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Tipsheet

Justice Department Creating Unit Focused on Domestic Terrorism

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday that it is forming a unit to combat domestic terrorism. The announcement came days after the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

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As reported by the Associated Press, the DOJ’s top security official Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said the number of FBI investigations into suspected domestic violent extremists has “more than doubled” since spring of 2020. He said that threats from extremists have “elevated.”

“We have seen a growing threat from those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies,” Olsen reportedly told lawmakers during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.

The AP detailed that the department’s National Security Division, which Olsen spearheads, has an existing counterterrorism unit. Olsen claimed on Tuesday that he plans the new unit will be “specialized.” 

“The department’s National Security Division, which Olsen leads, has a counterterrorism section. But Olsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he has decided to create a specialized domestic terrorism unit “to augment our existing approach” and to “ensure that these cases are properly handled and effectively coordinated” across the country.

The formulation of a new unit underscores the extent to which domestic violence extremism, which for years after the Sept. 11 attacks was overshadowed by the threat of international terrorism, has attracted urgent attention inside the federal government.

But the issue remains politically freighted, in part because the absence of a federal domestic terrorism statute has created ambiguities as to precisely what sort of violence meets that definition.”

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CNBC noted that Jill Sanborn, the executive director of the FBI’s national security branch, told lawmakers during the hearing that domestic terrorism threats are “persistant and evolving.” 

“The greatest source of domestic terror threats, Sanborn said, is from lone actors or small cells who typically become radicalized online, find easily accessible weapons and then attack ‘soft targets,’ such as public gatherings of civilians,” CNBC’s report stated.

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