Biden White House Outlines Anti-Domestic Extremism Strategy

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 6: Trump supporters stand on the U.S. Capitol Police armored vehicle as others take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as the Congress works to certify the electoral col... UNITED STATES - JANUARY 6: Trump supporters stand on the U.S. Capitol Police armored vehicle as others take over the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as the Congress works to certify the electoral college votes. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 22, 2021 5:19 p.m.

With the country reeling from the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, the Biden White House laid out its first steps towards a strategy to counter the ongoing prospect of more far-right violence.

Press Secretary Jen Psaki described it as a “fact-based” approach that will focus on countering the “serious and growing national security threat.”

“The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve,” she said.

The announcement also comes as the Biden administration has begun to name appointees to key positions on the National Security Council and in the Department of Homeland Security that will be responsible for managing the crisis.

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The Biden administration faces the prospect of a nascent, violent movement of far-right pro-Trump extremists, united around the lie that President Biden stole the 2020 election.

Three prongs

Psaki emphasized in her remarks that the Biden administration’s first steps towards countering what it calls “domestic violent extremism” would be “fact-based,” a continued departure in tone and substance from the previous administration.

She outlined three steps that the Biden administration would take to evaluate the broader situation, which goes beyond the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt at the Capitol building and encompasses the vast threat of a lingering, MAGA insurgency that the attack portended.

She said that Biden would have FBI, DHS, and the intelligence community conduct “a comprehensive threat assessment” on the issue.

“The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis upon which which we can shape policy,” Psaki said. “This is really the first step in the process and we will rely on our appropriate law enforcement and intelligence officials to provide that analysis.”

The next prong will focus on directing a portion of the National Security Council to coordinate responses to the threat.

That, Psaki said, will include information sharing, supporting de-radicalization programs, and “disrupting violent extremist networks.”

She added that the Biden administration “need[ed] to understand better” the current extent of violent extremism in the U.S.

Finally, she added, the Biden administration would focus intently on making sure that the federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies coordinated closely to understand the threat. The Capitol insurrection took place after the Trump administration gutted the federal government’s ability to coordinate information-sharing about far-right extremism.

Psaki said that the process would take place under the NSC, and would focus on “addressing evolving threats, radicalization, the role of social media, opportunities to improve information sharing, operational responses, and more.”

Staffing up

Psaki’s remarks come as the Biden administration has staffed up in positions key to implementing its response to the threat of far-right extremism in the U.S.

The appointees to help lead the NSC response are Russ Travers, a former acting head of the National Counterterrorism Center, and Josh Geltzer, a former NSC official. John Cohen, a former DHS official, has reportedly been tapped for the role of assistant secretary for counterterrorism and emerging threats at DHS.

Ryan Greer, a former DHS official and a director at the Anti-Defamation League, told TPM that the appointment of “officials with deep experience in counterterrorism are well-suited to address domestic terrorism issues.”

“There is a lot of work to be done dealing with this very complex problem, and we look forward to holding them to a high standard to address the urgent threat of domestic terrorism,” he added.

Cohen, a former state law enforcement and longtime DHS official, has experience in domestic terrorism and would help the Biden administration restore DHS’s hollowed-out anti-terrorism capacity, said Nate Snyder, a former DHS counterterrorism official.

“He knows both the engagement side of things while also having a firm understanding of the capabilities of the department on intelligence,” Snyder said. “It’s a strong move, and it’s an indication that they didn’t want anybody in that slot who has a learning curve.”

This story has been updated.

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