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Justice Department forms new domestic terrorism unit

Justice Department forms new domestic terrorism unit
Federal law enforcement escalates plan to combat rising threats from domestic violent extremists

The US Department of Justice has opened a new unit to address rising threats from domestic violent extremism, which federal law enforcement has repeatedly characterised as the chief threat facing the nation in recent years.

In remarks to the Senate Judiciary Committee on 11 January, Matthew Olsen, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, announced that the group will dedicate a team of lawyers to focus on domestic terror threats, pointing to the FBI’s investigations into domestic violent extremism cases that have more than doubled within the last two years.

Mr Olsen said the US continues to face an “elevated threat from domestic violent extremists – that is, individuals in the United States who seek to commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of domestic social or political goals”, including “those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies”.

The announcement comes on the heels of one-year-later reflections on the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021, and the more than 725 arrests – including more than 300 facing felony charges – that followed.

The FBI is seeking the arrests of more than 200 others in connection with the attack, including a person suspected of leaving pipe bombs near the Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee headquarters the night before the assault.

In remarks addressing the Justice Department’s progress in the year after the Capitol riots, US Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the agency was not done filing charges against those responsible, suggesting that more-serious charges could be added as prosecutors build their cases.

“The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last,” he said. “The Justice Department remains committed to holding all [6 January] perpetrators – at any level – accountable under law, whether they were present that day, or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault. on our democracy.”

Testimony on Tuesday marks the latest escalation from federal law enforcement against threats from white supremacists and others motivated by a toxic mix of grievance-based violence as well as perceived government overreach, the Covid-19 pandemic, conspiracy theories, and false narratives that proliferate online.

In November, FBI and US Department of Homeland Security officials told members of Congress that the FBI is investigating roughly 2,700 cases tied to domestic violent extremism following an uptick in threats over the previous 18 months.

The latest National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin – which has maintained a similar warning over the last year – asserts that the US “continues to face a diverse and challenging threat environment” from a range of domestic violent extremists who “continue to exploit online forums to influence and spread violent extremist narratives and promote violent activity”.

FBI National Security Branch Executive Assistant Director Jill Sanborn told lawmakers on Tuesday that “the greatest terrorism threat facing the United States today remains that posed by lone actors or small cells, who typically radicalised online and look to use easily accessible weapons to attack soft targets”.