Biden orders threat assessment of violent domestic groups

Top law enforcement and intelligence officials will look into the threats weeks after a riot at the US Capitol.

In the wake of the January 6 US Capitol riot, Biden has directed federal law enforcement and intelligence officials to conduct a threat assessment of domestic violent groups [Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE]

Weeks after a violent pro-Donald Trump mob stormed the US Capitol, President Joe Biden is directing law enforcement and intelligence officials to conduct a full assessment of the threat of domestic violent ideologies in the United States, the White House announced Friday.

“We want fact-based analysis, upon which we can shape policy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a briefing.

The assessment will be carried out by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in coordination with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, she added.

Psaki said that, in addition to the threat assessment, the White House would build out capability within its National Security Council to counter domestic violent groups, including a policy review on how the federal government can share information about the threat better.

Trump supporters confront US Capitol Police in the hallway outside of the Senate chamber, January 6, 2021 [Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

“The January 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we all know: The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat,” Psaki said, adding that the administration will confront the problem with resources, policies and “respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities”.

The White House also will coordinate relevant parts of the government to “enhance and accelerate efforts” to address the issue, Psaki added.

The disclosure is a stark acknowledgement of the national security threat that officials see as posed by American motivated to violence by hardline ideologies.

The involvement of the director of national intelligence, an office created after the September 11, 2001, attacks to prevent violence from international hardline groups, suggests that American authorities are examining how to pivot to a more concerted focus on violence from domestic threats.

The riot at the Capitol, which led last week to Trump’s second impeachment, raised questions about whether a federal government national security apparatus that for years has moved aggressively to combat threats from foreign terror groups and their followers in the US is adequately equipped to address the threat of domestic hardline groups. It is an issue that has flared periodically across the years, with different attacks — including a massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue — renewing debate about whether a law specific to domestic attacks is needed.

It is unclear when the threat assessment will conclude or whether it will precipitate law enforcement and intelligence getting new tools or authorities to address a problem that officials say has proved challenging to combat, partly because of First Amendment protections.

FBI Director Chris Wray said last year that, during the past year, the most lethal violence has come from anti-government activists, such as anarchists and militia types.

Law enforcement agencies are under scrutiny for their preparations for January 6, when a violent mob of Trump supporters overran the police and stormed into the Capitol. More than 150 people are facing charges so far, including a man who was photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt, as well as QAnon conspiracy theorists and members of militia groups.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies