In the early hours of a Sunday morning this June, Omar Mateen walked into Latin Night at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and opened fire. This was a space that often served as a refuge for the area’s LGBTQ community, but by the time daylight broke, 50 people were dead and another 53 wounded. Speaking from the White House hours later that day, President Obama told reporters that the attack appeared to be “an example of the kind of homegrown extremism that all of us have been concerned about.”
The attack rightfully outraged the American public. But the bloodshed that day was just the latest example of how the war on terror has changed since 9/11, when the greatest threat was generally understood to come from outside America’s borders. Like that in Orlando, the attack on the Boston Marathon, and more recently in Brussels and in Paris have highlighted the fact that acts of terrorism are often committed by people born or raised in our communities. Governments from the United Kingdom to the United States and beyond have sought to address this emerging phenomenon by establishing multiagency programs to help them identify who might be vulnerable extremism.
But is it ethical—or even possible—to determine who’s a terrorist in the making?