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Biden administration pushes plan to combat US domestic terrorism

Justice Department mulls recommending specific law on the matter, as report indicates increased threat posed by extremists

US President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/ Patrick Semansky)
US President Joe Biden speaks to American service members at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/ Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Joe Biden’s administration says it will enhance its analysis of threats from domestic terrorists, including the sharing of intelligence within law enforcement agencies, and will work with tech companies to eliminate terrorist content online as part of a nationwide strategy to combat domestic terrorism.

The National Security Council on Tuesday released the strategy plan, which comes more than six months after a mob of insurgents loyal to former president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Biden’s presidential win.

A report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found that domestic violent extremists posed an increased threat in 2021, with white supremacist groups and anti-government militias posing the highest risk, officials said.

The new strategy includes enhancing the government’s analysis of domestic terrorism and improving the information that is shared between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Administration officials said the Justice Department had also implemented a new system to “methodically track” domestic terrorism cases nationwide within the FBI.

The Justice Department was also evaluating whether the administration should recommend Congress pass a specific domestic terrorism law, which does not currently exist. In the absence of domestic terrorism laws, the Justice Department relies on other statutes to prosecute ideologically motivated violence by people with no international ties.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest in the US Capitol Rotunda on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

But that has made it harder to track how often extremists driven by religious, racial or anti-government bias commit violence in the US and complicates efforts to develop a universally accepted domestic terror definition. Opponents of domestic terrorism laws say prosecutors already have enough tools.

The government’s new plan also includes an effort to identify government employees who may pose a domestic terrorism threat, with a number of federal agencies working on new policies and programs to root out potential domestic extremists in law enforcement and in the military.

A senior administration official said the Office of Personnel Management was considering updating forms to assist in improving screening and vetting of government employees to make sure people who could pose a threat are identified before being put in sensitive roles. The official spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity to detail the internal tools.

Officials said the Justice Department had also formally made domestic terrorism a top priority and had been reallocating resources at U.S. attorneys’ offices and at FBI field offices across the US to combat the threat from domestic extremists. The Justice Department’s proposed budget for next year includes $100 million in additional resources related to domestic terrorism to be used for analysts, investigators and prosecutors.

The US and four other countries joined an effort to stop extremist violence from spreading online. The effort, known as the Christchurch Call, involves some 50 nations plus tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, and is named for the New Zealand city where the slaughter at the two mosques took place.

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