The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a sweeping new strategy to root out domestic terrorism, tying the rising threat of extremism to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to “do everything possible to prevent similar attacks.”
“The resolve and dedication with which the Justice Department has approached the investigation of the Jan. 6 attack reflects the seriousness with which we take this assault on a mainstay of our democratic system,” he said in remarks at the Justice Department.
While Mr. Garland said the new strategy is “focused on violence, not ideology,” conservatives say it ignores left-leaning groups that violently looted American cities during last summer’s racial justice riots.
“Why are people who protested, perhaps violently, for a few hours [on Jan. 6] more of a threat to our national security than people who burned and looted our cities for a few months? It seems entirely political,” said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative advocacy group.
“This about driving a narrative,” he continued. “They have a window of opportunity that they know won’t last forever where they can say ‘Jan. 6.’ And they intend to use that to its fullest.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Georgia Republican, questioned who in the administration would define domestic terrorism.
“They were attacking federal buildings, police officers,” Ms. Greene said of Antifa and Black Lives Matters activists while appearing on The Real America’s Voice podcast. “They’re trying to dismantle every bit of law enforcement in all of these cities and who are the victims? The American people. Is that not domestic terrorism?”
Law enforcement and left-leaning groups, including the Center for American Progress hailed the strategy as tough measures to combat extremism.
Katrina Mulligan, acting vice president for national security and international policy at the center, called the plan a necessary road map to stamping out domestic terror.
“The strategy rightly identifies racism, bigotry, gun violence, online recruitment and mobilization, and a lack of civic engagement as long-term contributors to domestic terrorism and commits the administration to working on these issues,” she said in a statement.
But conservatives fret the plan could result in muffling free speech protected under the Constitution.
Mr. Garland said the Justice Department will not prosecute people for their beliefs, adding that espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful.”
But he also voted to root out extremists who “advocate for the superiority of the White race.”
“Hate speech is protected by the First Amendment,” Mr. Levey said in rebuttal. “But no one wants to say that because no one wants to seem like they are in favor of hate speech.”
The new strategy is the first-ever proposal by an administration to combat the rise of domestic terrorist groups.
Mr. Garland said the FBI has seen a significant ramp-up in domestic-terrorism investigations this year and expects violence will continue to rise through 2021.
The strategy creates a national framework for federal agencies to crack down on domestic terrorism.
As part of the plan, the administration has allocated $100 million in the proposed 2022 budget to increase staffing at the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to screen existing employees who could pose an insider threat.
Officials at the Pentagon, Justice Department, and Department of Homeland Security have already launched an effort to remove domestic terrorists from the military and law enforcement.
The plan also calls for the improved sharing of threat information across all levels of government.
A Senate report released last month found numerous intelligence failures ahead of the attack on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The FBI and other federal law enforcement have been widely criticized for not effectively passing along intelligence related to the Jan. 6 attack.
Defense Department officials will also look at how to define extremism, and the Treasury Department will strengthen its probes into whether international terrorist organizations are financing domestic extremist groups.
The plan does not call for a domestic terrorism law, which would give prosecutors more tools to charge terror suspects.
The FBI Agents Association, which advocates on behalf of current and retired agents, called on the Justice Department to push for a domestic terrorism law.
“Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would not result in the targeting of specific ideas or groups. Rather, it would target acts of violence that have no place in the political discourse secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” the group said in a statement.
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