Fears that an untold number of Americans are being radicalized is prompting the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to take a closer look at efforts to counter domestic extremism and at whether enough is being done.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced the overhaul of the country’s approach to domestic terrorism Friday, citing the January 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.
“The tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known — the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat,” Psaki told reporters, calling the new effort “really the first step.”
“The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve,” she added.
As part of the overhaul, Biden on Friday tasked the director of national intelligence to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security to produce a comprehensive threat assessment.
The assessment is to draw on analysis from government agencies and law enforcement, as well as private researchers, as warranted.
"The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis," Psaki said. “We are committed to developing policies and strategies based on fact, objective and rigorous analysis, and respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activity.”
Psaki said the White House was also looking to strengthen the National Security Council’s ability to counter domestic extremism by improving the flow of information among government agencies, supporting programs to prevent radicalization and looking at ways to disrupt domestic extremist networks.
The NSC will also look at the role of social media, she said.
According to the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, more than 130 people are facing federal charges in connection with the riot and siege of the U.S. Capitol.
The Southern Poverty Law Center told VOA last week that the event drew supporters or sympathizers from more than a dozen extremist groups, including far-right and white supremacist groups, such as the Proud Boys and the Boogaloo Bois.
Other researchers said lesser-known groups also appeared to have been involved, as were members of various militias.
There have also been growing concerns about the ability of domestic extremists to infiltrate the military and law enforcement.
“We clearly recognize the threat from domestic extremists, particularly those who espouse white supremacy or white nationalist ideologies,” a senior defense official said last week.
“We know that some groups actively attempt to recruit our personnel into their cause or actually encourage their members to join the military for the purpose of acquiring skills and experience,” the official added, saying that while he did not have any specific data, it appeared the number of cases was rising.
12 Guard members pulled
Ahead of the Biden inauguration this past Wednesday, the U.S. National Guard announced it was removing 12 troops from security duty because of inappropriate behavior or extremist ties.
Concerns about domestic extremists in the military have also gotten the attention of just-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“The job of the Department of Defense is to keep America safe from our enemies, but we can't do that if some of those enemies lie with our own ranks," Austin told lawmakers during his confirmation hearing Tuesday. “This [extremism] has no place in the military of the United States of America.”
In a letter to troops Friday, his first day at the Pentagon, Austin called on the rank and file to live up to “our core values, the same ones our fellow citizens expect of us.”
There are also concerns that some domestic extremists are receiving encouragement from foreign governments.
“I’ve certainly seen Russia’s use of active measures in a variety of campaigns to exacerbate the divisions in this country and to promote extremism in a sense,” new Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers during her confirmation hearing earlier this week.
New research also suggests that extremist movements in the United States are increasingly connected to similar movements in other countries, including Finland, France, Germany, Sweden and Britain.
“During the last few years, a new leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic and violent extreme right-wing movement has emerged,” said Hans-Jakob Schindler, senior director of the Counter Extremism Project.
“The extreme right-wing movement is connected to frequent international travel, to music and mixed martial arts events, as well as marches and rallies,” Schindler said Friday during a webinar about the latest research.
VOA's Masood Farivar contributed to this report.