Armed Hostilities

Terrorism History in the United States

Table of Contents
  1. The Eighteenth and the Nineteenth Centuries
  2. Terrorism in the Twentieth Century
  3. The Twenty-First Century
  4. Conclusion
  5. References

Terrorism is widely known as a social problem that poses a threat to people all over the world. The issue in question has a long history in the United States. The country’s population is extremely diverse in terms of both ethnicity and religion. Due to this and other factors, there have been numerous organized groups willing to disrupt public order and punish innocent people for other individuals’ decisions.

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The Eighteenth and the Nineteenth Centuries

In the eighteenth century, after the proclamation of the country’s independence, two mass killings occurred as a result of conflicts between Native Americans and settlers in Ohio (Blin, 2016). Also, despite the lack of human casualties, many authors regard the Boston Tea Party, a well-known case of international provocation, as a significant event causing consequences similar to those of actual terroristic acts (Blin, 2016). The nineteenth century was a historical period when the majority of acts that fall under the modern definition of terrorist attacks were committed due to territorial conflicts. The most famous example is the Mountain Meadows massacre that resulted in the death of emigrants and exacerbated the Utah War (Gordon & Shipps, 2017). Similar to terrorists’ methods of intimidation, national security strategies of that period strictly depended on the state of technology and involved the basic spying techniques, the use of weapons to reduce the number of casualties, and inter-level partnerships.

Terrorism in the Twentieth Century

The twentieth century was a significant period in the history of terrorism in the United States, partially due to the development of new weapons. In particular, the use of improvised explosive devices to attack the authorities and intimidate people became more common. Many of the terroristic acts organized during the first half of the century were caused by conflicts based on race and some organizations’ willingness to show disrespect towards police officers and question the authority of local law enforcement agencies. The most famous examples include the Milwaukee bombing in 1917 (the attack against a police department in Wisconsin) and the Wall Street attacks in the early 1920s typically associated with racial clashes and anarchists’ activity (Blin, 2016).

The emergence of new organized movements required the use of more effective national security strategies. Twenty years before 1920 are regarded as the second important wave of terrorism in the United States related to the increased activity of anarchist organizations and trade unions in the West (Blin, 2016). Anarchist terrorism imported to the United States from Europe was a growing issue, and the authorities conducted a series of executions in the 1920s to suppress the movement (Blin, 2016). Importantly, despite the laws aimed to prevent some foreigners from coming to the United States, the issue was difficult to cope with since anarchist thinking was becoming more and more popular among common citizens.

The next thirty years became the period when the authorities concentrated more on the growth of universal fascism and other international issues. The Capitol attack organized by extremists from Puerto Rico in 1954 preceded the new wave of terrorism in the 1960s and the 1970s (Blin, 2016). The use of violence was associated with the New Left extremism and the emergence of new movements, including the well-known Symbionese Liberation Army responsible for a series of robberies and violent attacks on individuals (Blin, 2016).

Importantly, during the era of left terrorism, new approaches to influencing people were used. In particular, there was a range of new propaganda tactics targeted at students. Due to terrorists’ efforts focused on political activism, some small but dangerous organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Weather Underground Organization were created (Blin, 2016). The preferred tactics of terrorism varied depending on the group and its final goals. Judging from the statistics on domestic terrorist attacks before the 1980s, the most radical organizations were likely to use bombings and shootings to maximize the number of victims and spread panic (Blin, 2016). In addition to that, kidnappings became a popular method used by terrorists. For instance, the SLA organized the kidnapping of one publishing magnate’s granddaughter to fulfill their own purposes (Blin, 2016). The emergence of new movements that threatened people’s security encouraged the authorities to develop additional terrorism prevention measures focused on studying the newly imported ideologies to predict terrorists’ actions and goals.

The 1970s became the next important epoch in the history of the United States due to the new type of terrorism partially related to religious extremism. The well-known court decision of 1973 that made abortions more available to women who were not rape survivors caused a violent response from Christian extremists (Fodeman, 2015). Anti-abortion terrorism in the United States reached its peak in the 1990s; however, despite the lessons from the past, violence related to dissimilar opinions on women’s right to have abortions still exists (Blin, 2016; Fodeman, 2015). For instance, during the 1990s, many healthcare specialists providing abortions were killed by radical pro-life activists (Blin, 2016). For this type of terrorism, it can be difficult to single out the most popular tactics.

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As for the last decade of the century, it was the period when numerous violent attacks were committed. For instance, the second-largest terroristic act in the United States was the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma in 1995 that killed 160 people and left more than 600 injured (Blin, 2016). This incident helped the authorities to understand the issue of a new type of terrorism – the activity of radical right movements. After that, state, federal, and local law enforcement authorities united their efforts to study the matter, and two people were prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (Blin, 2016). Also, legislative changes were introduced to prevent similar cases in the future.

The Twenty-First Century

The current century is often regarded as the epoch of radical Islamism even though other types of terrorism still exist. First, the globally known September 11 attacks organized by al-Qaeda in 2001 caused almost three thousand deaths (Blin, 2016). The government’s response followed immediately – the FBI started the largest inquiry in its history to identify all people involved in the organization of the attacks (Blin, 2016).

Additionally, speaking about the key trends, mass shootings in educational institutions, religious buildings, and even nightclubs are among the most common terrorists’ tactics in the current century. Nowadays, ethnic diversity in the United States is extremely high, which helps some organizations to popularize the ideas about white genocide, thus preparing the ground for attacks on religious minorities (Blin, 2016). As for the approaches to national security implemented after the deadliest attack in 2001, the United States follows the “war on terror” strategy that emphasizes intelligence efforts to prevent terroristic acts (Blin, 2016, p. 410).


To sum it up, the history of the United States is full of events related to the activity of different types of terrorists. Particular movements posing a threat to people’s security include anarchists, individuals supporting far-left and far-right ideas, and radical religious groups. Since the eighteenth century, the U.S. authorities have suppressed a variety of unwanted organizations, but the development of new methods of terrorism prevention is still a relevant problem.


Blin, A. (2016). The United States confronting terrorism. In G. Chaliand & A. Blin (Eds.), The history of terrorism: From antiquity to ISIS (pp. 398-419). Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Fodeman, A. D. (2015). Safety and danger valves: Functional displacement in American anti-abortion terrorism. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 7(3), 169-183.

Gordon, S. B., & Shipps, J. (2017). Fatal convergence in the kingdom of God: The Mountain Meadows massacre in American history. Journal of the Early Republic, 37(2), 307-347.

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