WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — The Justice Department is setting up a special unit focused on domestic terrorism, the department’s top national security official told lawmakers Tuesday in what he called an “advanced” threat from violent extremists in the United States.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen testifies just days after the nation celebrated the one-year anniversary of the violent uprising at the US Capitol, said the number of FBI investigations into suspected domestic violent extremists has more than doubled since the spring of 2020.
“We have seen a growing threat from those who are motivated by racial animosity, as well as those who hold to extremist anti-government and anti-incumbency ideologies,” Olsen said.
Olsen’s assessment was tracked last March with a warning from FBI Director Christopher Wray, who testified that the threat was “metastasising”. Jill Sanborn, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, who testified with Olsen, said Tuesday that the greatest threat alone comes from extremists who radicalize online and unleash violence on so-called “soft targets.”
The department’s National Security Division, which is headed by Olsen, has a counter-terrorism section. But Olsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he wanted to “enhance our current approach” and create a specialized domestic terrorism unit “to ensure that these cases are properly handled and effectively coordinated across the country”. has decided.
The creation of a new entity underscores how domestic violence extremism, which oversaw the threat of international terrorism in the years following the September 11 attacks, has attracted immediate attention within the federal government.
But the issue remains politically embroiled, in part because the absence of a federal domestic terrorism law has created ambiguity as to what types of violence meet that definition.
For example, several Republican senators suggested Tuesday that the FBI and the Justice Department had focused more on the January 6 uprising than the 2020 riots that erupted in US cities and grew out of racial justice protests .
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz accused the department of “wildly unequal” behavior. The Senate’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, played a video clip of the 2020 violence as a counter to the video of the January 6 Capitol riots, which was run by Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin, the chairman of the committee.
Officials said the department treats domestic extremist violence as equal, regardless of ideology.
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