Officers Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans never saw it coming.
The white minivan pulled over on Interstate 40 near West Memphis, Ark., in 2010 came back registered to a church in Ohio. Inside the vehicle were a Bible and some documents quoting Scripture.
Minutes later, Evans lay dying in the ditch and Paudert was sprawled on the roadway, their bodies tattered by two dozen bullets from an AK-47.
The killers: members of the sovereign citizen movement, which the officers had never heard of.
“They didn’t realize that there are people at war with this country who are not international terrorists,” said Bob Paudert, then West Memphis police chief and father of one of the slain officers.
“These people are willing to kill and be killed for their beliefs. And they are more dangerous to us in law enforcement than international terrorists.”
Domestic terrorism used to be a major focus for police and federal agents, especially after the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people 20 years ago Sunday.
But the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, led to a dramatic change: Law enforcement shifted its focus from domestic to foreign terrorism.
And today, while the number of violent incidents committed by domestic extremists is actually increasing, the holes in the net to catch them are growing larger, The Kansas City Star found in a one-year investigation.
A network of centers set up to detect and deter terrorism has done little of either, while at the same time federal funding to train law enforcement officers has been slashed.
Authorities and others are beginning to raise the alarm — the same one raised after Oklahoma City.
“Domestic terrorism was the focus after the Oklahoma City bombing,” said Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst with the Department of Homeland Security. “Then when 9/11 happened, it became way too focused on al-Qaida and its affiliates.”
Now, in a period of increasing extremism, the domestic danger is greater than ever, Johnson said.
“Our leaders don’t seem too concerned about the threat from within,” he said. “My fear is that there will be some kind of mass-casualty attack, with more people dying needlessly at the hands of domestic extremists. That’s what keeps me awake at night.”
Since the 9/11 attacks, federal agencies seem to have done well at protecting American soil from Islamic terrorists. At the same time, though, domestic extremists have killed more than 50 victims — many of them police officers — in dozens of attacks.
The victims ranged in age from 9 to 72, and they came from all walks of life. Some were just teenagers.
Jimmy Evans, a police lieutenant and brother of one of the officers in the West Memphis shootings, said the attack tore his family up.
“When something like this happens, it does one of two things,” he said. “It pulls families closer together or it rips them apart. Ours, it pulled us together at first, but now we’ve kind of drifted apart.”
And now Evans is angry that more isn’t being done to address domestic terrorism.
“It makes me furious,” he said. “I think they’ve bailed on their own country to worry about other people’s problems in other countries.”
The impact of an act of terrorism extends far beyond the immediate victims.
The Kansas City area experienced that firsthand a year ago when a man shot three people to death outside two Jewish sites in Overland Park. Avowed white supremacist F. Glenn Miller Jr., also known as Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., was taken into custody at a nearby school shortly after the rampage, shouting “Heil Hitler” as he was loaded into a police car.
“It affected the entire community,” said Rabbi Mark Levin, founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park.
“It could have been any of us. And it alters lives forever.”
But as Islamic extremists continue to wage attacks, the focus and some funding for preventing terrorism at home have dissolved:
▪ The 78 “fusion centers” promoted by the Department of Homeland Security to be the centerpiece of terror intelligence in the wake of 9/11 has disrupted a system of police work that previously had been effective.
▪ Despite hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into them, the centers are largely autonomous and operated by disparate agencies that sometimes don’t even cooperate with one another.
▪ The fusion center victories the DHS touts often have little to do with domestic terrorism. In fact, many of them involve drug busts, fugitive apprehension or natural disaster responses.
▪ The FBI, which operates more than 100 terrorism task forces, also has struggled to track domestic terrorism for a variety of reasons, including clashes with fusion centers, critics say.
▪ Congress has eliminated funding for a Justice Department program that provides anti-terrorism training and resources to thousands of law enforcement officers.
The FBI acknowledges the agency turned its attention to foreign terrorists after 9/11.
“Our efforts today remain very heavily focused in the area of the international terrorism threat, but we have an active domestic terrorism program as well,” said spokesman Paul Bresson.
“Over the course of time, it has been critical for the FBI to be agile to respond to all emerging threats, regardless of where they originate. And that is what we have done extremely well over our 107-year history.”
A DHS spokesman said his agency, too, was continuing to give domestic terrorism the attention it needs.
Homeland Security “protects our nation from all threats, whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence,” S.Y. Lee said in an email last month.
The agency “does not concentrate on any particular group or ideology,” Lee said.
Yet all the while, those who monitor domestic terrorism say the threat continues to mount.
“We are five years into the largest resurgence of right-wing extremism that we’ve had since the 1990s,” said Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, which trains more than 10,000 law enforcement officers a year about domestic terrorism, extremism and hate crimes.
From 2009 through July 2014, Pitcavage said, authorities were involved in 46 shootouts with domestic extremists.
“When it comes to domestic extremism, what tends to happen is that a lot of it goes under the radar, and a lot — including murders and what you would think would be major incidents — only gets reported locally and regionally,” Pitcavage said.
“So unless it happens in your backyard, the average American doesn’t quite realize how much of this is happening.”
Some incidents do capture national attention.
Last June, anti-government extremists Jerad and Amanda Miller killed two police officers and another man in a Las Vegas shooting rampage.
But did you hear about the Florida man who authorities said had anti-government views who set a house on fire in November so he could shoot the first responders? He was able to kill a sheriff’s deputy and wound another.
Or the two sheriff’s deputies in Louisiana who were ambushed and shot to death by sovereign citizens in 2012 when they went to a trailer park to investigate an earlier shooting?
Not that these trends have gone entirely unnoticed by some congressional committees, think tanks and scholars.
A 2012 study by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point found a “dramatic rise” in recent years in the number of attacks and violent plots originating from what it described as “individuals and groups who self-identify with the far right of American politics.”
From 2000 to 2011, the study found, the average number of attacks per year was more than four times the number of attacks in the 1990s, a decade when anti-government groups began to flourish.
Some experts say those figures seem inflated, and conservatives say the West Point report perpetuates the liberal myth that right-wingers are terrorists.
But an intelligence assessment issued in February by the Department of Homeland Security in conjunction with the FBI warns of continued threats from anti-government sovereign citizen extremists and notes 24 violent attacks across the U.S. since 2010 that it attributes to such groups. And a DHS report last summer said its analysts had seen a spike within the past year “in violence committed by militia extremists and lone offenders who hold violent anti-government beliefs.”
Monitoring and understanding these domestic extremists is critical, experts say. Failure to do so can be deadly.
“There’s a need for the information to get out,” said Bob Paudert, who retired as West Memphis police chief after his son’s death and now goes around the country teaching law enforcement officers about extremist groups.
“When my officers were killed, they did not have the information. If they did, they would still be with us.”
The two undercover officers couldn’t believe what they were hearing as they sat in a Towanda, Kan., community center in 1997.
While armed guards with infrared detectors stood watch outside, about 30 people discussed setting up their own government and kidnapping a public official.
Over several meetings, the Missouri Highway Patrol officers listened to militia leader Brad Glover and his comrades talk about raiding military installations. Their ultimate plan: to attack Fort Hood at its annual Freedom Fest celebration on the Fourth of July.
The violent plot was foiled when FBI agents arrested Glover and an accomplice at a campground 40 miles southwest of Fort Hood before dawn on July 4, 1997. The men possessed an automatic weapon, explosives, a silencer, 1,600 rounds of ammunition and bulletproof vests. Glover and his comrade were each sentenced to five years in federal prison.
The case was a prime example of law enforcement cooperating post-Oklahoma City to conduct pre-emptive strikes against domestic terrorists.
A decade later, that same concept was a key element in the creation of the fusion center network.
Fusion centers were established to strengthen law enforcement efforts against terrorism. Today there are fusion centers in almost every state and many major cities, including Kansas City.
Operated by state and local agencies, the fusion centers work with federal authorities in a national network that shares terrorism-related information. DHS authorizes the centers, and the federal government provides grant funding and some personnel.
The centers don’t actually have the power to conduct investigations. Instead, they receive reports of suspicious activity, analyze them and determine whether to forward them to agencies such as the FBI that can investigate.
But many of the centers aren’t living up to their mission — indeed, some critics say, they’re downright ineffective.
“I think they’re an absolute waste,” said former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who retired in January.
“I don’t have any problem with the federal government working with local governments on organized crime and drugs and terrorism too,” said Coburn, who had been a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which extensively studied fusion centers. “But I don’t think you need a fusion center.”
Coburn initiated a two-year, bipartisan study that resulted in a scathing congressional report released in October 2012. Some of the criticism was echoed by others in later studies.
The report, conducted by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, identified problems “with nearly every significant aspect of DHS’s involvement with fusion centers.”
The information put out by the fusion centers, the report said, was “oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely” and “more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”
In some cases, “fusion centers’ analytical efforts have caused frustration and embarrassment for themselves and DHS,” the study said.
For instance, a February 2014 document prepared by Kansas City area fusion center officials, obtained by The Star, called Kansas City International Airport “a primary hub” for known or suspected terrorist travel. But an independent security expert suspected the report may have been amped up to help the center win federal terrorism prevention grants. The then-fusion center director said the report was accurate and contained no exaggerations.
The subcommittee report also said DHS could not provide an accurate accounting of how much it had given in taxpayer dollars to states and cities to support their fusion centers. The agency estimated that the total amount of federal dollars spent on fusion center efforts from 2003 to 2010 ranged from $289 million to $1.4 billion.
The report said San Diego’s fusion center had spent about $75,000 on 55 flat-screen TVs but never purchased the intelligence training program for which the TVs were intended. When the subcommittee asked what the TVs were actually being used for, officials said “open source monitoring” — which they defined as “watching the news.”
Michael German, a former FBI special agent who spent 16 years working on domestic terrorism and covert operations, said the fusion centers have lost sight of their main focus, which was supposed to be counterterrorism.
“Almost immediately, the fusion centers — or the state and local entities that were involved in the fusion centers — sort of began resisting that idea,” said German, now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. He left the FBI after becoming a whistleblower over what he said was mismanagement of investigations.
Local entities “wanted it to go to an all-crimes, and ultimately to an all-hazards, mission.
“There’s been complete mission creep.”
The fusion centers don’t even fuse communications very well, German said, citing the Boston Marathon bombing.
At a congressional hearing in 2013, a DHS official said the Commonwealth Fusion Center wasn’t told of an FBI investigation into Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspected mastermind of the attack, even though numerous fusion center personnel were assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Such lack of communication angered Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“The whole point of having fusion centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces is to share information and coordinate,” said the Texas Republican. “Here we are 12 years later; we put billions of dollars into this. Why are we still having problems connecting the dots?”
In one fusion center, the FBI even moved out of the building, taking not only all of its personnel but all of the computer network cable, according to a 2013 report by the House Homeland Security Committee.
One big problem, some say: No one, including the DHS, can force agencies within the fusion centers to cooperate.
A DHS spokesman criticized the subcommittee’s report when it was released, calling it “out of date, inaccurate and misleading.”
“In preparing the report, the committee refused to review relevant data,” said Matt Chandler, then a spokesman for DHS, in a statement.
Lee, the current DHS spokesman, did not address specific questions about the report. He said the agency “routinely shares information” with its partners.
“Fusion centers,” he said, “play a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America.”
In February, a fusion center official told a House subcommittee that the centers were showing significant improvement and sharing more information more effectively than ever before.
He said that during a one-year period, fusion centers had submitted 238 reports of suspicious activity that supported FBI investigations — although critics want to know whether those reports resulted in arrests or convictions.
Mike Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association, noted in his testimony that there was room for improvement.
“Even as we pat ourselves on the back, we must recognize that we are not where we need to be or where our citizens expect us to be,” Sena said.
Edie Triche doesn’t think so either. Her son, Jeremy, was one of the two sheriff’s deputies killed in an ambush by sovereign citizens in Louisiana in 2012.
“There’s a lot more that the government can be doing for us,” she said. “It’s clear it is here in the United States. They can be anywhere.”
DHS has examples of “success stories” on its website representing the work of the 78 fusion centers. Only three are posted on the site for 2014, and none is related to terrorism.
In one, a Florida fusion center helped extradite a resident who was living in the country illegally and was wanted for the murder of a U.S. citizen in the Bahamas. In the others, centers in Alabama and Virginia helped break up drug rings.
DHS lists six success stories for 2013, including apprehending a fugitive, arresting a suspect wanted for producing child pornography and arresting a person impersonating a federal agent.
And the case of Bucky Rogers.
“Fusion Centers Collaborate to Disrupt an Alleged Plot” is the headline of the story on the DHS website about authorities in two states working together to prevent a possible terrorist plot involving a Minnesota man with ties to a hate group. A search of his home, the story said, uncovered Molotov cocktails, suspected pipe bombs and firearms.
The story was referring to Buford “Bucky” Rogers, 24, who was arrested in May 2013 after 50 law enforcement officers raided his parents’ mobile home in Montevideo, Minn., on a tip that he planned to attack the local police station and National Guard armory. The arrest made national news, with the FBI issuing a statement saying authorities believed “that a terror attack was disrupted by law enforcement personnel and that the lives of several local residents were potentially saved.”
Rogers pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm and two explosive devices. At his sentencing hearing, the judge found no evidence of any terror plot and told Rogers that “I don’t think you are a terrorist or part of a conspiracy.”
So it may be no surprise that Coburn isn’t impressed by the fusion centers’ track record.
“Show us one instance where they’ve been a positive contribution to preventing terrorism,” he said. “Nobody can. There’s none.”
Despite the criticism, James Keathley, retired Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent, said he thinks fusion centers play a critical role today.
“Fusion centers do so much more than just terrorism stuff,” said Keathley, who oversaw Missouri’s state fusion center. “Fusion centers gather information that police agencies need in day-to-day police activities, help get people identified in bank robberies, armed robberies. I think there’s certainly a valid use for them.”
The centers are valuable, he said, because some local and state police agencies don’t have a clue about what’s going on in their own backyards.
“Believe me, if we have another 9/11 that happens out here in the next few years, they’ll wonder where the fusion centers were,” Keathley said.
The fusion center concept requires agencies to work together, said Sgt. Robert Wynne, deputy director of the Kansas City area’s center.
“When this came about, it included a lot of entities that we weren’t talking to,” Wynne said. “The fire and police department, you would think they would work together, but before 9/11, we didn’t in most cases.”
In some cases, they still don’t.
Lt. Jimmy Evans said the FBI had the West Memphis shooters on a watch list.
“But nobody else knew,” Evans said. “The FBI, after the investigation, let us know that they already knew about these guys.”
Evans said he understood the need to keep certain information under wraps to protect investigations.
“At the same time, if there’s something life-threatening to an individual, whether it be law enforcement or just an average citizen, somebody should know about it,” he said.
Reaction to a DHS report in 2009 ended up handcuffing the agency’s efforts to fight domestic terrorists.
The report came after a sudden spate of attacks following the election of Barack Obama as president in November 2008.
A predominantly African-American church was set on fire and destroyed in Massachusetts in what the FBI termed a hate crime. The next month, a father and son planted a bomb outside a bank in Woodburn, Ore., killing two law enforcement officers, maiming the police chief and injuring a bank employee. The two men believed the Obama administration would implement tougher restrictions on gun ownership.
And in January, on the day after Obama’s inauguration, a man went on a shooting spree in Brockton, Mass., killing two West African immigrants as part of a bigger plan to kill black, Latino and Jewish people.
Johnson, the former DHS senior analyst, said then-Secretary Janet Napolitano asked his team to look into whether the rise in extremist activity was linked to Obama’s election.
Their report, issued in April 2009, warned that the economic downturn, combined with the election of America’s first African-American president and the potential passage of new firearms restrictions, could trigger a surge in extremist violence, particularly in the white supremacist and militia movements.
The report also said that extremists may attempt to recruit disgruntled veterans — something militias acknowledge they have attempted to do and say in some cases they have succeeded — in order to take advantage of their military training and combat skills.
The most significant domestic terrorism threat, the report concluded, was white supremacist lone wolves and small terrorist cells that embraced violent, right-wing extremist ideology.
The report was leaked within days, and the bashing began. Critics accused the government of portraying veterans and conservatives as potential terrorists.
“I was inundated,” said Johnson, who described himself as a conservative Republican.
Napolitano ended up issuing an apology to veterans and officially withdrew the document.
Johnson said the backlash ultimately silenced the discussion about the dangers posed by domestic extremists. Although a plan was in place to hire 10 more analysts, he said, the agency instead went from six analysts tracking right-wing, non-Islamic terrorism to only one. Now, he said, it has three.
In contrast, he said, DHS has dozens of analysts monitoring the threat of Islamic terrorism.
The agency would not verify those numbers for The Star, saying the information was classified.
Then, in November 2009, Johnson said, Homeland Security management abruptly gutted the domestic terrorism team, and he was reassigned to work Islamic extremist cases. By that time, he said, the agency had canceled all reports on militia extremists, white supremacists, sovereign citizens and other forms of non-Islamic threats. It also suspended law enforcement training on such threats, he said.
Since then, at least 10 more law enforcement officers have been killed.
Johnson eventually left the DHS and now runs a consulting business. He later wrote a book about his experience.
Overall, Pitcavage said, the DHS report was solid but wasn’t written carefully enough.
Because of the fallout, Pitcavage said, Johnson’s analyst unit “was basically muzzled.”
“They were no longer allowed to send out reports, and as a result of that, a number of analysts left.”
Despite the political outcry over the report, some of its warnings turned out to be on the mark.
In April 2009, a self-proclaimed white supremacist ambushed and shot to death three Pittsburgh police officers. Three weeks later, a man in Florida who feared a gun ban killed two Okaloosa County sheriff’s deputies as they tried to arrest him. In June 2009, white supremacist James W. Von Brunn shot a security guard to death at the crowded U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The same year, Missouri’s state fusion center in Jefferson City wrote its own flawed report.
“The Modern Militia Movement” document was poorly edited — even misspelling Obama’s name — and appeared to link supporters of conservative causes and third-party candidates to domestic terrorists.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder held a news conference to denounce the report and call for Missouri’s public safety director to be placed on administrative leave while it could be investigated.
Keathley, of the Missouri Highway Patrol, issued a statement saying improvements were needed in the oversight of the fusion center. He also ordered the report to be pulled.
Following an investigation, the fusion center director was replaced and the center was placed under the patrol’s supervision.
The swift condemnation of the 2009 reports shows just how explosive it can be to suggest that certain ideologies have ties to violence.
“There were a lot of truths in that report, and a lot of them have come true since that report was written,” Keathley said of the Missouri report in a recent interview. “But the report shouldn’t have gone out with references made to anybody that had anything to do with politics.”
Keathley said the furor over the report likely resulted in fusion centers being pressured to back off the monitoring of extremist groups.
“I would say that was very possible,” he said.
Johnson said the incident had a major impact on the way the Missouri fusion center tracked domestic terrorism.
Keathley’s new procedures “placed a virtual stranglehold on domestic extremism reporting and timely intelligence dissemination,” Johnson said. “The topic had become too politically charged.”
During that time, Johnson had been working on a project with authorities in Missouri and Illinois, including both state’s fusion centers, that examined extremist activity in those states. “It never got published,” he said.
Conservatives complain that liberals are exaggerating the threat of domestic terrorism — even accusing right-leaning Americans of being prone to terrorism — while ignoring the growing threat of Islamic extremists.
In February, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin denounced a new DHS report warning of a domestic terrorism threat from sovereign citizen extremists as an example of the government putting tax dollars to work “defaming conservatives” and “deflecting attention from worldwide murderous jihad.”
But liberals say conservatives are turning domestic terrorism into a partisan issue and downplaying the threat posed by American extremists with ultra-right ideologies.
Citing one instance, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that “the political right went into familiar denial mode.”
He pointed to a February edition of Fox News’ “The Five,” where co-hosts criticized the recent DHS report. Two of them said liberals can name only two right-wing terrorist events over the past four decades. “Give us a recent right-wing or Christian crusade or terrorist attack that happened on American soil,” Eric Bolling said.
Even defining domestic terrorism can be thorny.
For example, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as “Americans attacking Americans because of U.S.-based extremist ideologies.”
In a 2013 domestic terrorist assessment, the agency warned of potential threats from anti-government extremists, white supremacists, anarchists, black separatists, eco-terrorists and activists involved in the abortion debate.
Islamic extremists who commit acts on American soil weren’t included in the report, the agency says, because it considers them international, not domestic, terrorists.
But conservatives criticized the agency for failing to include extremists inspired by radical Islamic ideologies, such as the Boston Marathon bombers, as domestic terrorists. That shows the government is concentrating on right-wingers while worrying about offending Muslims, they said.
“By omitting Islamic jihad in its Domestic Threat Assessment, the FBI is willfully choosing to ignore the realities of Islam in the name of political correctness,” wrote conservative blogger Janna Brock on the “For Truth’s Sake” website.
Nobody is saying that tracking domestic terrorism is easy. Just look at the case of F. Glenn Miller and the debate over whether he could have been stopped.
“To me, that whole incident is an intelligence failure,” said Johnson, the former DHS analyst.
Miller was on the FBI’s radar in the 1980s, Johnson said, when he was charged with serious weapons violations. Miller spent only three years in prison, however, because he agreed to testify against other white supremacists in a federal sedition trial.
Johnson notes that Miller “was in their witness protection program and yet they weren’t monitoring his activities. They didn’t see that he went right back to what he was doing before.”
In 2008, Miller’s 30-year-old son was killed in a shootout with a Marionville, Mo., police officer after he wrecked his car and then shot to death a man who stopped to help.
“When his son did that, the FBI should have said, what was his relationship with the father and what influence did the father have on the son that gave him the idea that it’s OK to try and kill a cop?” Johnson said. “But he was pretty much forgotten about.”
Johnson acknowledged that hindsight is 20/20.
“But at least the FBI could have been more involved in what this guy was doing and maybe talked to him a little bit more,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, had similar questions. He asked Attorney General Eric Holder in June whether Miller should have been “more carefully monitored once released from prison.”
Moran received a response four months later from Peter J. Kadzik, an assistant attorney general, saying that those who leave the witness protection program receive no additional monitoring and that “it would not be appropriate to comment on pending matters.”
Even Miller himself expected authorities to be tracking him over the years.
“Because I’m very active, you know. I ran for office twice,” he told The Star in a series of telephone interviews from jail. “I was doing a lot of media interviews, radio talk shows.”
He said he took extra precautions as he planned last year’s attacks because he was certain he was under surveillance.
“I didn’t spend a whole lot of time researching because I figured my computer was being monitored,” he said.
Miller said he was surprised that nobody questioned him when he was staking out the Jewish Community Center in the days before the shootings.
“The first time I went up there, I had no guns, nothing,” he said. “I wanted to check and see if they were going to stop me.”
The ADL’s Pitcavage said it would have been extremely difficult to predict that Miller was going to become violent.
He noted, however, that Miller had recently begun praising and in some cases communicating with white supremacists who had committed murders.
Retired FBI agent Jeff Lanza said it’s impractical for authorities to track people just because they might commit a crime.
“Hate itself is not a crime,” he said. “You can’t continually follow people and conduct surveillance on them on the idea that they might become violent. No one has the resources to do that, nor do you have the legal authority to do something like that.”
And yet, critics ask, how can you detect a crime that you’re not looking for?
Some say fusion centers might be better positioned to take on all crimes without so much supposed focus on terrorism.
“I think they serve a very legitimate purpose if you go to the all-crimes concept because you have an analysis unit that can look at any type of criminal behavior and make those analytical links from different jurisdictions to link any type of crimes,” said Bob Harris, a former Federal Bureau of Prisons case manager who now teaches law enforcement officers how to identify and handle domestic extremists.
In fact, Sena of the National Fusion Center Association said in a congressional subcommittee hearing in February that most centers have shifted to an all-crimes approach.
As for domestic terrorism, some critics wonder whether it would be wiser to shift away from fusion centers and beef up the FBI.
The FBI already has more than 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces that work with state and local authorities.
“My domestic terrorism operations unit has been busy for the last 20 years,” FBI Director James Comey told Congress last year. “Nothing has changed for us in that regard. It is something we spend a lot of time worrying about and apply resources to make sure we anticipate and address.”
Last year, the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, called on Congress to reduce the number of fusion centers in light of FBI task forces and field intelligence groups.
“This system is duplicative and ineffective,” the foundation said.
That muddle has tripped up the FBI in its own efforts to deter domestic terrorism, German said.
“The FBI has issues as well,” he said. “The FBI also has failed significantly in many cases.”
One problem is a flood of often irrelevant information coming from fusion centers, which regularly forward so many reports of suspicious activity that they confuse the system, he said.
“There’s so much information being shared and collected and so many reports of dubious value being produced that no one person or entity could ever keep up with it all,” German said.
And the FBI itself doesn’t do a good job of following up and letting fusion centers know whether the material they provided was even useful, he said.
The agency used to issue annual terrorism reports that included details of violence by domestic extremists along with specific numbers of incidents and plots that were deterred.
The report “gave us a barometer of what the FBI, the lead investigative agency on terrorism matters, thought the problems were,” Johnson said.
But the reports became less regular and were eventually phased out altogether after 2005.
Some say the FBI’s primary emphasis remains on international terrorism.
When the agency touts its successes, only a few involve deterring domestic extremists. The rest of the 43 “major terrorism cases” noted on its website since 9/11 dealt with foreign or foreign-inspired terrorism.
Asked for examples of success stories, the FBI provided three “completed cases” from 2013 and 2014, one of them a fraud case. In one case, however, two men were sentenced last November in Atlanta after plotting to attack government officials and federal employees with ricin, a deadly toxin. In the third case, a convicted felon in Ohio was sentenced for possessing 18 firearms and 40,000 rounds of ammunition.
An agency spokesman added that the FBI is doing a better job working with state and local law enforcement on domestic terrorism cases.
In the wake of the Jewish center shootings last year, Holder announced he was reviving a domestic terrorism task force that had not met since 9/11.
And in a statement emailed to The Star on Friday about the Oklahoma City bombing, Holder said that in the years since, “the Department of Justice has rededicated itself to the fight against homegrown threats and has been aggressive in going after those who would inflict violence on their fellow citizens. Our measures have been effective, and our record is strong.”
Yet the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI, faces challenges.
Funding has been slashed for the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program, run by a Justice Department agency, to train officers how to investigate and prevent terrorism.
A Justice spokeswoman said in an email that Obama requested $2 million for the SLATT Program for fiscal year 2015 but Congress did not approve any funding. The agency said it would provide $1 million from within the Justice Department budget to keep the program going.
Since it was created in 1996, the SLATT Program has trained more than 140,000 law enforcement professionals, the agency said. In addition, its Train-the-Trainer Workshop has educated more than 3,000 law enforcement trainer professionals, who in turn have trained 258,000 officers.
Paudert, who conducts training for SLATT, said the cuts already are having an impact.
“This is one of the best training tools in this country for law enforcement, and they’re phasing it out,” he said. “I’m scheduled for four or five more sessions, and that’s it.”
Part of the problem is that there is a lack of pressure to pursue violent domestic extremists, said Harris, who specializes in training law officers about extremist threats.
“There’s no general public perception across the United States as to what the true threat is,” Harris said. “And, of course, public perception drives the political agenda too.”
He doesn’t see much getting better in the foreseeable future.
“And that means more people could be killed,” he said. “That’s what really troubles me.”
The Star’s Matt Campbell contributed to this report.