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New Biden Administration Strategy Seeks to Confront Domestic Terrorism

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FILE - Protesters clash with police at the west entrance of the Capitol during a "Stop the Steal" protest at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday released its long-awaited strategy for countering domestic terrorism, a comprehensive plan that calls for both short- and long-term measures to confront the growing threat of attacks from militant white supremacists and other violent extremists.

The four-pillar National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, described by the administration as the first of its kind, focuses on enhancing and sharing information about domestic terrorism, preventing terror recruitment, disrupting and thwarting attacks, and confronting the long-term drivers of domestic terrorism. It also calls for the expenditure of millions of dollars in additional funds to hire domestic terrorism analysts, investigators and prosecutors.

"Domestic terrorism — driven by hate, bigotry, and other forms of extremism — is a stain on the soul of America," Biden said in a prepared statement released by the White House while he is traveling in Europe. "It goes against everything our country strives for and it poses a direct challenge to our national security, democracy, and unity."

FILE - President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021.
FILE - President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021.

"We have to take both short-term steps to counter the very real threats of today and longer-term measures to diminish the drivers that will contribute to this ongoing challenge to our democracy," he added.

Biden's focus on far-right domestic violent extremists stands in sharp contrast to the Trump administration's approach, which largely downplayed it and instead viewed left-wing militancy as a greater threat.

The new strategy grew out of an assessment of domestic terrorism Biden directed during his first week in office amid heightened concern prompted by the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump. A sprawling FBI investigation into the attack has resulted in the arrests of nearly 500 people.

In an unclassified report in March, the U.S. intelligence community said domestic violent extremists posed an "elevated threat" to homeland security in 2021, with violent white supremacists and anti-government militias representing the most "lethal threat." The FBI views the threat posed by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists on the same footing as the threat posed by the Islamic State terror group, an assessment it first made in 2019.

FILE - U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department in Washington, June 11, 2021.
FILE - U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Justice Department in Washington, June 11, 2021.

Outlining the plan to a group of administration officials tasked with carrying out Biden's new strategy, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the threat of domestic terrorism is rapidly evolving. Citing FBI Director Christopher Wray, Garland said, "We continue to observe actors driven by a diverse set of violent motivations, sometimes personalized and developed from a mix of violent ideologies."

As part of the plan, the president's budget proposal for fiscal year 2022 includes $100 million in additional funds for the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. A senior administration official briefing reporters on the strategy said the money will be used to hire analysts, investigators, prosecutors, and other personnel — "resources that we need to thwart domestic terrorism and bring domestic terrorists to justice when the law has been broken."

But Garland said deterring and disrupting attacks alone won't put an end to domestic terrorism.

"The long-term issues that contributed to domestic terrorism in America must be addressed to ensure that this threat diminishes over generations to come," he said. "To defuse the underlying causes of domestic terrorist attacks we must promote a society that is tolerant of our differences and respectful in our disagreements."

The strategy also calls for enhanced screening and vetting of law enforcement and military personnel to root out "insider threats" in their ranks. The departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Defense are "pursuing efforts to ensure that domestic terrorists are not employed within our military or law enforcement ranks," the senior administration official said. The administration is developing a mechanism that allows U.S. military veterans to report recruitment attempts by violent extremist actors, according to the strategy.

Several dozen current and former law enforcement and military personnel are among the hundreds of pro-Trump rioters who have been arrested in the January 6 attack.

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