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'We are focused on violence': Biden administration releases domestic terror strategy

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The Biden administration unveiled a national strategy Tuesday to combat domestic terrorism, a plan that leans heavily on bolstering the ranks of prosecutors, analysts and investigators across the government to confront the elevated threat.

The four-pronged plan includes $100 million in the proposed 2022 budget to add personnel at the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security while attempting to screen existing government employees "who might pose insider threats."

Administration officials said the Pentagon, DOJ and DHS are "pursuing efforts to ensure domestic terrorists are not employed within our military or law enforcement ranks and improve screening and vetting processes," administration officials said.

More: Domestic extremism has become 'mainstream,' could threaten American life for 20 years

More: Attorney General Garland seeks millions to fight domestic terrorism, sexual violence, civil rights abuses

A report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Rules committees pointed to profound intelligence failures surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
A report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Rules committees pointed to profound intelligence failures surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"First, we are focused on violence, not ideology," Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday in an address at the Justice Department. "We don't investigate people for their First Amendment activities. ... There is no place for violence in resolving political differences in our democracy."

Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the strategy addresses the "most significant and persistent terrorism-related threat to the homeland today."

Key to the effort, the attorney general said, is a plan to improve the sharing of threat information across all levels of government, a crucial failure in the run-up to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riots, a special Senate report found.

More: Oath Keeper, ex-firefighter allegedly brought security K-9 to assist in Capitol riot

Last week, a joint Senate committee concluded that U.S. intelligence officials failed to warn of potential violence at the U.S. Capitol, leaving law enforcement unprepared to contend with a violent mob that wanted to overturn the 2020 election.

"Capitol Hill police were put in an impossible situation," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. "Without adequate intelligence, training and equipment, they didn't have the tools they needed to protect the Capitol. That's the hard truth."

The report published by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Rules committees offered a pointed assessment of security and intelligence failures surrounding the attack by former President Donald Trump's supporters.

A joint Senate committee concluded that U.S. intelligence officials had failed to warn of potential violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
A joint Senate committee concluded that U.S. intelligence officials had failed to warn of potential violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Strategy does not include a domestic terrorism law

The administration's strategy also is notable for what it does not include: a domestic terrorism law that would punish those operatives in the same way that international terrorists have been prosecuted for attacks on the United States.

While Garland said officials are reviewing possible legislative options, adding that the fight against domestic terror must be pursued with the "same sense of purpose," some have characterized such legislation as crucial in addressing the threat from within.

"Making domestic terrorism a federal crime would not result in the targeting of specific ideas or groups," FBI Agents Association President Brian O'Hare said in a statement. "Rather, it would target acts of violence that have no place in the political discourse secured by our Constitution and Bill of Rights."

Biden requested strategy just after inauguration

The administration's domestic strategy announcement comes after President Joe Biden called for a new plan in the first days of his presidency – just two weeks removed from the Capitol assault orchestrated by pro-Trump rioters who sought to intervene as Congress certified Biden's election.

Rioters included members of the Proud Boys, an extremist group with ties to white nationalism, the paramilitary group Oath Keepers and other far-right organizations.

"We are focused on violence, not ideology," Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday in an address at the Justice Department as the Biden administration unveiled a national strategy to combat domestic terrorism.
"We are focused on violence, not ideology," Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday in an address at the Justice Department as the Biden administration unveiled a national strategy to combat domestic terrorism.

Since then, Garland said nearly 500 suspects have been charged in one of the largest investigations in U.S. history.

"The comprehensive strategy provides a nationwide framework for the U.S. government and partners to understand and share domestic terrorism-related information; prevent domestic terrorism recruitment and mobilization to violence; disrupt and deter domestic terrorism activity; and confront long term contributors to domestic terrorism," the White House said.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement authorities assembled the plan, which built on a March report that found that the most lethal threats were posed by "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race and anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists," including militia groups.

The plan represents a dramatic pivot from the previous administration and Trump, who at one point lavished praise on the Capitol rioters, calling them them "very special."

"The strategy we are releasing today is carefully tailored to address violence and reduce the factors that lead to violence, threaten public safety, and infringe on the free expression of ideas," according to the administration plan.

"In a true democracy, violence cannot be an acceptable mode of seeking political or social change."

Related: White supremacist propaganda hit an all-time high in 2020, new report says

Such an effort, Garland suggested, will take more than a law enforcement and intelligence campaign.

"We must adopt a broad societal response to attack the problem at its deeper roots," the attorney general said.

President Joe Biden's plan includes $100 million in the proposed 2022 budget to add personnel at the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to help combat threats of domestic terrorism.
President Joe Biden's plan includes $100 million in the proposed 2022 budget to add personnel at the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to help combat threats of domestic terrorism.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Domestic terror: Biden calls for more prosecutors, agents in fight

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