WASHINGTON – Biden’s administration is stepping up efforts to combat domestic extremism, increasing resources to prevent attacks, weighing strategies that have been used against foreign terrorist groups in the past, and more openly warning the public of the threat.
Attempts to more confidently address the violence of white supremacists and militias are a departure from President Donald J. Trump’s pressure on federal agencies to divert resources to target the anti-fascist movement and leftist groups, although law enforcement agencies have so far concluded arrived. Legal and militia violence were a more serious threat.
President Biden’s approach also continues a slow realization that the federal government is paying more attention and money to tracking down and countering threats from the United States, particularly after the January 6th uprising at the Capitol after two decades of perpetrating foreign terrorism must invest security priority.
In an intelligence report sent to Congress last month, the government identified white supremacists and militia groups as the top national security threats. The White House is also discussing with members of Congress the possibility of new domestic terrorism laws and executive orders to update terrorism watchlist criteria and potentially include more local extremists.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun a review of domestic extremism management. For the first time this year, the ministry has identified domestic extremism as a “national priority area,” where 7.5 percent of the billions in grant funds must be spent on combating extremism.
Mr. Biden joined a team on the National Security Council dealing with domestic extremism that had been exhausted for the past four years and appointed Justice Department officials, the F.B.I. and the National Counter-Terrorism Center, senior administrators said.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who helped investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, said the Justice Department would also prioritize domestic extremism.
F.B.I. Agents have handled domestic extremism cases for years. However, the renewed focus of the highest levels of government is a big shift, especially as the administration grapples with whether current tactics and resources are sufficient to prevent future attacks.
The choice to address the problem more directly is contrary to the approaches of the Trump and Obama administrations. In 2009, the Obama administration overturned an intelligence assessment after mentioning that veterans could be vulnerable to recruitment by domestic extremist groups, causing political setbacks.
National security officials are now meeting with representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Education, Health and Human Services departments to address the issue head-on, according to officials.
Researchers say the United States is years behind European countries like Germany and Norway in understanding the threat of right-wing extremism. Daniel Koehler, a researcher in Germany who has helped other countries run deradicalization programs, said the United States has still not put in place a system for families who notice a member using threatening language or otherwise signaling it they could participate in violence.
“I have parents who write to me, ‘I don’t know what to do,” said Mr Koehler, adding that many American families had contacted him after the Capitol uprising and had nowhere else to turn.
The Biden administration’s emphasis on the issue is a welcome sign to many current and former government officials who have said that such efforts have been curbed under the Trump administration.
In September, Brian Murphy, a former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence department, filed a whistleblower complaint accusing the department’s management of ordering intelligence reviews to be changed to make the threat of white supremacy “less serious” to let and contain information left groups to coordinate with Mr. Trump’s news. Homeland Security leadership under the Trump administration denied the allegations.
The Obama administration was also cautious on this matter for political reasons. Before announcing his presidential candidacy in 2019, Mr Biden asked Janet Napolitano, who served as Secretary of Homeland Security at the beginning of the Obama administration, about the decision in 2009 to overturn a report indicating that U.S. military veterans were being used for extremist recruitment groups are vulnerable.
“I thought you spoke proactively about right-wing extremism and violence in America and were motivated by white supremacists,” Mr. Biden told Ms. Napolitano during an event at the New York Public Library.
Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan, has held talks with White House officials about the appointment of a tsar for domestic terrorism in the office of the director of the National Intelligence Service. She has also discussed a possible executive order designed to update how the federal government adds people suspected of terrorist activity to lists used to screen people trying to enter the country or board planes. Such watchlists are more known for their use against foreign terrorists, Ms. Slotkin said.
“I don’t think we have a good overview of how to think about domestic extremism and these databases,” she said.
During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last month, Republican Michael McCaul, Republican of Texas, stated that the United States had no law that would allow prosecutors to indict and investigate local extremists using the same tools as those be used against terror suspects from abroad.
Mr Biden’s campaign platform said he would work to establish such a law “that respects freedom of expression and civil liberties while making the same commitment to eradicate domestic terrorism as we must stop international terrorism.”
When asked about the president’s current position on the statute, White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred to a review Mr Biden directed the federal government to crack down on extremism “because there are so far-reaching implications and threats across the country. ”
The lack of a law hinders the F.B.I. However, prosecutors are forced to rely on a patchwork of other domestic extremism charges, including the attack on the Capitol.
The Justice Department has overturned criminal charges against more than 300 people for their roles in the Capitol riot. The charges are wide-ranging and include assaulting police officers, illegally entering the Capitol building, and conspiracy to interfere in the electoral certification process. The leaders of the Oath Keepers militia and the far-right Proud Boys group are among the main targets of the comprehensive investigation.
Critics of a domestic terrorism law say it could over-expand government surveillance and be used against minority communities.
A letter signed by representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and eight other Democrats said the intelligence agency’s failure in connection with the violation of the Capitol reflected law enforcement’s reluctance to target white nationalist groups. and not the lack of government instruments oversee them.
A Homeland Security official who was involved in the Ministry of Countering Domestic Terrorism review said the agency did not need new legislation, but should instead use the tools that have long been used to combat foreign terrorism.
One strategy is to analyze federal travel data to track the patterns of potential militiamen and extremists, especially as American groups increasingly establish links with Europe, the official said. Members of the groups can then be added to so-called no-fly lists, he said.
The division’s review focuses not only on outright acts of terrorism, but also on those pressured into attack based on a combination of mental health problems, ailments and ideologies that are perceived justifications for violence. Officials are also looking at ways to prevent attacks similar to those at the Capitol on Friday, in which a man hit his vehicle against two officers on a barricade outside the building before getting out and attacking them with a knife.
The suspect, who was shot dead by police after the attack, was identified by police officers as Noah Green, 25, from Covington, Virginia. Friends and family say he is struggling with isolation and mental health issues. Police have not classified the attack as “terrorist” and investigators continue to search Mr. Green’s social media posts, which showed heightened interest in the Nation of Islam.
The Department of Homeland Security is also looking to work more closely with private social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to identify indicators of potential violence. The agency had received a sharp backlash for failing to issue a warning before Jan. 6, despite a series of social media posts attempting to bring armed groups to Washington in protest of the 2020 election results.
The Department of Homeland Security this year allocated $ 77 million to state and local governments to train police officers and improve information sharing between states.
Separately, the agency doubled the number of grants for organizations developing projects to research prevention strategies, including off-boarding those at risk of radicalization. The $ 20 million allocation, which has not yet been awarded, comes after the Trump administration gutted the grants before restoring $ 10 million in the final year of his tenure.
However, increasing the budget and recognizing the problem are only the first steps. The work of identifying people associated with domestic extremism and helping them break away from violence remains daunting.
Previous law enforcement efforts to enlist the help of community members had raised concerns that the federal government was attempting to spy on minority communities.
The Biden government’s new approach to the problem is affecting those on the front lines with domestic extremists.
During the Obama administration, Mohamed Amin Ahmed, who runs a nonprofit against extremism in Minneapolis, considered applying for federal grants to support his efforts to create comic-book videos exposing Islamic State’s appeals to children should be.
However, he decided not to apply after learning that funding was tied to an obligation to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.
Mr Ahmed is now creating videos for supporters of QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory. He said he plans to apply for the new round of government grants that are no longer related to law enforcement.
“We’re trying to help and not be part of the surveillance state,” said Ahmed.
In the wake of the Capitol Rebellion, anti-extremism efforts have been caught in a thicket of difficult political and First Amendment issues. Interventions aimed at changing political beliefs or aligning with Democrats may be ineffective in getting right-wing extremists to participate, experts said.
A program in New York City that recently received a federal grant of more than $ 740,000 is designed to discourage people from engaging in politically motivated violence without trying to change their beliefs.
Richard Aborn, the president of the nonprofit overseeing the program, said he would accept attendees through law enforcement referrals, including those who have already been charged with crimes.
Individuals who qualify after a psychological assessment would then take part in individual therapy for several months. The success of the program would be measured by changes in the individual’s emotional state.
Mr Aborn said he expected the pool of participants to include white supremacists, jihadists and people threatening mass shootings.
To identify people who are not on law enforcement radar, Mr. Aborn plans to develop targeted advertisements to be seen by people who have performed anti-Semitic searches online, for example. Clicking on the ads will redirect them to the one-on-one intervention program.
“This is all a new room,” said Mr. Aborn. “Neither of us knows for sure how much progress we will make.”