US unveils strategy to confront ‘domestic terror’ threats

White nationalists pose the greatest threat, says the Justice Department which may recommend passage of ‘domestic terror’ law.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 [Win McNamee/Pool via AP Photo]

The United States government has released a national strategy to improve the analysis of domestic “terror” threats more than five months after a mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on January 6 in an attempted insurrection.

The plan, unveiled on Tuesday,  includes increased intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies, deterrence of “extremist threats” and prevention of recruitment and mobilisation by “extremist organisations”, partially by working with tech companies to remove online content that could recruit or mobilise.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, head of the Justice Department, said during a news conference the “national strategy recognises that we cannot prevent every attack. The only way to find sustainable solutions is not only to disrupt and deter, but also to address the root causes of violence … we can promise that we will do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies.”

Numerous reports from across intelligence and law enforcement agencies have found that domestic violent groups posed an increased threat in 2021. Far-right and white nationalist groups are considered the most dangerous of these threats by the Justice Department.

Domestic “extremist threats” are a top priority for the Justice Department. The agency’s budget for the upcoming year features an additional $101m for the analysis and monitoring of such threats.

The strategy also aims to investigate those with extremist views inside the US government and military, with agencies developing new approaches to rooting out individuals who hold extreme views.

A National Guardsman walks the grounds of the US Capitol on the second day of then-President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in Washington, DC, on February 10, 2021 [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

A surprising number of the rioters, who gathered at the US Capitol on January 6 to stop a joint session of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory, were current and former police and military members.

Law enforcement has long faced criticism over the urgency it placed on far-right threats, often focusing on left-wing and anti-racist groups and religious minorities.

The strategy aims to “ensure that law enforcement operates without bias in countering domestic terrorism and provides for the public safety of all Americans”.

Biden said in a statement: “Domestic terrorism — driven by hate, bigotry, and other forms of extremism — is a stain on the soul of America … It goes against everything our country strives for and it poses a direct challenge to our national security, democracy, and unity.”

Discussion over law

The plan comes amid discussion over whether Congress should pass a “domestic terrorism” law to increase law enforcement’s abilities to track threats.

No current law exists, and some in law enforcement complain the lack creates issues in enforcement and intelligence gathering, including there being no universally accepted definition of “domestic terror”.

Smoke fills the walkway outside the Senate Chamber as rioters are confronted by US Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol, on January 6, 2021 [File: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

The Justice Department is also considering whether the Biden administration should recommend such a law be passed, according to The Associated Press news agency.

However, watchdog groups and experts say law enforcement has already enough tools at their disposal to effectively police domestic “extremist threats”.

A coalition of 151 rights groups urged Congress in January to oppose the passage of any new “domestic terror” laws.

The coalition, which includes Human Rights Watch, The Brennan Center for Justice and Amnesty International USA, said in a statement law enforcement agencies have “over 50 terrorism-related statutes” that can be used “to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct, including white supremacist violence, as well as dozens of other federal statutes relating to hate crimes, organized crime, and violent crimes“.

The failure to address these threats “is not a question of not having appropriate tools to employ, but a failure to use those on hand”, the statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera