A month after an intelligence report was delivered to Congress warning of an increased threat of violence from militias and white-nationalist groups, the Biden administration is taking new steps to take on domestic extremism in the United States.
According to the New York Times, the plan sweeps across multiple federal agencies as the new president shifts domestic security focus toward extremism on the right after years of neglecting the issue at a policy level. Because last month’s intelligence report — requested by Biden in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot — identified domestic extremists as a “national priority area” for the first time, the Department of Homeland Security has opened up more funds for efforts to track groups planning violence that are operating in the United States. Biden has also reportedly boosted the role of a National Security Council team focusing on domestic extremism which involves officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the National Counterterrorism Center. (The team’s role had been gutted under Donald Trump.) Leaders from the national security apparatus are also meeting with officials from Veterans Affairs and the departments of Education and Health and Human Services, according to the Times, in what sound like potential preventative efforts to treat the crisis. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who helped investigate the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 — an act seen as inspiration for scores of white nationalists in the decades since — has said that the Department of Justice would also prioritize domestic extremism cases.
Within the Department of Homeland Security, a review process aims to retool how the agency approaches domestic extremist cases. According to the Times, DHS now intends to work more closely with Facebook and Twitter to look for indicators of possible violence. The review also recommends the department focus on preventing acts in which mental-health issues play a role in an assailant’s act, such as the apparent case on Friday in which a man crashed his car into a Capitol barricade on Friday, killing one law enforcement officer before he was shot.
The Biden administration is also in talks with lawmakers to write new domestic terrorism legislation and to issue executive orders allowing law enforcement officials to investigate suspects and prosecute extremist acts of violence more directly. Biden’s campaign platform stated that such a law must respect “free speech and civil liberties, while making the same commitment to root out domestic terrorism as we have to stopping international terrorism.” But as calls grew after the insurrection for such a federal action, critics warned that this impulse could create similar abuses to those that emerged after the passage of the Patriot Act. In January, 10 progressive lawmakers, including Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, signed a letter stating that the failures to anticipate or stop the Capitol riot emerged from reluctance to enforce the laws in place and that the government does not need new tools to monitor domestic extremists.
Despite consistent warnings from law enforcement officials detailing the increasing threat of domestic extremism, the federal government has taken insufficient action up to this point in stopping the growth of violence. In 2009, the Obama administration went so far as to rescind an intelligence assessment which mentioned that veterans could be vulnerable to recruitment by domestic extremist militias. Under Donald Trump, the threat was consistently ignored, as the security state was reoriented to stamp out protests against police brutality last summer. The willful ignorance appeared to reach a high point in September 2020, when Brian Murphy, the former head of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, filed a whistle-blower complaint accusing DHS leaders of altering intelligence reports to make white-supremacist threats “appear less severe” and exaggerate the scale of left-wing violence in a way that was consistent with Trump’s rhetoric.