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Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention

Nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks, the threat of terrorism is increasingly complex and evolving. Foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) like al Qaeda and ISIL continue to plot against the United States, whether through directed attacks or by inspiring action by homegrown violent extremists (HVEs). At the same time, there is a growing threat from domestic actors-- such as racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, including white supremacist violent extremists, anti-government and anti-authority violent extremists, and others—that drive terrorist violence.

The United States has also experienced multiple targeted violence events, which often lack a clearly discernible political or ideological motive. Though such attacks carry such severity and magnitude that suggest a clear intent to inflict a high degree of mass injury, destruction, or death commensurate with known terrorist tactics. Targeted violence may be a result of perceived grievances and includes attacks within schools, workplaces, large public gatherings, and other settings.

While the underlying rationales may differ, the threats of targeted violence and terrorism increasingly overlap, intersect, and interact with each other. Likewise, there is some alignment in the tools that can be applied to address them. Preventing targeted violence and terrorism necessitates using all tools in our toolbox: reactive measures, such as the traditional law enforcement tools of investigations and prosecutions and proactive measures that are aimed at building protective capabilities of individuals and groups. These proactive prevention activities focus on empowering communities and individuals to marginalize violent messaging while protecting and championing democratic responsibilities and values.

Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention

The Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (OTVTP) accomplishes this prevention mission by engaging and collaborating with local communities to enable education, awareness, and training programs that work to build a whole-of-society prevention architecture. Ultimately, the core goal of OTVTP’s prevention efforts is to equip and empower local efforts—including peers, teachers, community leaders, and law enforcement—to prevent individuals from mobilizing to violence before it becomes a law enforcement matter.

On April 19, 2019, DHS announced the transition of the Office for Terrorism Prevention Partnerships (OTPP) to OTVTP. This widened the scope of previous Departmental efforts to ensure that all forms of violence, regardless of the ideological motivation, are being addressed. The Office leverages, coordinates, and builds upon the broad range of prevention activities that are currently implemented across DHS, including grants, community and law enforcement awareness briefings, threat assessments, and information sharing.

OTVTP supports the 2018 National Strategy for Counterterrorism by emphasizing the importance of preventing terrorist radicalization and recruitment, while also countering targeted violence, such as mass casualty shootings and school violence, including attacks where race, religion or ethnicity is a motivating factor.

In September 2019, DHS released its Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence, which, for the first time in national-level strategy, explicitly states that terrorism and targeted violence overlap, intersect, and interact as problems, and that they necessitate a shared set of solutions. The Strategic Framework provides a comprehensive treatment of preventative tools, including increasing societal awareness, building trust through engagement and exercises, countering terrorist influence online, and developing prevention frameworks with local partners. OTVTP's programs and initiatives are expressly aligned with in this Framework.

Awareness Programs

Public awareness is a critical component of preventing targeted violence and terrorism. It is imperative that the whole of society is informed and aware of the threat environment, risk factors, behavioral indicators, and what to do when an individual of concern is identified. With the ultimate goal of increasing the capacity of local, credible voices to counter hate that mobilizes individuals to terrorism, OTVTP is dedicated to bolstering awareness through outreach programs.

Community Awareness Briefing (CAB)

  • The CAB program began in 2008 as a tool utilized by the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to educate concerned community members about the process of radicalization to violence.
  • The CAB helps audience members begin to think about possible actions that could create “off ramps” in a person’s pathway to radicalization before criminal activity occurs.
  • The CAB uses a series of case studies covering the spectrum of violent extremist groups to illustrate the radicalization and recruitment process, recruitment process and to identify vulnerabilities and points of intervention.
  • The CAB is an unclassified presentation on radicalization and violent extremist recruitment designed to build awareness and understanding of violent extremism and to catalyze community efforts on prevention. The CAB has been presented to law enforcement, public safety officials, and directly to communities in multiple U.S. cities over the past few years. It often serves as a catalyst for community-driven CVE projects.
  • How to request: To request an Awareness Briefing for your organization or community, please email OTVTP at CABBriefingRequests@hq.dhs.gov

Law Enforcement Awareness Briefing (LAB)

  • The Law Enforcement Awareness Brief (LAB) is a 2-5-hour customizable brief designed for small and mid-sized state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies on their role in the national terrorism prevention strategy. The LAB is delivered by State, Local, Tribal, Territorial (SLTT) law enforcement to SLTT law enforcement.
  • The LAB addresses the unique role of SLTT law enforcement in the national terrorism prevention strategy involving engagement with local communities.
  • The LAB is the central element of a broader Training-of-Trainers (ToT) program developed by OTVTP, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC), and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL).
  • The goal is to develop and support a national cadre of SLTT law enforcement instructors who, after completing the DHS ToT program, will offer the Brief in their home jurisdictions to other law enforcement personnel.

CREX (Community Resilience Exercise)

  • The Community Resilience Exercise (CREX) is a half-day table-top exercise designed to improve communication between law enforcement and communities and to share ideas on how best to build community resilience. The CREX focuses on building trust and empowering communities against violent extremism domestically, which directly supports the Strategic Framework. The CREX is coordinated with local partners to implement this exercise in cities across the United States.
  • The CREX uses an unfolding scenario of possible violent extremist activity with two threads: one thread disclosing what the police have learned and the other thread what the community experiences. The scenario is revealed in several stages, with participants breaking into small groups after each stage to discuss potential responses and how they should work together. The scenario is hypothetical, but based on the behaviors exhibited by past violent extremists prior to their arrest. The exercise is facilitated by an individual with credibility in both the community and government. At the end of the exercise, the facilitators help the participants create a local action plan focused on prevention and intervention.
  • How to request: To request a CREX for your organization or community, please email OTVTP at CABBriefingRequests@hq.dhs.gov

Engagement Lines of Effort

OTVTP implements a full range of partnerships to support and enhance efforts by law enforcement, faith leaders, local government officials, and communities to prevent targeted violence and terrorism. OTVTP also provides these stakeholders with training and technical assistance to develop prevention programs in support of resilient communities, while strengthening networks and creating new collaborations.

Grants for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention

  • Fiscal Year 2020 Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program: Congress provided $10 million for grants to support state and local organizations to develop capabilities that prevent targeted violence and terrorism. DHS will award these funds on a competitive basis to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments; nonprofits; and institutions of higher education. The funding will result in the creation of sustainable prevention capabilities. Additional information will appear on the TVTP Grant Program page as more information is available.
  • Fiscal Year 2016 Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program concluded performance in 2019. DHS evaluated the awarded projects for positive indicators of outcomes and identified six models for replication in other jurisdictions. Over 80% of projects are being sustained in part or in whole, permanently enhancing prevention capabilities in the communities they served.  DHS has cataloged promising practices and lessons learned from the program which will be incorporated into future prevention grant programs. For more information, please visit FY 2016 Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Grant Program.

Field Staff

OTVTP uses field-deployed staff to coordinate state and local prevention efforts and ensure their effectiveness. In Colorado, a combination of DHS resources from OTVTP, CRCL and other components have led state and local prevention programs to intervene in 40 potential cases of targeted violence and terrorism. A recent analysis of these cases found 35 of them related to violent white supremacy. RAND observed the field staff program has significant impact on the communities it served, with significant increases in terror prevention programs where field staff were-- or had been-- present. 

Intervention Models

OTVTP has identified six intervention models for replication. Each model was supported by two or more grant projects with preliminary results suggesting the model could be successfully replicated. They are as follows:

  • Training for Members of the Public: Empowering the general public with knowledge and resources to protect their communities from targeted violence and terrorism.
  • Community-Led Resilience Building: Using community-based organizations to engage youth to develop protective factors that mitigate risks associated with terrorism.
  • Law Enforcement Training: Training law enforcement on the threat of mobilization or radicalization to violence and ways they can support community efforts to intervene when individuals have not yet committed a crime.
  • Law Enforcement-Led Youth Resilience Building: Using existing law enforcement officer resources to develop protective factors in youth, creating greater community trust in law enforcement, and enhancing law enforcement responsiveness to community concerns.
  • Regional Prevention Planning and Implementation: Establishing regional frameworks for preventing the mobilization or radicalization of individuals within the community and institutionalizing those planned efforts in specific organizations or other entities.
  • Intervention Capabilities: Developing local capability to receive referrals of individuals with risk factors for targeted violence and manage cases as needed.

Addressing Terrorist Use of the Internet (TUI)

Digital Forums on Terrorism PreventionDigital Forum on Terrorism Prevention flyer image

Digital Forums on Terrorism Prevention are all-day events that offer a platform for community leaders in various fields to engage with tech companies to discuss innovative and inclusive responses to terrorism in the digital space. Attendees also engage with marketing professionals to learn how to improve, amplify, and promote quality content online. These events build the capacity of credible, local voices. Prevention programs require a “whole-of-society” approach, which call for engaging all facets of a local community to prevent individuals from mobilizing to violence. Technology is critical to terrorism prevention, and can support efforts at the community level to amplify messaging, assess risks, and inform reporting.

Social Media CAB

  • The online training course, “Countering Terrorists Exploitation of Social Media and the Internet,” was developed by the U.S. Government’s domestically-focused Countering Violent Extremism Task Force Developed and the UK Government’s Home Office. The approximately two-hour training is designed to educate staff at startup or moderately-sized technology companies about how terrorists may seek to exploit their platforms. It may also be an informative resource for content moderators at the leading social media companies.
  • This narrated course includes videos and images of official and unofficial terrorist media products along with quizzes to test knowledge. The course also highlights initiatives where governments and industry have worked either together or independently to counter this threat. Significant progress has already been made to date in countering terrorist exploitation of social media and the internet. This briefing will encourage additional thinking about how to continue collaboration on this issue.
  • With 300 hours of content uploaded to content service platforms every minute, it is a challenge for companies to identify and remove or block terrorist content, especially smaller companies with limited resources. The training examines the online activities of ISIS, al Qaeda, and these two groups’ supporters, as well as white supremacist extremists.

Digital Marketing Academy on Terrorism Prevention

The Digital Marketing Academy for Terrorism Prevention is an 6-week online course created by the inter-agency Countering Violent Extremism Task Force used to train community partners and law enforcement core digital marketing skills to develop effective online campaigns help in their work to counter violent extremism online at the community level.

Class 1: Measuring the Effectiveness of Digital CVE Campaigns with Analytics

Class 2: How to Attribute Online and Offline CVE Campaigns

Class 3: Clearly Define Your Target Audience

Class 4: Content and Email Marketing

Class 5: Owned, Paid, and Earned Media (Part 1)

Class 6: Owned, Paid, and Earned Media (Part 2)

To request access to these courses, please email TerrorismPrevention@hq.dhs.gov.

Policy Coordination

Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request

The President’s FY2021 Budget strengthens the DHS prevention and protection missions. Nearly two decades after the attacks of September 11th, the United States faces an increasingly complex and evolving threat of terrorism and targeted violence. Through better informing, empowering, and equipping our citizens and our state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) authorities, as well as our private sector, non- governmental, and community leaders, we will enhance the safety of our nation.

The full text of requested program enhancements for DHS Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention and Protection efforts can be found here.

2019 DHS Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence

The DHS Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence explains how the Department will use the tools and expertise that have protected and strengthened the country from foreign terrorist organizations to address the evolving challenges of today. The third goal of the DHS Strategic Framework, titled “Prevent Terrorism and Targeted Violence,” lays a significant marker for DHS in the prevention space by identifying a series of actions that serves as the workplan for OTVTP.

The full text of the Strategic Framework can be found here.

2018 National Counterterrorism Strategy

The 2018 National Counterterrorism Strategy emphasizes the importance of prevention in countering terrorism. The Strategy states that it "prioritizes a broader range of non-military capabilities, such as our ability to prevent and intervene in terrorist recruitment, minimize the appeal of terrorist propaganda online, and build societal resilience to terrorism."

Putting an end to all forms of targeted violence and terrorism, including violent white supremacy, requires a “whole of society” approach, predicated on continuous dialogue and coordination with public and private stakeholders at both the national and local level. Public awareness and engagement is key to prevention.

The full text of the National Counterterrorism Strategy can be found here.

Prevention Resources

OTVTP maintains a list of current resources about violent extremism as well as examples of effective tools and programs to build strong and safe communities. This information will be updated as it is published and produced.

Contact the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention

To request an Awareness Briefing for your organization or community, please email OTVTP at cabbriefingrequests@hq.dhs.gov

For all other inquiries, please contact TerrorismPrevention@hq.dhs.gov.

Last Published Date: February 24, 2020

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