Threat of violent extremism is very real in New Jersey, officials say
You might not realize it but the threat of violent extremism in New Jersey is on the rise.
That was the message delivered during a special Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism symposium at Rutgers University in New Brunswick on Thursday.
"What we’re trying to do is get ahead of it at this point, working with the U.S. Attorney’s office, with local law enforcement agencies and working through the local social agencies. Hopefully we’ll be able to stop this before it becomes epidemic in nature," said Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the FBI in New Jersey.
Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey said the violent extremism problem is significantly more pronounced now than it was even last year.
“I have a national security unit assigned to work on these cases, a substantial portion of the FBI’s Newark division’s resources are devoted to this," Fishman said. “The top priority is to keep people in the homeland safe and we’ll continue to be a vigilant as we can.”
Both Fishman and Frankel said working with and gaining the trust of different groups all over New Jersey is critically important in the effort against violent extremism.
“If we can enable the community to intervene before someone becomes a threat to himself or herself or to the rest of us, that’s a win,” Fishman said. “If we can get to somebody that’s becoming radicalized in a way that’s going to lead to violence, if we can stop that process, that’s terrific. We’re spending a lot of time talking about how best to do that.”
Frankel said part of the problem is New Jersey is a target rich state, and our location next to New York City also cause for concern, so the Joint Terrorism Task force is continually at work, in the cities, the suburbs and in rural areas.
“Terrorist activity is something we’re very concerned about,” he said. “The FBI’s number one priority is counter-terrorism, and is stopping the threat, and we are engaging in that.”
In order to truly be effective, he stressed law enforcement must get help from the public.
“We can’t do what we do without the community,” he said. “It goes back to something started after 9/11, if you see something, say something. There are numerous cases that I can point to where we have received threat information from the community and we have been able to stop terrorist activity. If people are not engaged, it’s very difficult for us to do our job.”
Fishman agreed partnering with the community is an essential step that must be taken, and said parents need to understand violent extremism may be an issue in their own home without their knowledge.
“There are forces that you cannot see, because they’re on the computer trying to radicalize your kid,” he said. “If you’re not paying attention to what your kids are looking at, and who they’re chatting with on their computer, you’re not accurately assessing the threat to your own family and to the community in which you live.”