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How to identify a terrorist

What does the picture of a terrorist really look like? (Image courtesy office of Jim McDermott)

A few weeks ago here in Seattle the FBI put up bus posters with photographs of wanted terrorists. The ads were pulled down after congressman Jim McDermott and others thought it perpetuated an anti-Muslim stereotype.

“Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes in this world. If you’re going to talk about terrorists, don’t just talk about people with brown skin,” said McDermott.

This got us wondering – what would the face of domestic terrorism on a billboard look like if put together by an expert?

So we asked Daryl Johnson, who for six years was the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security to tell us how he would go about engaging the public helping track down terrorists.

“I think a better approach would actually be looking at behaviors rather than people’s skin color. People that for unknown reasons are purchasing large amounts of ammunition or firearms or precursors to bomb making,” said Johnson.

There are a lot of people who buy multiple guns because that is their right and they enjoy having guns, right?

“Right. So what you look for are changes in behavior,” said Johnson, “a shift toward illegal weapons such as machine guns or silencers, things like that. You’re also looking for weapons purchases coupled with a person’s preoccupation with being anti-government or having extreme views against certain racial groups.”

But it’s your right to rant against the government, isn’t it? At what point does that go from simply free speech to something that should get you arrested?

“You can’t take any of these behaviors in isolation. It’s usually a grouping of behaviors,” said Johnson.

“But whenever you have someone that is going from making anti-government statements to actually letters that are threatening the person or saying that they want to kill the person, also extreme paranoia, feeling that they’re being watch, and that there’s all these conspiracies against them, and that the economy is going to be collapsing and the end of the world is coming about. Then I think the concern level goes up more.”

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