5 Domestic Terror Groups to Keep on the Radar

From killing in the name of the unborn to racking up $48 million+ in damage to save the planet, five domestic terror groups have plagued the last 20 years.

According to a 2015 study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, most police agencies view anti-government violent extremists – not radicalized Muslims – as the greatest threat of political violence they face. In that same study, eco-terrorism ranked third, right below violent extremism inspired by Al-Qaeda.

Here are five terror threats to keep track of:

#1 Army of God

The Army of God is a Christian extremist organization linked to multiple incidents of anti-abortion violence spanning over decades. Formed in 1982, members of the terrorist group are notorious for the bombing of abortion clinics, acts of kidnapping, murder, and attempted murder.

One of the most well-known incidents of violence tied to the group was the 2009 assassination of physician George Tiller, who was shot to death while serving as an usher during a service in his church. He was targeted for performing late-term abortions.

The Army of God recently made headlines in 2015, when Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. opened fire in a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. A police officer and two civilians were killed. Five officers and four civilians were wounded. Dear told police “no more baby parts” after he was taken into custody.

While not directly affiliated with Army of God, Dear described its members as “heroes” years prior to the attack.

Donald Spitz, Army of God’s spokesperson, continues to run the organization’s website, where Dear is listed as a “hero who stood up for the unborn.” The FBI has been watching Spitz for over 20 years.

#2 Phineas Priesthood

The Phineas Priesthood is not a group, but a name for individuals who commit acts of violence based on ideology detailed in a 1990 book written by white supremacist Richard Kelly Hoskins. This brand of Christian terrorism lists interracial relationships, homosexuality, and abortion among its targets.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center outlines, the Priesthood does not have leaders, meetings, or a traditional membership process. Those who wish to become a Phineas Priest are ordained by committing a “Phineas action.”  Like many terror threats on this list, the lack of any formal organization makes predicting or thwarting an attack difficult.

Followers of the Phineas ideology are responsible for a number of violent attacks. Among them was a series of incidents in 1996, which included the bombings of the Spokane Spokesman-Review and a Planned Parenthood office, as well as multiple bank robberies. The FBI has been investigating the Priesthood for decades.

The Priesthood recently made headlines after a 2014 shooting rampage in downtown Austin. Larry McQuilliams opened fire on a number of buildings, including the Austin police headquarters and a federal courthouse. Over 100 rounds were fired during the incident, in which McQuilliams also attempted to burn down the Mexican Consulate. Police later discovered a copy of Hoskins’ book in McQuilliams’ rented van.

“What keeps me up at night is these guys,” then-Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at the time of the attack. “The lone wolf.”

Morris Gulett, the former leader of the Aryan Nations, launched a new extremist group in 2016 that incorporates the Phineas Priesthood emblem.

#3 Earth Liberation Front

Defined as “eco-terrorists” by the FBI, the Earth Liberation Front is a decentralized domestic terror group responsible for a series of attacks that date back to the early 90s. The group is driven by a shared ideology of “economic sabotage and guerrilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment” and carries out attacks, most commonly in the form of arson and vandalism, in cells or individually. From 2001-2011, no group was responsible for more terrorist attacks on U.S. soilthan the ELF.

Although the group’s activity has waned in recent years, these attacks have resulted in millions of dollars in damage. No deaths have been attributed to the ELF, but one FBI official told CNN in 2005, “Plainly, I think we’re lucky. Once you set one of these fires they can go way out of control.”

Joseph Mahmoud Dibee and Josephine Sunshine Overaker, both affiliated with the group, remain at large and on the FBI’s most wanted list for domestic terrorism. They are wanted for a string of attacks across multiple states totaling over $48 million in damages.

#4 Sovereign Citizens

The threat on this list that law enforcement officers are likely most familiar with is the anti-government sovereign citizen movement. Sovereign citizens follow their own interpretations of the law and disregard all others. Members believe most or all of the U.S. government operates without legitimacy.

Sovereign citizens are responsible for a number of attacks on cops. In 2010, two officers were gunned down at a traffic stop by sovereign citizens. In 2014, a married couple that identified themselves as part of the movement entered a pizzeria and murdered two cops who were dining there, leaving a note on one of the bodies that read, “This is the start of the revolution.”

The fatal 2016 ambush that left three officers dead in Baton Rouge was perpetrated by a man who declared himself a sovereign citizen.

Although the movement has no leadership or formal organization, the SPLC estimated as many as 300,000 Americans identified in some way as sovereign citizens in 2011. Terry Nichols, who had a role in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was a member.

#5 Animal Liberation Front

Closely tied to the ELF, the Animal Liberation Front is a terror group that engages in crimes, including arson, harassment, and vandalism, in the name of animal rights. Like the ELF, it is decentralized and carries out its actions via autonomous cells and individuals.

The American branch of the ALF began in the late ’70s, and over the decades broke into sub groups. While no deaths have been attributed to the ALF, its members have committed crimes of increasing severity. From 2001-2011, the ALF was second only to the ELF for the most terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil. Their targets have included food producers, biomedical researchers and law enforcement, according to the FBI.

The group is responsible for millions of dollars in damage. A few of their tactics include the mailing of letter bombsfood scares, and the use of incendiary devices. In one particularly disturbing incident in 2006, a UCLA researcher was targeted in an attempted firebombing, but the device was placed at the wrong home. The FBI told reporters at the time of the incident that the crude explosive, which did not go off, had enough power to kill the home’s occupants.

Read the original story on the PoliceOne website.

How Cities are Reacting to Backyard Chickens

Local government leaders are finding both support and opposition for keeping backyard chickens as part of a larger urban agricultural movement.

Around the country, people are getting back to their roots – literally – by maintaining farms or hobby farms at their residences, part of a growing urban agriculture movement that includes keeping backyard chickens.

Backyard farmers reap the health benefits of the pursuit, such as better nutrition and improved mental and physical health. In some cities, their products can be sold at markets.

But for those who want to keep chickens legally at home-based farms, “toil” often begins before yards are prepared, as there are many hoops through which to jump when keeping livestock. Many towns and cities have their own agricultural ordinances, which they are updating to support a growing aviculturist movement. Municipal lawmakers in other cities are finding flocks of opposition.

Enterprising Birds

In 2012, Somerville, Mass., was the first city in the state to pass an urban agriculture ordinance that “establishes formal guidelines for urban farming and gardening, the keeping of chickens and bees and other policies governing the growth and sale of agricultural products in an urban setting,” according to the city’s website.

“Somerville is small, progressive minded city,” said Khrysti Smyth, a former resident who helped write the ordinance. “It was an easy city to work with.”

Smyth had a vested interest in the ordinance — she keeps chickens — and since 2012, she has helped to write a half dozen more ordinances around the Boston area. She is known as “The Chickeness,” and through Yardbirds Backyard Chickens she promotes raising chickens and offers classes and seminars. She also has an academic background in wildlife ecology and works for the Trustees of Reservations as an operations manager in The Kitchen at the Boston Public Market, where Boston-area urban farmers have opportunities to sell backyard farm products.

Lawyers.com provides a primer on the legal issues one may encounter when growing or raising food at home. The website recommends researching local zoning laws and ordinances, development standards and building codes, private property restrictions and permits and licenses required, especially if small farm animals are involved.

For farmers who want to sell backyard bounties, there are other legal restrictions to consider. According to the website hobbyfarms.com, budding entrepreneurs should work within their state’s legal framework as well as follow local laws, like a 2014 Boston ordinance that created the framework for a transactional urban agriculture system.

Balancing Acts

More and more cities are coming around to supporting residential farming, keeping backyard chickens and addressing resident complaints in the process.

In 2016, the board of health in Columbus, Ohio, “approved new regulations and permit fees for barnyard animals in the city after revising them to address concerns of urban farmers raising chickens and other animals,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.

The city decided to update the rules as the popularity of backyard farming continued to grow. The city responded to 140 complaints of chickens and other animals in 2014 compared to 30 in 2010.”

After an eight-month push, the city of Edgewater, Colo., passed a 2016 ordinance allowing backyard chickens, goats and beehives, according to the Denver Post.

“Before the city council passed the new ordinance … in a 4-2 vote, Edgewater residents were in a state of legal limbo over keeping farm animals in backyards. City regulations didn’t technically allow for the raising of livestock — the animals weren’t even mentioned in the code book.”

In January, supervisors in Sacramento County, Calif., unanimously passed an agricultural ordinance allowing urban and suburban residents who legally grow and sell crops, keep bees and raise chickens and ducks at home.

“Proponents say the new legal framework will make life easier for small-scale farmers and provide fresh food in areas that lack full-service grocery stores,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

This week, the Fargo, N.D. City Council passed an ordinance, allowing homeowners up to four backyard chickens.

Larger cities, like Los AngelesPortland, Ore., and Pittsburg, Pa., have posted progressive urban agricultural policies online.

Chicken Fights

Some cities are conversely fighting the trend, such as Glendale, Ariz. The city council “scratched plans to allow more homeowners to raise chickens after an outpouring of public criticism — and support — for the backyard birds caused what one council member called ‘a polite civil war’ across the city,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Last month, the board of health in Appleton, Wisc., — while raising concerns about health and the permitting process — split the vote on a proposal that would allow residents to raise backyard chickens. Because no majority was reached, it went to the city council with a recommendation for denial. On April 6th, the proposal stalled at the Appleton City Council meeting, and the item will be discussed at the next meeting later this month.

While one resident touted the “ethical protein” backyard chickens provide, Alderperson Cathy Spears wasn’t convinced.

“My constituents overwhelmingly called me and told me they didn’t want chickens,” according to local news WSAU.

“I also studied public health for many years,” she continued, “and being interested in public health, I know there have been a lot of outbreaks because of chickens and backyard chickens.”

In Virginia Beach, Va., one unidentified resident is running afoul of the law while keeping chickens even though it is illegal to do so.

“I want to be doing this legally,” he told the Virginian Pilot. “Like I have a generator for hurricanes, I want to be able to provide eggs for my family if there’s an emergency and stores are closed.”

Virginia Beach allows chickens only on land zoned for agricultural use — usually sprawling farmland in the southern part of the city below a boundary drawn to protect rural qualities. The rule dates back to at least 1985.

But that could change if Councilwoman Jessica Abbott has her way. Elected to the Virginia Beach City Council last November after campaigning on the issue, Abbott said she supported legalizing backyard chickens before she decided to run for office.

“Abbott conducted an online survey asking if the city should consider changing the ordinance to allow hens — not roosters — in certain residential areas. She got 1,687 responses, mainly from residents in Bayside, Kempsville and Princess Anne, and 93 percent were in favor,” the Pilot reported.

9 Proposed Trump HUD Program Cuts & The Case for Block Grants

This first proposed Trump Budget could kill the Community Development Block Grants completely if HUD’s working recommendations survive OMB.

According to the Washington Post — based on a preliminary agency working document it examined — overall proposed funding cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are about 14 percent, leaving $40.5 billion for FY2018. The proposed HUD program cuts would press public housing authorities in public housing building maintenance and repair expenses, and eliminate funding for community development projects valuable to cities and counties across the United States.

The document recommended shifting funds to the Trump Administration’s promised infrastructure package. While the working document recommended the programs cut should receive funding from other sources, it’s unclear what those sources might be.

According to a HUD spokesman contacted by the Washington Post, the document may not have been reviewed yet by the Office of Management and Budget, which finalizes the budget proposal before it goes to Congress.

The Associated Press also reported that Housing Secretary Ben Carson emailed HUD employees telling them the proposed HUD program cuts were just “starting numbers.”

Nevertheless, the starting point for HUD cuts include:

  1. Maintaining the same level of funding for rental assistance programs
  2. Minimizing HUD salaries and administrative expenses by 5 percent
  3. Slashing the public housing capital fund by $1.3 billion, a reduction of 32 percent
  4. Cutting $600 million would from the public housing operating fund
  5. Lowering direct rental assistance payments — including Section 8 Housing and homeless veterans vouchers — by $300 million
  6. Removing 10 percent ($42 million) for elderly housing Section 202
  7. Reducing disabled housing programs under Section 811 by 20 percent ($29 million)
  8. Reducing Native American housing block grants by 20 percent ($150 million)
  9. Eliminating the $3 billion Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) program — i.e., Choice Neighborhoods and HOME Investment Partnerships

The Case for Saving CDBG 

Cities depend on Federal HUD funds for housing services, homelessness and prevention, education and workforce development that helps people and families get out of subsidized housing, blight and housing for the elderly, at-risk youth, disabled people and those in urgent need.

The more than 40-year old CDBG program is a cornerstone tool for cities to pay for affordable housing development, create economic opportunities and ensure suitable living environments for low- and moderate-income residents.

CDBG was cut by more than $2 billion in 2016, but cities like McKinney, Texas, are still accepting applications from eligible organizations for CDBG grants, while places like Barnstable County, Mass., are planning for next year.

Community organizations in cities like Cincinnati reported they would be greatly affected. For example, Choice Neighborhood projects like that of the city’s Avondale neighborhood — which helped leverage redevelopment of Avondale Towne Center and a neighborhood health clinic and more — depend on continued funding. Avondale’s Choice Neighborhood Transformation plan has been realized by the work of groups like The Community Builders (TCB), Urban League, Cincinnati Public Schools and Center for Closing the Health Gap that are funded by CDBG grants.

Cuts to CDBG during the Bush Administration were criticized by then New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg because of their significance to social justice, and he advocated for mixed-use development in Federally-funded housing projects:

It’s simply too important and too valuable to be allowed to die on the vine,” Bloomberg reportedly said in a 2006 speech before 300 members of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Last year, along with Denver, Louisville, St. Louis and Camden, N.J., HUD awarded Boston a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant for the mixed-use Whittier Choice Neighborhood Transformation Plan.

The total $120 million in CDBG grants enable the cities to replace 1,853 severely distressed public housing units with nearly 3,700 new mixed-income, mixed-use housing units as part of plans to revitalize specific neighborhoods. At the time, HUD calculated that with these CDBG grants, the cities are leveraging an additional $636 million through public-private partnerships.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu slammed the proposed HUD program cuts. In a press release, he indicated that his city has relied on CDBG grants for community health clinics and to help low-income seniors and other homeowners:

HUD’s CDBG program is the most vital lifeline to cities and counties to get things done for real people on the ground. President Trump’s plan to cut critical CDBG funding used to build infrastructure and fund services to senior citizens, recreation and blight remediation, among others, will not make America great again,” said Landrieu.

The Threat of Increased Homelessness

New York City stands to lose at least $35 million from proposed HUD program cuts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Housing groups are saying the result of the Trump Administration moving forward with funding cuts for the New York City Housing Authority would be an increase in the city’s vast homelessness.

New York City hit a record high for the number of homeless residents in November 2016, according to CBS New York.

Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s affordable housing strategy and homelessness promises — already complicated for numerous reasons from ‘land grabs’ to sparring with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over the city’s tax credit approach with developers —  will become even more problematic in the face of the proposed HUD program cuts in the working document obtained by the Washington Post.

Will Housing Secretary Ben Carson Pull Back on Killing Block Grants and Reducing Veterans Vouchers?

The choice of Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, for Housing Secretary was widely criticized during his nomination hearings due to his lack of experience in the public housing sector.

During those Congressional hearings, Carson’s answers to questions were not entirely controversial, as reported by Affordable Housing Finance. At the time, Diane Yentel, president and chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said she was relieved by his responses to key questions:

[Carson] gave strong support to rental assistance programs, public housing, VASH vouchers, Community Development Block Grants, Choice Neighborhoods and lead abatement programs, and he recognized the role housing plays as a social determinant of health. He acknowledged that fair housing is the ‘law of the land’ and committed to upholding and implementing the law.”

Additional Resources

Learn more about the VASH achievements and cuts on Military1.com.

How Can Water Systems Pay for Aging Infrastructure?

Water systems with aging infrastructure and low revenues can employ strategies like fixed rates, green bonds and partnerships to finance repairs.

Restoring aging underground pipes is estimated to cost water systems at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years, according to the American Water Works Association.

But most water systems only take in enough money to operate what they’ve got. Only about one-third of water systems earn enough revenue to cover replacement costs, according to a 2016 industry survey of 358 qualified utility, municipal, commercial and community stakeholders by Black & Veatch.

Water usage fees and local taxes support needed capital and operational costs, providing safe drinking water using the infrastructure already in place. However, the primary concern is that the current fee rates don’t cover water utilities renewal and replacement cost for their infrastructure,” said Patricia Buckley, director for economic policy and analysis at Deloitte LLP, in a recent podcast.

Buckley, previously senior economic policy advisor to four secretaries of commerce, has put some thought into potential financial strategies to address the long-term sustainability of water systems.

Buckley stressed innovation as the only way to address the crisis. Ratepayers for the smallest utilities–there about 28,000 community water systems serving populations of 500 people or fewer–do not cover any investment costs. When communities raise water rates, conservation goes up, which decreases utility revenue. It can be a viscous cycle.

“The bottom line is that there is no simple solution. We will need to scale innovative funding solutions and technologies, as well as adopt public policies that promote innovation in the water sector,” wrote Buckley and her colleagues.

In addition to the following funding strategies, municipalities need to adopt predictive analytics and underground pipe repair technologies, as well as develop communications plans that engage and involve communities, they advised.

Fixed Fees

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been talking about full cost pricing of water services–pricing that factors all costs, “including past and future, operations, maintenance and capital costs”–since about the turn of the millennia.

This means structuring water bills not by usage–how much water each household consumes, the most common current practice–to a fixed fee that includes a portion that pays for the system’s eventual end-of-life.

Paying for system replacement is common in other industries. For example, if you take a flight lesson, the bill includes the instructor’s fee and the aircraft rental fee, which includes the engine overhaul cost per hour.

Many in the water industry for years have voiced concerns over the underpricing of public water services, foreshadowing and predicting the current crisis.

In moving to fixed fees, each municipality can decide how to structure rates, whether it’s by household income, or a flat rate. EPA talks about various rate schemes for small drinking water systems in its 2006 publication, Setting Small Drinking Water System Rates for a Sustainable Future.

Green Bonds

Buckley noted that Green Bonds, which are 100-year bonds, are another encouraging possibility for financing aging water infrastructure.

In July 2014, the water authority in Washington D.C., DC Water, issued the first municipal water 100-year green bond to finance a portion of the $350 million DC Clean Rivers Project. The project is the result of a 2005 consent decree for violations of the Clean Water Act.

Buckley said that the government plays an important part “in encouraging alternative funding mechanisms through legislation,” citing passage of a December 2015 bill that lifted a ban on the issuance of tax-exempt bonds with loans for projects under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA). WIFIA funds up to 49 percent of the cost of water, wastewater, stormwater or water reuse projects through low-interest federal loans. Prior to late 2015, funding the remaining portion through tax-exempt bonds was illegal. 

“Lifting this ban allows utilities the leeway of raising money from the public while providing tax incentives. That said, the need to repay debt is another factor that could drive utilities to raise water prices in the future,” she and her colleagues wrote.

For more information on this financial strategy, Green City Bonds has a primer on How to Issue a Green Muni Bond.

Public Private Partnerships

Buckley also cited partnership with the private sector as a way for cities to finance repairs.

Bayonne, N.J., a community of about 63,000 in the northern part of the state, entered into a joint venture partnership for both water and wastewater operations with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) and United Water, a unit of French giant Suez Environnement S.A. The city had outdated sewer and water systems and could not afford repairs on its own.

According to a 2013 report on the partnership, the city and KKR/United Water agreed to a Revenue Path Model. They locked into a fixed rate increase schedule that would assure modest future rate increases over the 40-year concession period.