Biden’s White House releases first-ever US strategy against domestic terrorism
WASHINGTON – The White House on Tuesday released a first-ever national strategy devoted solely to combating domestic terrorism after more than two decades of successive administrations focusing almost exclusively on the militant Islamist threat.
The strategy comes after a deadly attack on the United States Capitol and a resurgence of violent far-right extremism that the Trump administration – with rare exceptions – was reluctant to acknowledge.
For many terrorism analysts, the strategy was long overdue. Violent far-right extremists have been the deadliest and most active domestic threat in over 15 years, although federal resources have remained heavily focused on combating foreign terrorism.
The 32-page strategy aims to coordinate government-wide law enforcement and prevention efforts, some of which were already underway. He calls for further spending on the Department of Justice and the FBI to hire analysts, investigators and prosecutors; greater information sharing between the federal government and state and local partners as well as with technology companies; and address the factors that contribute to the problem, such as systemic racism.
“We cannot ignore this threat or wish it far away,” President Joe Biden said in the introduction.
The plan gives the White House the imprimatur of a shift in priorities in the fight against terrorism that began in recent years in response to an increase in deadly hate-fueled attacks and gained momentum after the ‘incredible violation of the Capitol on January 6. Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress the office had made “nearly 500 arrests” in connection with the attack on Capitol Hill. Wray said the total number of domestic terrorism investigations rose to 2,000 from 1,400 at the end of last year.
The Trump administration was reluctant to confront national extremism, or did so by touting a false equivalence between the far right and Black Lives Matter, antifa and other leftist movements. The Trump-era counterterrorism strategy mentioned national extremism, and a homeland security report at the time called violent white supremacy “one of the most powerful forces in national terrorism.”
After the “myopia” of the last decade in which the growing domestic threat has been ignored, simply naming domestic terrorism as a top priority is “revolutionary,” said Cynthia Miller-Idriss, who heads the laboratory of research and innovation on polarization and extremism at American University.
The inauguration day came two weeks after the Capitol riots, so Biden’s national security team began working with “January 6 fresh in our minds,” a senior administration official said.
“We must be able to step up where the threats are, where the threats are made,” said the official, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “There remains cohesive and important work to address the international terrorist threat even as we step up our efforts against domestic terrorists.”
The strategy is based on a March assessment by the intelligence community that domestic violent extremism poses a “high threat” to the United States. This extremism has been fueled by prejudice against minority communities and an excessive perception of the government, he said. The assessment indicated that isolated offenders or small self-organized cells – rather than organizations – were most likely to carry out attacks.
The strategy codifies movements over the past five months that constitute “a radical shift in the fight against terrorism,” Carly Gordenstein and Seamus Hughes, researchers in the extremism program at George Washington University, wrote in an analysis .
“It is clear that structural changes are underway that aim to eradicate extremism within and outside government, attempt to focus efforts more effectively, and invest in the issue of domestic extremism at an unprecedented rate in the United States. United, ”Gordenstein said. and Hughes wrote.
Miller-Idriss said the steps outlined in the strategy looked encouraging, especially an effort to prevent radicalization by addressing broader societal issues and encouraging media literacy.
“It brings us closer to what other countries are doing abroad: understanding that you can’t fight domestic extremism by only paying attention to the fringe,” Miller-Idriss said. “You also have to be careful of what’s going on in the mainstream.”
Nonetheless, she said, implementation will be crucial. Attempts at a national dialogue on white supremacy, for example, will immediately run up against cultural war barriers such as the current outcry among conservatives over teaching systemic racism. Miller-Idriss said countries like Norway, Germany and New Zealand have adopted approaches that go beyond the national security apparatus to include government agencies responsible for culture, education , health and sports.
“Even prevention here is housed within DHS,” she said. “If we just think of it as a security and law enforcement issue, with security and law enforcement experts at the helm, we’re just going to get that result.”
Mary McCord, a former senior Justice Department official, said the prevention part is also tricky due to opposition to “investigating people based on ideology or casting too wide a net”, such as American Muslims lived in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks., Terrorist attacks. Already, some of the January 6 rioters present themselves as political prisoners and are unfairly prosecuted for their beliefs.
McCord, who now heads the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, said prevention also involved tactics like undercover stings, which some civil liberties groups saw as a trap.
“You don’t want to go after the El Paso terrorist after he killed 23 people. You want to have it prevented, ”McCord said. “That’s the challenge. Because every time you engage in preventative law enforcement, it comes with criticism. “