Biden Steps Up Federal Efforts to Combat Domestic Extremism

The administration has taken a series of steps to prioritize dealing with white supremacists and militias, especially after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6.

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Nicole Hong

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is stepping up efforts to combat domestic extremism, increasing funding to prevent attacks, weighing strategies historically used against foreign terrorist groups and more openly warning the public about the threat.

The attempts to more assertively grapple with the potential for violence from white supremacists and militias are a shift from President Donald J. Trump’s pressure on federal agencies to divert resources to target the antifa movement and leftist groups despite the conclusion by law enforcement authorities that far-right and militia violence was a more serious threat.

President Biden’s approach also continues a slow acknowledgment that especially after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, the federal government needs to put more attention and money into tracking and heading off threats from inside the United States, after two decades in which it made foreign terrorism the security priority.

In an intelligence report delivered to Congress last month, the administration labeled white supremacists and militia groups as top national security threats. The White House is also discussing with members of Congress the possibility of new domestic terrorism legislation and executive orders to update the criteria of terrorism watch lists to potentially include more homegrown extremists.

The Homeland Security Department has begun a review of how it handles domestic extremism. For the first time this year, the department designated domestic extremism as a “national priority area,” requiring that 7.5 percent of the billions in grant funds be spent on combating it.

Mr. Biden bolstered a team focusing on domestic extremism at the National Security Council that had been depleted in the past four years, detailing officials from the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the National Counterterrorism Center, according to senior administration officials.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, who helped investigate the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, said the Justice Department would also make domestic extremism a priority.

F.B.I. agents have worked domestic extremism cases for years. But the renewed focus from the highest levels of government is a major shift, especially as the administration grapples with whether current tactics and resources are enough to prevent future attacks.

The decision to confront the issue more directly stands in contrast to the approaches of the Trump and Obama administrations. In 2009, the Obama administration rescinded an intelligence assessment after it mentioned that veterans could be vulnerable to recruitment by domestic extremist groups, prompting political backlash.

National security leaders are now meeting with officials from the Veterans Affairs Department, as well as the Education and Health and Human Services Departments, to directly confront the issue, according to administration officials.

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