Attorney General Merrick Garland’s new policy aims to address the threat of domestic terrorism head-on. Garland announced Tuesday he launched the first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism.
While the policy is ideologically neutral, it can apply to any group; Garland tied it directly to the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
“Our current effort comes on the heels of another large and heinous attack – this time, the January 6th assault on our nation’s Capitol,” said Garland in remarks Tuesday. “We have now – as we have then – an enormous task ahead: to move forward as a country; to punish the perpetrators; to do everything possible to prevent similar attacks; and to do so in a manner that affirms the values on which our justice system is founded and upon which our democracy depends.”
This marks a shift in the willingness of any federal agency to take action against far-right extremists. CNN reported Garland emphasized the DOJ will prosecute people for acts of violence and not ideology.
Recalling the cooperative effort after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Garland announced he would reconvene the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee. A White House explainer highlighted the importance of protecting civil rights and civil liberties as a part of national security.
According to a March intelligence assessment, the two greatest threats to domestic stability were racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race and anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, such as militia violent extremists.
Warnings of violent threats from white nationalists and far-right extremists are not new. Intelligence agencies have followed the growing danger for quite some time.
Even before it was acknowledged as a threat, white supremacist violence wreaked havoc on Black and other communities of color for generations. From the Tulsa Race Massacre to the murder of nine faithful members of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, far-right extremist violence has taken its toll.
Domestic terrorism is defined as “activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State.” Such activities must further “appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
But some questions remain about how law enforcement agencies will carry out this new mandate. This includes concerns of surveillance and tracking of Black organizers. Despite all evidence of the threat posed by white nationalists and far-right extremists, the federal law enforcement agencies pursued Black organizers under the Black Identity Extremist designation that was later discarded.
Distinguishing violent white nationalists and far-right extremists is an important step after federal law enforcement lumping all groups together under the designation of racially motivated violent extremism.
Garland closed out his remarks Tuesday with a call to diffusing underlying causes of domestic terrorism. In doing so, it’s important that promoting tolerance and respect is not done at the expense of historically targeted groups.