The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled its national strategy for countering domestic terrorism, with officials telling Fox News it's designed to cut across the political spectrum, while warning that White supremacy and "militia violent extremists" currently present the "most persistent and lethal threats."
The White House National Security Council released its strategy after the intelligence community, back in March, released its comprehensive threat assessment, which found that domestic violent extremism posed a "heightened threat" in 2021, and after President Biden, in January, tasked his administration with the review.
"This National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism lays out a comprehensive approach to addressing the threat while safeguarding bedrock American civil rights and civil liberties—values that make us who we are as a nation," Biden said, adding, "we cannot ignore this threat or wish it away."
The president said the efforts "should unite all Americans" and work together to "root out the hatreds that can too often drive violence."
Federal law defines domestic terrorism 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; 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 jurisdiction of the United States."
The NSC acknowledged that domestic terrorism was not new, calling the current threat environment "both persistent and evolving," and calls for an "overarching approach" to address domestic terrorism in its current state, as well as the evolving forms in the years ahead.
The NSC said today’s domestic terrorists "espouse a range of violent ideological motivations," including "racial or ethnic bigotry and hatred, as well as anti-government or anti-authority sentiment." The NSC warned that the terrorists "take on a variety of forms," from lone actors and small groups, to networks "exhorting and targeting violence toward specific communities," to violent, self-proclaimed "militias."
"Across violent ideologies, individuals and small groups—both formal and informal—have been galvanized by recent political and societal events in the United States to carry out violent attacks," the council added.
Still, it found that among the "wide range" of ideologies, "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (principally those who promote the superiority of the white race) and militia violent extremists are assessed as presenting the most persistent and lethal threats."
The assessment of the threat claimed terrorists had "different motivations," but said many focus their violence "towards the same segment or segments of the American community," including "persons of colors, 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,’" the NSC wrote.
"Another key component of the threat comes from anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists," the NSC explained, saying the "significant component of today’s threat includes self-proclaimed ‘militias’ and militia violent extremists who take steps to violently resist government authority or facilitate the overthrow of the U.S. Government based on perceived overreach; anarchist violent extremists, who violently oppose all forms of capitalism, corporate globalization, and governing institutions, which they perceive as harmful to society; sovereign citizen violent extremists, who believe they are immune from government authority and laws; or any individual or group who engages in violence—or incites imminent violence—in opposition to legislative, regulatory, or other actions taken by the government."
The NSC also noted that other domestic terrorists may be motivated to violence by "single-issue" ideologies like abortion, animal rights, environmental or involuntary celibacy or a combination of ideological influences.
But Biden administration officials maintained that it's "critical" they "condemn and confront" domestic terrorism, "regardless of the particular ideology that motivates individuals to violence."
"We are taking on this complex and evolving domestic terrorism threat landscape with an approach that honors and protects both America’s security and America’s values, especially our cherished civil rights and civil liberties," the NSC said, noting that effectively addressing domestic terrorism demands "a government-wide effort while protecting the rule of law and distinctive law enforcement prerogatives."
The strategy is broken down into four pillars: understanding and sharing domestic terrorism-related information; preventing domestic terrorism recruitment and mobilization to violence; disrupting and deterring domestic terrorism activity; and confronting long-term contributors to domestic terrorism.
"We must be clear-eyed about this challenge: the unlawful violence that constitutes domestic terrorism is the result of a complex, multi-layered set of society dynamics," the NSC wrote. "We cannot—and will not—ignore those dynamics, such as racism and bigotry that perpetuate the domestic terrorism threat."
Biden administration officials told Fox News the "complex and shifting" domestic terrorism threat landscape has created "significant challenges for law enforcement," specifically on internet-based communications platforms like social media, "file-upload sites," and end-to-end encrypted platforms, which officials say combined can "amplify threats to public safety."
"This is the domestic terrorism threat America faces today—one with the distinctive imprint of today’s digital age as well as longstanding roots in domestic terrorism challenges throughout our country’s history," the NSC wrote. "Tackling that threat comprehensively and persistently demands appreciating both its historical lineage and its distinctively modern form."
The administration’s strategy is set to improve information sharing throughout law enforcement at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial levels, and, at times, with private sector partners.
The Justice Department and the FBI are set to announce a new robust system to methodically track domestic terrorism cases nationwide, an official told Fox News, while the State Department will also work with the intelligence community to learn from foreign partners about the "international dimensions" of the threat.
The administration has also "revamped support to community partners" to prevent individuals from ever reaching the point of committing terrorist violence. Officials told Fox News that the Department of Homeland Security, for the first time, has designated "Domestic Violent Extremism" as a national priority area within the agency’s grant program, meaning more than $77 million will be allocated to state and local partners to "prevent, protect against, and respond to domestic violent extremism."
As part of the effort, DHS will work with the FBI and the Defense Department in an effort to incorporate training for service members separating or retiring from the military on potential targeting of those with military training by violent extremist actors.
Officials also told Fox News that the government is improving employee screening to enhance methods for identifying domestic terrorists who might pose "insider threats."
The Office of Personnel Management is working to 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, the official said, adding that DOD, DHS and DOJ are similarly pursuing efforts to ensure domestic terrorists are not employed within the U.S. military or law enforcement ranks and to improve the screening and vetting processes.
The administration is also allocating more than $100 million in additional resources for DOJ, FBI and DHS — included in the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget — to ensure that the government has the analysts, investigators, prosecutors and other personnel and resources it needs to take on domestic terrorism and "do justice when the law has been broken."
Officials told Fox News the Justice Department is examining whether new legislative authorities that "balance safety and the protection of civil liberties" are necessary and appropriate.
The government is also working to address online terrorist recruitment and mobilization to violence through increased information sharing with the technology sector to "build resilience to recruitment and mobilization."
With regard to online recruitment and mobilization, administration officials told Fox News they are using the channels between the government and the tech sector that were established back in 2015 and 2016 when the NSC was working on counterterrorism — specifically related to ISIS and its online recruiting capabilities.
The official told Fox News the administration is utilizing the existing channels and ensuring there is a greater focus on the new set of threats and said communications and conversations with social media platforms and tech companies are already underway.
The NSC said its report "represents a strategy whose implementation is, already, well underway."
"We will be steered by it as we forge a community across the Federal Government and beyond to counter today’s domestic terrorism threat and thus to make everyone in America safer and the country and our democracy stronger and more secure," the NSC wrote, noting that it will "continue to evaluate implementation" of the strategy to "ensure our response evolves as the threat evolves."
"Together, we will reaffirm our country’s core commitment to the peaceful expression and exchange of ideas, to equal justice under the rule of law, and to equality for all," the NSC said.