Garland says DOJ reviewing powers to counter extremism

Chris Strohm and Jordan Fabian

The U.S. Justice Department is assessing whether it is positioned to combat the rise of violent extremism inside the U.S., which the FBI warns now surpasses foreign-linked terrorism as the greatest and most lethal threat facing the country.

The effort includes collaborating with foreign allies to find connections between extremists in the U.S. with those abroad, as well as sharing information with technology and social media companies to address the spread of violent radical activity online, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing Wednesday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Washington.

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The department is working “to ensure that we have the right posture to confront the threat of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism, are devoting appropriate resources to the task, and are nimble enough to make any changes that may be necessary to bolster our efforts and adapt as the threat evolves,” Garland said in prepared remarks that were released Tuesday by the Justice Department.

Garland will testify alongside Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The hearing comes as the Biden administration prepares to announce findings and recommendations of a review into domestic terrorism led by the National Security Council.

The Homeland Security Department is taking a new approach to addressing domestic terrorism, Mayorkas said in his prepared remarks.

The department’s approach includes expanding an analytic focus to review how extremists exploit social media and other online platforms, and the link between online activities and real-world violence, Mayorkas said.

“The threats posed by domestic violent extremism are often fueled by false narratives, conspiracy theories, and extremist rhetoric spread through social media and other online platforms,” he said.

The NSC-led review is expected to result in a series of changes across agencies to better collect and share information about terrorist threats and more effectively coordinate responses and resources, including with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Department.

The idea of further involving intelligence agencies in combating domestic terrorism is provoking sharp criticism from some Republicans, however, renewing past complaints from former President Donald Trump and some of his supporters that they’re the targets of a “deep state” bureaucracy.

The Biden administration review began after the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. The Justice Department is leading one of the largest and most complex investigations in its history into the attack, with more than 400 individuals charged so far.

Some lawmakers also are pushing for legislation to establish an independent, Sept. 11-style panel to investigate the Capitol attack, which occurred as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory in the 2020 presidential election.

The Justice Department and FBI have warned that domestic extremists pose a heightened threat for carrying out attacks in the near future. The greatest peril comes from those motivated by racial biases or anti-government sentiment, with White supremacists being the most dangerous, according to the FBI.

The Justice Department is also evaluating whether to seek a new law that would allow prosecutors bring specific charges for plotting and carrying out acts of domestic terrorism. However, no decision has been reached and the terrorism review isn’t expected to include a recommendation for new legislation.