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Are there any lessons to be gleaned for combatting the rising threat of white nationalist terrorism today from the U.S. response to the attacks of 9/11 twenty years on? This symposium reflection suggests that among the most important lessons may be in avoiding the conceptually defining characteristics of the early U.S. response in 2001. Detainee torture and abuse, the embrace of trial by newly formed military commission, and other misguided policies and practices whose effects are still felt today were set in motion in the first few weeks after the attacks, driven by the instinct to do something, bolstered by the assumption that such legal adaptations would be short-lived, and untethered by any systematic analysis of a contemplated end state, or the longer-term consequences for policy, democracy, or law. Policymakers then were determined to see the terrorist threat as more acute than chronic, and to seek solutions in legal authority for a multi-dimensional problem at best only partially susceptible to law. Those views were neither factually nor practically sustainable then; they are no more so now. The goal of counterterrorism policy cannot just be to reinforce security in times of emergency, it must be to restore conditions necessary for secure and sustainable democracy.

Publication Date





Journal of National Security Law and Policy

First Page



white nationalist terrorism, 9/11, counterterrorism


Human Rights Law | Jurisdiction | Law | State and Local Government Law | Torts


20th Anniversary of 9/11 Special Edition Lesson for the next Twenty Years: What We've Learned in the Two Decades since 9/11 a Project of Syracuse University's Institute for Security Policy and Law: Part IV: Domestic Terror and the Fight to Sustain Democracy