Biden administration officials released the first strategy to counter domestic terrorism on Tuesday and highlighted how they have asked Congress for more money to tackle the rising problem.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said the Justice Department has already started portions of the strategy, such as bolstering prosecutorial resources and prioritizing grants to local law enforcement agencies that have community-based approaches to combating racially motivated violence and domestic terrorism.
Garland said in a speech that the Biden administration’s fiscal 2022 budget request asks for an additional $100 million for the Justice Department to support that effort to not only bring domestic terrorists to justice but also stop attacks from happening.
“We cannot promise that we will be able to disrupt every plot, defuse every bomb or arrest every co-conspirator before they managed to wreak unspeakable horror,” Garland said. “But we can promise that we will do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies.”
Garland said he also will reinvigorate the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, an interagency body that then-Attorney General Janet Reno originally created in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing investigation.
Garland led the prosecution in that bombing and said Tuesday that it “required an enormous commitment of resources from agencies across the federal and state governments and demonstrated the importance of such a coordination mechanism.”
But Garland also pointed to more recent examples: the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol Building, the shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice four years ago this week, 11 Jewish worshippers shot and killed at their synagogue in 2018 and the shooting of 23 people, mostly Latino, at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, two summers ago.
“Such attacks are not only unspeakable tragedies for the victims’ loved ones, they are also a tragedy for our country and an attack on our core ideals as a society,” Garland said. “We must not only bring our federal resources to bear, we must adopt a broader societal response to tackle the problem’s deeper roots.”
A review in March concluded that domestic violent extremists pose an elevated threat to the homeland in 2021, and the number of open FBI domestic terrorism investigations this year has increased significantly, Garland said.
Racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, specifically those who espouse the superiority of the white race, and anti-government militia violent extremists pose the most lethal threat, that assessment found.
An unclassified FBI assessment to Congress this month found there could be “real world violence” from adherents of QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theory about a secret plan by elites to retain power, with an anti-Trump “deep state” foe and allegations of child sex trafficking and satanism.
Some “adherents of QAnon likely will begin to believe they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ toward engaging in real world violence,” the assessment said.
That includes “harming perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition — instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred,” the FBI assessment said.
Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said Tuesday on the floor that the assessment “is a stark reminder that we have a lot of work to do to tamp down conspiracy theories and disinformation as well as monitoring and thwarting violent domestic extremists.”
“That is a shot across our bow. That’s a warning signal,” the New York Democrat said.
Garland said the Justice Department also will look at whether any gaps in law enforcement capabilities could be addressed through legislation.
The president of the FBI Agents Association, which has pushed to make domestic terrorism a crime, said in a press release that he was “encouraged” by that effort.
“Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would not result in the targeting of specific ideas or groups,” Brian O’Hare said. “Rather, it would target acts of violence that have no place in the political discourse secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
Some Republicans and Democrats have called for a new domestic terrorism statute, but there is opposition from both parties against one.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the new domestic terrorism plan for a lack of civil rights and liberties safeguards that advocates and communities of color have sought.
Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a news release that the group was “deeply disappointed” that there are no safeguards against biased profiling, overbroad law enforcement information sharing or other measures.
“Embracing civil rights and liberties as a national security imperative means little when this new strategy fails to rein in abusive counterterrorism tools that result in unfair and unjustified surveillance and targeting of Black and Brown people, particularly Muslims,” Shamsi said.