Joe Biden takes action to address new threat of domestic terrorism
In the week since he became president, Joe Biden has signed more than 30 executive orders designed to crush the coronavirus pandemic, ensure racial equity, start the process of increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, rejoin the global fight against climate change, halt construction of the wall on the Mexican border, and many other badly needed and long delayed actions to fuel the recovery from the “American carnage” visited upon us by the administration of Donald Trump.
One announcement that has received less attention is a critical first step to bolster our security from a growing and sophisticated menace. Biden has asked the director of national intelligence for a comprehensive threat assessment of domestic violent extremism. This will properly focus on the type of homegrown insurrectionists we saw invade the Capitol earlier this month. We have to learn more about the links between homegrown and foreign terrorism. In 2019, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Chris Wray informed Congress that American white supremacists are traveling overseas for training with foreign nationalist groups. The New York Times confirmed those activities in a report this week.
Violent extremism is not the war our parents fought. It is not even the “global war on terror” of more recent times. It is an international guerilla conflict with tentacles in the United States, accelerated by a collision of problems, including economic anxiety, the tribalization of communities, online platforms that sow division and stoke fear, news media fueled by algorithms of bias, even gerrymandering that fences in ideologies, and perhaps worst of all, a former president who did nothing to curb violent extremism but instead looked for ways to incite it.
Even the structure of this enemy is different. The German foreign ministry oversaw a report describing the emergence of “a leaderless transitional apocalyptically minded, violent far right extremist movement.” The key word here is “leaderless.” We could pinpoint the source of murderous disinformation in Nazi Germany since Joseph Goebbels had the title of reich minister of propaganda. But who is Q of QAnon?
The White House initiative promises to assess new and evolving threats with “the necessary resources and resolve.” The first task will be a threat assessment led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Department. Next is a National Security Agency review on how the government can better share information on this threat and “support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks, and more.” The National Security Council would then convene the process to tackle “radicalization, the role of social media, opportunities to improve information sharing, operational responses, and more.”
It will not be easy. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies will need oversight and accountability to ensure free speech and political activities remain protected under the Constitution. It will also need to be forward thinking. The past century was marred by three ideological battles which risked a democratic world order. There was nazism and fascism from the 1920s to the 1940s, communism from the 1940s to the 1980s, and global terrorism in the name of numerous ideologies from the 1990s until now. Against each enemy, the United States led the world to build coalitions, marshall resources, and mobilize government power.
We crossed oceans and stormed beaches. We rebuilt much of Europe and fortified free markets and democratic institutions. We exported our values through the Agency for International Development, the Voice of America, Radio Free Liberty, and the Peace Corps. We funded international groups that strengthen the rule of law and the promotion of democracy. We have spent, according to data from Foreign Policy Magazine, between $8 billion to $10 billion every year to achieve such objectives.
Biden realizes that we face a new battle that needs new tactics. We have learned that right wing militia camps in Michigan can be as dangerous as terrorist training camps abroad. But drones firing missiles will not work in the battle against domestic violent extremists. The mantra “we must fight them there so we do not have to fight them here” became irrelevant when citizens of this country went to invade the Capitol.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was right when she said that event underscored what we have known. The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. Parts of the intelligence community have increased the threat response with the focus on tracking foreign influence. Congress passed a measure for intelligence officials to develop strategic assessments of extremism. However, Biden announced a different significant plan to coordinate and marshall federal resources to address a threat both insidious and on the inside.
Steve Israel represented New York in the House over eight terms and was chairman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can follow his updates @RepSteveIsrael.
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