WASHINGTON (AP) – The Justice Department is creating a dedicated unit to deal with domestic terrorism, a senior National Security Officer told lawmakers Tuesday, describing a “heightened” threat from violent extremists in the United States.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, testifying just days after the country celebrated the anniversary of the U.S. Capitol uprising, said the number of FBI investigations into domestic violence extremist suspects had more than doubled since spring 2020.
“We are seeing a growing threat from those motivated by racial hatred and those who attribute extremist anti-government and anti-government ideologies,” Olsen said.
The new unit’s wording underscores the extent to which domestic violent extremism, which has been overshadowed by the threat of international terrorism for many years since the 9/11 attacks, is receiving close attention in the federal government and in the White House.
But the issue remains politically charged and divisive, in part because the absence of a federal law on domestic terrorism has created confusion about what kind of violence fits that definition. The US Penal Code defines domestic terrorism as violence aimed at coercing or intimidating civilians and influencing government policy, but there is no separate charge of domestic terrorism, which means that prosecutors have to rely on other laws.
Olsen’s assessment of growing domestic threats was confirmed by a warning last March from FBI Director Christopher Ray that the threat was “metastasizing.” Jill Sanborn, executive assistant to the FBI’s director of homeland security who testified with Olsen, said on Tuesday that the greatest threat comes from lone extremists or small cells who are radicalizing the Internet and seeking to use violence against so-called “easy targets.”
“This includes both homegrown violent extremists, inspired primarily by foreign terrorist organizations, and domestic violent extremism,” Sanborn said.
The Department of Homeland Security in the department headed by Olsen has a counterterrorism section. But Olsen told the Senate Judicial Committee that he decided to create a dedicated counter-terrorism unit “to strengthen our existing approach” and “to ensure that these cases are properly dealt with and effectively coordinated” across the country.
Guerrilla divisions over the terminology of domestic terrorism were evident during Tuesday’s hearings.
Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic committee, showed footage of the January 6 riots at the start of the hearing and urged everyone on the committee to “use this hearing to directly condemn the use of violence or the threat of violence to move forward.” political goals “.
“This is a simple request, but, unfortunately, necessary,” added Durbin. “This committee must declare with one voice that violence is unacceptable.”
Several Republican senators tried to divert attention away from January 6 and argued that the uprising distracted attention from the 2020 riots that erupted in American cities and grew out of racial justice protests. Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, criticized law enforcement witnesses for what he described as “vastly different standards” in the department’s pursuit of suspects in the 2020 riots and the January 6 uprising.
Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the group’s top Republican, showed a video of the 2020 violence as opposed to the January 6 footage that Durbin showed.
“This anti-police riot rocked our country for seven whole months,” Grassley said.
The FBI and the Justice Department say they treat domestic extremist violence the same, regardless of ideology. Sanborn said the FBI has launched more than 800 investigations into the 2020 riots and arrested more than 250 people. Attorney General Merrick Garland said last week that the Justice Department had arrested and indicted more than 725 people for their alleged role in the January 6 attack.
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