In Wake of Jan. 6 Insurrection, Congress Turns Attention To Domestic Extremism : NPR

The siege of the U.S. Capitol in January forces lawmakers and senior officials to research future threats before individuals and groups with extreme views attempt new attacks. Samuel Corum / Getty Images Hide caption

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Samuel Corum / Getty Images

The siege of the U.S. Capitol in January forces lawmakers and senior officials to research future threats before individuals and groups with extreme views attempt new attacks.

Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Michigan Congressman Elissa Slotkin says the end date has come and gone for America’s unique focus on foreign terrorist threats.

“January 6th marked the end of the post-September 11th era for me,” says the former CIA analyst who served in Iraq and informed George W. Bush personally through Barack Obama of threats from foreign terrorism.

As chairman of a subcommittee on Homeland Security, Slotkin says the Capitol attack proves that combating domestic violent extremism must be America’s top national security priority.

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The second-term Democrat is now coordinating with the White House possible executive orders to counter the threat – such as new rules and regulations to make the national terrorist watch list a stronger tool in the fight against local extremists. Slotkin, who recently became a Hearing with attorneys general On this issue, she is also wondering whether the US needs a new tsar for domestic terrorism who would take on a role under the director of the National Intelligence Service.

It’s part of a new wave of efforts that, according to Slotkin and other Democrats, were slowed down when former President Trump was in office. But with President Biden now in the White House and consensus growing on the severity of the threat, Slotkin says much-needed action could soon become a reality.

“Unlike a year ago, when our committee really spat in the wind towards the Trump administration in many ways, we have an open door from the Biden administration, which has taken this seriously,” says Slotkin.

A new focus on home-grown threats

The siege of the Capitol in January is forcing lawmakers and top agencies to read up on future threats before individuals and groups with extreme views, such as violent white supremacists, attempt new attacks.

Meanwhile, More than 300 people were charged by federal prosecutors in connection with the uprising and about two dozen with links to militias and right-wing extremist groups are charged with conspiracy.

“The Trump administration has not been interested in treating this issue with the seriousness it deserves, even though you would receive comments from acting secretaries that domestic terrorism is the greatest terrorist threat,” said Senate chairman Gary Peters Michigan Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “We haven’t seen that this actually leads to resources and priorities.”

US intelligence agencies warn of heightened threat from domestic extremism

Peters said he raised the issue repeatedly when he was the top Democrat on the committee and the GOP controlled the chamber. Fast forward to today, he says that after controlling the White House and holding majorities in both the House and Senate, the Democrats can finally act.

For some time now, Peters and other Democrats have been pushing for domestic terrorism to be a national security priority. And even in a largely polarized Congress, he says, there is the potential to work with Republicans on a number of specific guidelines.

The January 6 uprising could have brought lawmakers together.  It did the opposite

“It is clear that now we have the opportunity to address this problem,” said Peters, who plans to hold a hearing on domestic threats in the coming weeks.

For example, Peters says that unlike previous Trump cabinet officials, he is in close contact with key players in the Biden administration, such as new Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“We need to better understand what these groups are up to, who they are, how they are composed and how big the threat is,” says Peters. “And that means we need to have intelligence resources focused on that.”

A Michigan perspective

As chair of a Homeland Security subcommittee, Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., Says the attack on the Capitol proves that combating domestic violent extremism must be America’s top national security priority. Above, Slotkin interviewed witnesses during a hearing on threats to the homeland in September 2020. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images hide subtitles

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

As chair of a Homeland Security subcommittee, Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., Says the attack on the Capitol proves that combating domestic violent extremism must be America’s top national security priority. Above, Slotkin interviewed witnesses during a hearing on threats to the homeland in September 2020.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Both Peters and Slotkin, as Michiganders, bring a unique perspective to the subject. According to Slotkin, her condition has been proven to be a canary in the coal mine.

Last year, armed protesters crowded inside the Michigan State Capitol building to protest government coronavirus restrictions. Several months later, several men attached to an extremist group were charged plot Kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

“We live this in a very real way,” says Slotkin. “And so it wasn’t designed that way, but I think it’s important that we have so many Michigandans who are on the cutting edge when it comes to solving this problem.”

Slotkin, Peters, and other lawmakers stand ready to develop policies to better equip agencies like the FBI and Department of Homeland Security and focus more on local extremists.

Much like the 9/11 security review led to reforms, they want to find ways to ensure these authorities can better share their information with other law enforcement groups.

Support from both parties

When looking for a non-partisan consensus has proven to be challengingSome key Republicans, including Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, agree on the need for action. And along with the Democrats, they say there is potential to shape a new policy across the aisle.

“I think there is a lot – I hope – a lot of bipartisan consensus here,” Portman says.

He and other lawmakers say they will take action after hearing recent testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray and Mayorkas, the chief of Homeland Security. Both agree that now is the time to redouble our efforts.

Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had reinstated a bill that would bring similar criminal charges against international and domestic terrorists.

“The FBI fully supports this as well. We worked very closely with them to address this issue,” says McCaul. “It would give prosecutors an additional tool.”

The Capitol Siege: The Arrested and Their Stories

Back in the Senate, Portman and other Republicans disagreed that their party hadn’t done enough to fight domestic terrorism during the Trump era. For example, Portman notes that the GOP has increased resources in a number of key areas to address this problem.

And now that lawmakers in the House of Representatives are bogged down in creating an outside commission to investigate Jan. 6 – much like the 9/11 commission – Portman notes how the Senate Homeland Security and Rules Committees are working on one bipartisan investigation of work their own.

Portman also agrees with the Democrats that a greater focus on domestic extremism is more than just giving more money to federal law enforcement agencies. He and others say it’s also about coordination.

“Funding is one thing,” Portman says, “but a lot of these groups tell me they just need to know how to better protect you.”

Jack

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