Justice Department will create a new unit for domestic terrorism

The Justice Department will create a new unit to combat domestic terrorism, the top national security official of the agency revealed Tuesday.

NewsEditor
NewsEditor
08 July 2022 Friday 15:19
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Justice Department will create a new unit for domestic terrorism

The Justice Department will create a new unit to combat domestic terrorism, the top national security official of the agency revealed Tuesday. This announcement came just days after the one year anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen stated to the Senate Judiciary Committee that domestic terrorist threats are on the rise. "The FBI has investigated more than twice as many suspected violent extremists since 2020's spring," Olsen stated.

Officials at the Department of Justice claim they are seeing a growing threat from offenders motivated both by anti-government ideologies and racial animus.

Jill Sanborn, head of the FBI's National Security Branch, stated that ethnically and racially motivated violent extremists are more likely to attack civilians and cause mass casualties. Milizarian violent extremists often target government personnel and facilities and law enforcement.

Olsen stated that the Department of Justice's new unit would "augmentation" the agency’s current approach.

The top official said that the dedicated group of attorneys would focus on domestic terrorism threats, and help to ensure that these cases get handled properly and effectively coordinated across all departments of Justice.

There are still questions about what cases the unit will handle.

Although there is no federal domestic terrorist statute, U.S. law describes domestic terrorism as violence meant to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. Olsen stated that this definition gives us expanded authority, which includes enhanced sentencing for terrorist offenses.

On Tuesday, partisan concerns about the new unit were evident. Dick Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, referred to January 6th at the beginning of the hearing.

Although prosecutions have claimed in courtrooms that January 6 defendants were guilty of "crimes of terror," the Department of Justice has not yet used the domestic terrorism sentencing enhancements Olsen referred to as part of its ongoing investigation.

Senator Mazie Hirono, Hawaii, asked Olsen if sentencing enhancements would be applied in future January 6 cases. Olsen replied that it was possible and said that prosecutors would use the facts and circumstances of each case.

Republican lawmakers argued, however that the Capitol assault discussion was unfairly overshadowed by the unrest in the United States in 2020 that resulted from racial justice protests after the Minneapolis police shooting of George Floyd.

"These anti-police riots have rocked our country for seven months, just as the January 6th assault on the Capitol rocked it," Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa stated.

FBI and Justice Department officials insist that domestic terrorism is not treated differently depending on its ideology. Tuesday's hearing heard that more than 800 FBI investigations were opened based on the 2020 unrest. Sanborn also noted that just north of 250 people were arrested.

Attorney General Merrick Garland stated last week that the "central norm" for criminal investigations was "there cannot be any different rules depending upon one's political affiliation."

The Department of Justice's newly created unit is the culmination of a long-term shift in how it addresses domestic violent extremism, which has been the main threat to the U.S. homeland. This was in contrast to international terrorism that emerged in the aftermath of September 11th 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Recent terrorist attacks in El Paso and Pittsburgh, Charleston, Charleston, and Denver highlight the increasing threat of terrorism within the United States.

Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said last week that domestic violent extremism was a grave threat. He noted that the threat environment has not diminished since January 6, when the attempted insurrection occurred, but has held steady, if any, in severity."

Attorney General Merrick Garland stated last week that the "central norm" for criminal investigations was "there cannot be any different rules depending upon one's political affiliation."

Rob Legare contributed reporting.

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