational fear,

but a lot of Americansare afraid of terrorism.

And this is not, you know...

the part of our brain that...

you know, fear isa very frontal part of,

-you know, our emotionalsort of makeup, -Yeah.

and, um, you know, Americansare very concerned about this,

because of the recentterrorist attacks

in California and in Paris.

And of course, in the Republicancampaign it's been a big issue.

Well, it makes the news.

I think that'sthe most important thing.

-Yeah. -More people are dyingfrom, let's say, the flu,

but, then, that's,like, a boring thing.

Well, the other thing, you know,you're 5,000 times more likely

to be killed by an Americanwith a gun than you are

to be killed by a Jihaditerrorist in the United States.

I mean, that'sthe real concern-- gun violence,

climate change--these are the really big issues

-we should be focused on.-It's interesting

that you bring them up,because a lot of people

use your statisticsto talk about whether or not

Jihadi terrorismis more of a concern

than gun violence in America.

Do you think one should beprioritized over the other,

or is this a situationwhere you're going,

the two are both bad things, butone is not as bad as it seems?

Well, I think that that's right.

I mean, look,the Second Amendment's

the Second Amendment-- Americais a very exceptional country,

and one of itsexceptionals is...

areas it's exceptional in is

that for a Westernindustrial democracy,

we are killing each otherwith guns

at a rate that is very unusual.

And if you're comfortablewith that, fine.

But if you're not comfortablewith that, I think you...

you should, you know, try and...try and change things.

You know, but here'sa very interesting thing.

The congresswould not pass a bill

which would prevent peopleon the no-fly list,

-Yes. -who are deemedto be terrorists,

from acquiringautomatic weapons.

I mean, that is so insane.

-That shows the extent...-Well, that...

-no, that's not insane, really.-(laughing)

If you can't fly,you need a gun.

-(laughter)-That makes perfect sense.

I don't...That laugh is so...

I wish we had your laughin the book.

-That is s... that is sucha fasc... -(laughter)

it's such a fascinating story.

I really, really do recommend

that people go outand read the book.

It is so intriguing. United States of Jihad

is in the bookstores now.

The documentary basedon the book called Homegrown:

The Counter-Terror Dilemma will premiere on HBO on Monday.

Peter Bergen, everybody.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)