There were concerns about what shape such a strategy might take when the president announced it in January immediately upon taking office, fueled in no small part by the eruption of far-right violence at the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol—particularly suggestions to pass new anti-terrorism laws and erect a top-heavy “war on terror”-style response. However, the plan released Tuesday by the administration has none of these characteristics, is sensibly focused on enforcing the abundant laws already on the books, and similarly on rooting out extremists from within the ranks of the law enforcement officers charged with enforcing those laws. No doubt it will drive Carlson over the edge.
“We have to take both short-term steps to counter the very real threats of today and longer-term measures to diminish the drivers that will contribute to this ongoing challenge to our democracy,” Biden said in an official statement.
“This is a project that should unite all Americans. Together we must affirm that domestic terrorism has no place in our society. We must work to root out the hatreds that can too often drive violence. And we must recommit to defending and protecting our basic freedoms, which belong to all Americans in equal measure, and which are not only the foundation of our democracy—they are our enduring advantage in the world.”
The plan outlines four main components, or “pillars”:
- Enhancing the government’s understanding of terrorism-related information and its ability to share it within law enforcement agencies.
- Focusing its efforts on preventing recruitment and radicalization by far-right extremist groups, with $77 million already earmarked.
- Disrupting and deterring domestic terrorist activity, backed by a promise to increase support to state and local efforts as well as federal, with $100 million earmarked for FBI, Homeland Security, and Justice Department programs.
- Confronting longtime contributors to domestic terrorism in the U.S., identified in the plan as “individuals subscribing to violent ideologies such as violent white supremacy, which are grounded in racial, ethnic, and religious hatred and the dehumanizing of portions of the American community, as well as violent anti–government ideologies,” who it says “are responsible for a substantial portion of today’s domestic terrorism.”
Notably, while the plan does not advocate for new legislation to bolster prosecutors’ ability to charge terrorist actors, it does not specifically eschew the idea, either. Rather, the FAQ notes: “DOJ is closely examining whether new legislative authorities that balance safety and the protection of civil liberties are necessary and appropriate.”
“The recognition that civil society is the first and best line of defense against the radical right; empowering this through learning, support and training is urgently needed,” Matthew Feldman, director of the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right, told BuzzFeed News. “Finding ways of doing this that smacks neither of propaganda or superficiality will be a major headache, though we really have no choice if we’re really committed to pushing back the tide of hatred, disinformation and political violence.”
Experts were also impressed by the funding dedicated to preventing radicalization. “If that’s allocated effectively, it could have a real impact,” tweeted Brian Hughes, associate director of the Polarization and Extremism Research Innovation Lab (PERIL) at American University. “Better recognition of the signs leading up to an attack, sure. But also resources to help stop radicalization before it starts.”
The plan also deals clearly with the problem of infiltration of the ranks of law enforcement and the military by far-right extremists, particularly since the former will be primarily responsible for enforcing the laws against terrorist violence:
The U.S. Government is improving employee screening to enhance methods for identifying domestic terrorists who might pose insider threats. The Office of Personnel Management will consider updates to the forms used to apply for sensitive roles in the Federal Government that could assist investigators in identifying potential domestic terrorism threats. DOD, DOJ, and DHS are similarly pursuing efforts to ensure domestic terrorists are not employed within our military or law enforcement ranks and improve screening and vetting processes.
As the Brennan Center for Justice’s Michael German explored in a study, law enforcement has increasingly been polluted by the rising numbers of far-right extremists within their ranks—some of them recruited from within police forces, while others have surreptitiously infiltrated them. “While it is widely acknowledged that racist officers subsist within police departments around the country, federal, state, and local governments are doing far too little to proactively identify them, report their behavior to prosecutors who might unwittingly rely on their testimony in criminal cases, or protect the diverse communities they are sworn to serve,” he writes.
“Efforts to address systemic and implicit biases in law enforcement are unlikely to be effective in reducing the racial disparities in the criminal justice system as long as explicit racism in law enforcement continues to endure. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that it does.”
It’s not credible to expect our national law enforcement apparatus to respond effectively to far-right domestic terrorism when its ranks are full of people sympathetic to their cause. So any effective solution to dealing with the spread of domestic terrorism will necessarily be wrapped up in the similarly major issue of larger police reform, which should probably begin with a focused effort on weeding out extremists within their ranks.
“The United States is well served by a diverse workforce, including in the military and Federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement,” the plan states. “Those who protect and defend this nation should reflect the nation, including its vast spectrum of experiences and viewpoints. Consistent with that, no one should be allowed to abuse or exploit the trust and responsibility or the often sensitive accesses and resources that are a part of such professions.”
Experts generally voiced approval for the plan. “This first U.S. strategy breaks new ground in moving beyond an exclusively law-enforcement and security frame in thinking about combatting domestic violent extremism, including serious attention to prevention,” tweeted Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University.
Mary McCord of Georgetown University Law Center told The Washington Post that prevention also involves tactics such as undercover stings, which some civil liberties groups have deemed entrapment. “You don’t want to be prosecuting the El Paso terrorist after he kills 23 people. You want to have prevented it,” McCord said. “That’s the challenge. Because anytime you’re engaging in preventive law enforcement, that comes with criticisms.”
“This brings us in line with what other countries are doing overseas: Understanding you can’t tackle domestic extremism by only paying attention to the fringe,” Miller-Idriss told The Washington Post. “You also have to pay attention to what’s happening in the mainstream.”
“The devil’s in the execution, but this is an intelligent step forward, and an important departure from the past,” tweeted Hughes. “Kudos to the authors and the admin. I’m looking forward to see what happens next.”
Biden’s strategy codifies what experts such as Carly Gordenstein and Seamus Hughes, researchers at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, consider to be “a sea change in counterterrorism.”
“It is clear that structural changes are under way that aim to root out extremism in and out of government, attempt to concentrate efforts more efficiently, and invest in the issue of domestic extremism at a rate that is unprecedented in the United States,” Gordenstein and Hughes wrote.
All of which is certain to send Tucker Carlson completely over the edge on his show. Carlson, who has been leading Fox News’ final descent into the abyss of far-right extremism, has had a particular fetish about the looming prosecutions of a number of far-right extremists, including the Jan. 6 insurrectionists—because the target, according to Carlson, is actually ordinary Republicans.
Carlson has tried to claim both that the Capitol was “not an armed insurrection” and that terrorism by white nationalists—who he defines as “people who don’t agree with Joe Biden”—is not a significant threat: “So, what is white supremacy? Well, the weird thing is Joe Biden didn't define it,” he falsely claimed on a recent show.
Tuesday’s announced strategy, in fact, quite clearly defines it:
[One] key aspect of today’s domestic terrorism threat emerges from racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and networks whose racial, ethnic, or religious hatred leads them toward violence, as well as those whom they encourage to take violent action. These actors have different motivations, but many focus their violence towards the same segment or segments of the American community, whether persons of color, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, other religious minorities, women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, or others. Their insistence on violence can, at times, be explicit. It also can, at times, be less explicit, lurking in ideologies rooted in a perception of the superiority of the white race that call for violence in furtherance of perverse and abhorrent notions of racial “purity” or “cleansing.”
Count on Carlson to pretend otherwise while claiming that the above description somehow targets Republicans. After all, we’re now down to seeing Fox News openly identify with violent far-right extremists to own the libs.
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