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Biden Releases National Strategy for Countering Domestic Extremism

The Biden administration unveiled its national strategy to address domestic extremism on Tuesday in an ongoing effort to shift counterterrorism efforts to focus on homegrown attacks and risks.

In a statement about the release of the strategy, U.S. President Joe Biden wrote: “Domestic terrorism—driven by hate, bigotry, and other forms of extremism—is a stain on the soul of America. It goes against everything our country strives for and it poses a direct challenge to our national security, democracy, and unity.”

According to a strategic intelligence assessment released by the FBI in May 2021, homeland security and law enforcement agencies determined that racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) would likely continue to be the most lethal domestic violent extremism (DVE) threats to the United States. Based on 2019 data, the agencies had high confidence in the assessment based on these groups’ capability to select weapons and targets to conduct attacks and the effectiveness of online messaging calling for increased violence.

“The year 2019 represented the most lethal year for DVE attacks since 1995, with five separate DVE attacks resulting in 32 deaths, 24 of which occurred during attacks conducted by RMVEs advocating for the superiority of the white race,” the assessment said.

The new National Strategy for Countering Domestic Extremism is organized around four pillars: efforts to understand and share information (federally and locally) about the full range of domestic terrorism threats; efforts to prevent domestic extremists from successfully recruiting, inciting, and mobilizing Americans to violence; efforts to deter and disrupt domestic terrorist activity before violence occurs; and addressing long-term issues that contribute to domestic terrorism in the United States—especially the dynamics of racism and bigotry.

“While domestic terrorism’s roots and elements of our response may be longstanding, domestic terrorism is both persistent and evolving—and, according to the U.S. Intelligence Community and law enforcement, ‘elevated’ in the threat it now poses,” the document said. “The National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism provides an overarching approach to address today’s manifestation of the domestic terrorism threat as well as the evolving forms that the threat may take in the years ahead.”

The strategy will focus on “unlawful violence that poses a threat to public safety, to national security, and to the genuine free expression of ideas,” and not the expression of opinion, beliefs, or ideas that people may disagree with or find distasteful. The document also notes that the legal definition of domestic extremism makes no distinction of political views—left, right, or center—and neither should the strategy.

Generally, the strategy seeks to reinforce methods of combating extremism already in use by the U.S. government, without adding new laws to crack down on extremists. The administration also requested more money for digital literacy programs to help the public identify hateful content and resist recruitment, and it requested more than $100 million in additional funds for the Justice Department to hire prosecutors, investigators, and analysts to address domestic terrorism, the New York Times reported.

The strategy also notes that government officials are not the best placed to identify or address issues early on, so it seeks to equip individuals, families, and local communities with resources to identify and help individuals who may be a risk to themselves or others.

Online recruitment and mobilization were also tackled in the strategy: “The widespread availability of domestic terrorist recruitment material online is a national security threat whose front lines are overwhelmingly provide-sector online platforms, and we are committed to informing more effectively the escalating efforts by those platforms to secure those front lines.”

The strategy calls for revisions to pre-employment background checks and reinvestigations for government employees to look for domestic terrorism threats. For example, the Department of Defense is reviewing and updating its definition of prohibited extremism activities among uniformed military personnel.

“We cannot promise that we will be able to disrupt every plot, defuse every bomb, or arrest every coconspirator before they manage to wreak unspeakable horror, but we can promise that we will do everything in our power to prevent such tragedies,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday in an address at the Justice Department.