FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – August is Antiterrorism Awareness Month and serves as an opportunity for Soldiers, Families and civilians alike to acknowledge and learn about the ever-present, evolving threat of terrorism to the United States from origins both foreign and domestic.
Bill Fedak, installation antiterrorism officer, said what constitutes the biggest and most immediate threat to Army posts, government facilities, personnel and citizens are homegrown violent extremists who often use social media platforms as a means of recruitment. For this reason parents should be hypervigilant of their children’s activities online.
Social media is a popular means of disseminating information and reaching a large audience in minimal time, Fedak said, and that is why terrorist groups tend to use it.
“One way to look at social media’s play in extremism is this – it is practically free to use and most of the time people can choose to remain anonymous,” he said. “This is why people with nefarious intentions can exploit social media for their own ill purposes.”
Terrorists may reach out from overseas with something as simple as an iPhone or if the threat is domestic, individuals plotting terrorist attacks or looking to recruit members to their cause may connect to online chatrooms or forums to manipulate or convince others to support or join them, Fedak said.
“A domestic extremist, stateside, can participate in online discussions and then message a date to protest against the federal government and urge the destruction of public property as part of the violent gathering,” he said.
The use of social media in organized terror attacks has increased in recent years. As social media evolves, so do the complex methods terrorists use to enlist others to aid in acts of violence. This is especially concerning for parents, Fedak said, given that youth are more impressionable and easier to persuade in situations where the goal is recruitment. Youth also constitute the largest group of social media users.
“Anti-western civilization campaigns, which sometimes stem from pocket cells on the internet, urge others to act out in the interest of terrorism,” he said.
“Also, threat-themed propaganda broadcasted through various social media platforms aim to evoke a fear reaction and gain sympathizers along the way,” he said. “Preventing susceptible populations from falling prey to online activities like these is always a deep concern. Domestic extremist ideology, too, presents an increasing threat, with similar concerns about social media aiding in radicalization.”
Monitor online activity
Fedak said parents can steer their children away from these kinds of interactions and prevent them from being pulled into extremist circles by being aware of their online activity.
“Parental control software enables parents to track sites that children have visited,” he said. “That is one way. Another method is to educate children about online predatory activities and the fact that there are con artists in all shapes and forms on the internet who will stop at nothing to exploit people.”
Parents should not assume their children cannot or haven’t come into contact with the kind of predatory online recruitment tactics that extremists and terrorists use to reach people, Fedak said. Parents must have an open dialogue with their children about what predatory online recruitment tactics looks and sounds like.
“The criminal aspects of terrorism and extremism have to be part of a Family discussion,” he said. “Parents must take the time to teach their kids about online safety. Too often, unsuspecting children get lured down the wrong path while online. With the right approach and parental support, this peril can be prevented.”
How to broach the subject
The dangers that exist for youth in the form of online radicalization are serious enough that in February 2013 the White House released a policy statement titled “Online Safety for Youth: Working to Counter Online Radicalization to Violence in the United States” with the aim of educating parents and youth about extremism online.
Parents are encouraged to not only monitor their children’s social media accounts but also to openly talk about the subject and ask questions about their online activity. They also should remind their children while people online might feel like friends, they may not be who they say they are and may have ulterior motives.
Some tips include being aware what sites children visit, inquiring where they meet their online friends, how they communicate and what information they share. Parents also teach their children to be cautious about what they share with people online.
See something, say something
The best way to counter the efforts of extremists and terrorists is to be vigilant and report anything suspicious, Fedak said.
“The bottom line is this – being vigilant in all environments is extremely important,” he said. “Also, observing what is around you and being cognizant of what seems to be out of place and ‘not right’ may be a tip off that something is in fact suspicious and should be reported.”
Community members who observe any suspicious behaviors should call 911 first, and there are several local law enforcement agencies that can respond as well: Clarksville Police Department: 931-645-7480; Hopkinsville Police Department: 270-890-1500; and Oak Grove Police Department: 270-439-4602.
Installation-specific contacts include the Fort Campbell Military Police: 270-798-7111; Army Counterintelligence, Fort Campbell, Kentucky: 240-856-5255; and the Army Criminal Investigation Division, Fort Campbell, Kentucky: 931-801-0316.
When reporting an incident remember the “five Ws”: who you saw, what you saw, when you saw it, where it occurred, and why it’s suspicious. This applies to any situation whether online or in-person, Fedak said.