America’s Western Forests Are a Massive Soft Target for Terrorists and Their Domestic Accomplices

On October 28, 2019, with American commandos closing in, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest and took his life. On January 3, 2020, Qasem Soleimani was blown to bits in a U.S. air strike. Baghdadi was the leader of ISIS; Soleimani was Iran’s most powerful military commander.

Despite losing the territory it had overrun in Syria and Iraq, and despite Baghdadi’s death, ISIS remains a growing threat, with operations all over the world. Similarly, despite Soleimani’s death, under his leadership Iran helped Hezbollah grow into a powerful and expanding international network.

Already bitter enemies of America, how have ISIS and Hezbollah escalated their war after seeing their leaders killed by U.S. forces? What sort of activities have they initiated on U.S. soil, and how have those activities increased in recent years, especially in 2020?

The destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001 by al-Qaeda terrorists, along with gruesome lone wolf attacks by Islamic jihadists, tend to overshadow the fact that ISIS and Hezbollah have been quietly building their networks within the United States for many years. There is evidence these organizations could be involved in the unrest that has convulsed the nation over the past few months, possibly including arson in the western forests.

In 2017, Edward Klein, a veteran journalist and former editor-in-chief of the New York Times Magazine, published an article in the Daily Mail alleging that U.S. left-wing Antifa groups traveled to Germany to meet with al-Qaeda and ISIS leaders. In his report, Klein avers that the terrorist organizations were helping these U.S. left-wing groups to acquire bomb-making equipment and toxic chemicals and gasses.

Quoting extensively from a secret FBI report, Klein wrote, “Making some sort of common cause with Americans who are determined to commit violence against the U.S. makes them potentially very useful to radical Islam.”

Klein went on to explain how President Trump changed the rules of engagement, which caused ISIS to intensify its relationships with the radical Left in America: “As the Trump administration has demonstrated it’s serious about destroying the Islamic State, and depriving ISIS of territory in Iraq and Syria, the alliance between the American radicals and ISIS has grown even closer. The Internet chatter between the Americans and the Islamists is astronomical.” 

Klein also noted how, by comparison, President Obama ignored the domestic threat: “The FBI is really playing catchup ball, because the Obama administration refused to give the bureau the resources it needed to effectively infiltrate and surveil the radical groups on college campuses.”

If ISIS is a relatively recent arrival, Hezbollah has been actively building a base in the United States for years. Also in 2017, writing for Politico, investigative reporter John Meyer published a lengthy report titled, “The secret backstory of how Obama let Hezbollah off the hook.” Meyer describes how Hezbollah “transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.”

In his desperation to forge a deal with Iran, according to Meyer, Obama ignored evidence amassed by the DEA that showed how Hezbollah was making hundreds of millions by shipping cocaine and other drugs through Venezuela and Mexico into the United States. 

According to one DEA whistleblower Klein interviewed, “The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away. So much of the capability, whether it was special operations, whether it was law enforcement, whether it was [Treasury] designations—even the capacity, the personnel assigned to this mission—it was assiduously drained, almost to the last drop, by the end of the Obama administration.”

International Terrorists, Domestic Insurrectionists

While Antifa militants reportedly networked with ISIS militants in Germany in 2017, in 2013 the Black Lives Matter movement began receiving support from the Venezuelan regime. 

In a report just published in American Greatness, retired CIA agent Gary Berntsen describes how in 2013, Black Lives Matter founder Opal Tometi and her entourage traveled to Venezuela for meetings with Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. Berntsen writes, “During those meetings, Chavez ordered that BLM be given $10 million to help create a foundational base for their organization.”

Berntsen documents how Chavez ceded control of three southern provinces to Colombian narco-terrorist organizations, entering into a joint venture to pour hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States. Most of this cocaine found its way into America’s inner cities, an irony perhaps lost on BLM militants but useful to America’s enemies. Destroy young black lives with drugs, then give money to agitators who will tell the drug-addled mobs that racism, not drugs, is the reason for their destitution.

If you want to engage in asymmetric terrorism, however, there are few options more potent than wildfire arson. The forests of the Western United States, overgrown and tinder dry thanks to years of mismanagement, are easy targets. While there isn’t publicly available hard evidence that the devastating wildfires consuming America’s forests this year are being set by politically motivated arsonists, there is plenty of evidence that ISIS has been encouraging it.

In early 2017, ISIS praised the arsonists that had recently torched forests throughout Israel and provided instructions on how to use arson to “impose terror on an entire country.” In July 2017, in the Journal of Terrorism and Political Violence, author János Besenyő elaborated on the over 220 forest fires started in Israel by arsonists in 2016 in an article entitled “Inferno Terror: Forest Fires as the New Form of Terrorism.”

Then in October 2017, after Californians had just endured another round of devastating wildfires, ISIS celebrated the catastrophe in its newsletter, “days after supporters suggested laying gasoline-filled bottles in the woods to inflict further damage.”

On November 3, 2019, days after Baghdadi’s death, “A media outlet affiliated with ISIS has been instructing the group’s radical adherents to set forest fires in the United States and Europe to cause mass ecological disasters, according to posts on an internet forum dedicated to the terror group.” This was widely reported in journals ranging from Fox News and the New York Post to Law Enforcement Today.

Less than a year later, is it mere coincidence that over 7,000 square miles of America’s western forests have been incinerated so far in 2020, or were some of these hundreds of fires started not just by ordinary arsonists, but politically motivated arsonists? Just this past May, as reported in Homeland Security Today, “ISIS Ramps Up Use of Wildfire Arson as Simple Tactic.”

Little if anything in the current reporting mentions the role of foreign terrorist groups in starting this year’s wildfires. In fact, there are only scant reports of arson causing any of them. The prevailing narrative is that lightning strikes and human carelessness have sparked fires in forests that are tinder dry because of climate change. But there is plenty of evidence of connections between foreign terrorist groups and Antifa and Black Lives Matter. And there is little reason to believe that at least some of the domestic militants who are willing to loot and burn down American cities and invade American suburbs would hesitate to ignite American forests.

To be fair, America’s insurrectionists seem to have support from a plethora of institutions and individuals. Democrats and their media allies, to the extent they acknowledge the severity of the violence, attribute it to “Trump’s America,” hoping it will destroy him politically. Money pours into the BLM movement from globalist billionaires and America’s major corporations. It would strain credulity not to suggest that Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies are finding discrete ways to lend a hand. 

Perhaps America’s own “deep state” is coordinating the whole mess—it’s quite obvious that powerful federal bureaucrats including members of the intelligence community want Trump out. And then there are the climate change activists, solidly entrenched within every significant institution in America. No doubt for many of them, these forest fires are a regrettable but necessary step towards depopulating America’s rural landscapes, and ratcheting down the screws of green tyranny all that much tighter, all that much sooner.

With all that, one might consider a role in America’s ongoing insurrection for ISIS and Hezbollah to be an insignificant sideshow. That would be a dangerous mistake. They are here, and they have embraced wildfire arson as a recommended tactic. They are powerful, bent on vengeance, with eager accomplices among the more hardened elements of the American Left.

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About Edward Ring

Edward Ring is a senior fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He is also the director of water and energy policy for the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. Ring is the author of Fixing California: Abundance, Pragmatism, Optimism (2021) and The Abundance Choice: Our Fight for More Water in California (2022).

Photo: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

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