Attorney General Merrick Garland is considering whether to recommend a new criminal statute to prosecute domestic terrorists, among other tactics he is pledging to use to combat the growing threat of domestic extremist violence.
This year, the FBI has seen an increase in the number of open domestic terrorism cases: racially and ethnically motivated attacks and those stemming from militias are the two most lethal drivers. In an address at the Justice Department Tuesday, Garland compared the threat to those posed by foreign violent actors.
“We will never take our eyes off the risk of another devastating attack by foreign terrorists,” he said. “At the same time, we must respond to domestic terrorism with the same sense of purpose and dedication.”
Citing the department’s ongoing investigation into the January 6 riot at the Capitol, Garland pledged Tuesday that the department would pursue domestic extremists with the same “resolve and dedication.”
The measures Garland announced are part of the Justice Department’s rollout of its new strategy to counter domestic terrorism, as part of a coordinated effort by the Biden administration to combat the rise in politically motivated extremism.
The administration has organized its national strategy around four pillars aimed at analyzing, preventing, disrupting and confronting catalysts for extremism. It emphasizes increased information and intelligence sharing among law enforcement and tech companies.
Administration officials, in briefing reporters on the strategy, pointed to an increase in politically, ethnically, and racially motivated acts of domestic terrorism in the U.S. over the years, including the congressional baseball shooting that took place four years ago this week, when a shooter opened fire on members of Congress because they were Republican.
Garland’s review of the issue follows a March report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which concluded in 2021 that domestic terrorism poses an “elevated threat” to the homeland. The report found that social and political factors, including the coronavirus pandemic and “emboldening impact of the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol,” would “almost certainly” spur domestic violent extremists to engage in further violence.
As the administration rolled out its strategy to confront domestic terrorism, the FBI sent a warning Tuesday to Congress that impatient andmight progress from “digital soldiers” to creating real-world violence.
“We assess that some DVE adherents of QAnon likely will begin to believe they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence—including harming perceived members of the ‘cabal’ such as Democrats and other political opposition—instead of continually awaiting Q’s promised actions which have not occurred,” the FBI assessment concludes.
But he promised that “we do not prosecute people for their beliefs,” adding that “across the world ‘extremist’ or ‘terrorist’ labels have at times been affixed to those perceived as political threats to the ruling order, but there is no place for partisanship in the enforcement of the law. The Justice Department will not tolerate any such abuse of authority.”
The U.S. will also be joining the Christchurch Call to Action with the international community and tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Named for the New Zealand city that suffered the loss of 51 people in March 2019 at the hands of a terrorist who attacked two mosques, the initiative outlines the voluntary actions governments and online service providers can take to reduce the dissemination of violent extremist content online.
The Trump administration declined to participate in the partnership.
Garland also committed Tuesday to reconvening the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, originally created by former Attorney General Janet Reno after the Oklahoma City bombing as a way to facilitate information sharing among agencies.
This new strategy also includes a focus on better ways to screen and vet federal government employees, law enforcement and service members who might pose a domestic terror threat from inside critical positions.
The Defense Department will incorporate training for retiring or separating servicemembers in order to help them identify extremists’ attempts to target and mobilize them for their skills.
A review of attorney statements, military service records and court documents obtained by CBS News found that at least 51 of those arrested stemming from their participation in the January 6 rioting at the Capitol are current or former military members. Of those, one is an active-duty service member, four are current part-time troops in the Army Reserve or National Guard, and 45 previously served in the military.
Similarly, CBS News has learned that at least 12 of those arrested were either former police officers or were employed as law enforcement officers at the time of the riot, according to court documents and employment records. Prosecutors also charged at least one current firefighter and one retired firefighter.
A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing Monday that the Office of Professional Management, the human resources division for the federal government, will review and consider updating hiring forms to improve the vetting and weed out applicants who could be domestic terrorists or potentially pose an insider threat. The Departments of Justice, Defense and Homeland Security are also looking at steps to improve their vetting procedures for personnel.