Washington: Five months after the attack on the US Capitol, the Biden administration on Tuesday will unveil new steps to combat the “elevated threat” posed by domestic terrorism, but will not - for now - seek legislation to battle home-grown threats.
Instead, in a national strategy to be publicly unveiled by US Attorney General Merrick Garland, the administration is seeking increased information sharing, additional resources to identify and prosecute threats, and new deterrents to prevent Americans from joining dangerous groups.
The new approach comes after the administration conducted a sweeping assessment earlier this year of domestic terrorism that labelled white supremacists and militia groups as top national security threats. The issue took on new urgency after the January 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump who were trying to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory.
The strategy calls for better information-sharing among state, federal and local governments, along with better coordination among the federal government and social media companies.
But it stopped short of calling for new laws to combat domestic threats.
“We concluded that we didn’t have the evidentiary basis, yet, to decide whether we wanted to proceed in that direction or whether we have sufficient authority as it currently exists at the federal level,” a senior administration official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of the announcement.
In his budget proposal released last month, Biden is also seeking $100 million in additional funding to train and hire analysts and prosecutors to disrupt and deter terrorist activity.
“The threat is elevated,” the administration official said.
“Tackling it means ensuring that we do have the resources and personnel to address that elevated threat.” The administration is also improving the federal government’s screening methods to better identify employees who may pose insider threats. They are looking to share those techniques with private companies.
That effort includes an ongoing review by the US Department of Defence over how and when to remove military members who are found to be engaged in known domestic terrorist groups.
The Defence Department review is looking at, among other things, how to define extremists, the senior administration official said.
“They are doing this in a way they feel ratchets up the protection but also respects expression and association protections,” the official said.
Earlier, a new federal intelligence report warned that adherents of QAnon, the conspiracy theory embraced by some in the mob that stormed the US Capitol, could target Democrats and other political opponents for more violence as the movement’s false prophecies increasingly fail to come true.
Many QAnon followers believe former President Donald Trump was fighting enemies within the so-called deep state to expose a cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibals operating a child sex trafficking ring. Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden disillusioned some believers in “The Storm,” a supposed reckoning in which Trump’s enemies would be tried and executed. Some adherents have now pivoted into believing that Trump is the “shadow president” or that Biden’s victory was a sham.
The report was compiled by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and released Monday by Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat. It predicts that while some QAnon adherents will pull back, others “likely will begin to believe they can no longer ‘trust the plan’ referenced in QAnon posts and that they have an obligation to change from serving as ‘digital soldiers’ towards engaging in real world violence.”
As major social media companies suspend or remove QAnon-themed accounts, many followers have moved to less well-known platforms and discussed how to radicalise new users on them, the report says.
The report says several factors will contribute to QAnon’s long-term durability, including the COVID-19 pandemic, some social media companies allowing posts about the theories, societal polarisation in the US, and the “frequency and content of pro-QAnon statements by public individuals who feature prominently in core QAnon narratives.”