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Domestic terrorism

The following remarks on domestic terrorism was delivered Friday, February 26, 2021, by acting deputy attorney general John Carlin

By John Carlin

When I left the department as assistant attorney general for national security in October of 2016, the threat from violent extremists, both international and domestic, was rising.

But, I never expected that just over four years later, when I returned to the Justice Department to be sworn in on my first day as acting deputy attorney general, that to get to the building, I would have to pass through numerous checkpoints under escort of armed agents in a city under lockdown.  I never expected to have to walk through the Department of Justice hallways filled with hundreds of soldiers positioned to protect the Department from terrorists. But I did.

Our mission is simple. That is not acceptable, that is not America, and it will not happen again.

The first briefing that I received in my new job was about the effort to bring the perpetrators of the January 6 attacks to justice and prevent future violent attacks.

The investigation into those responsible is moving at a speed and scale that is unprecedented, and rightly so. Those responsible must be held to account, and they will be.

I receive daily updates on the Capitol case investigation, at least daily. And as of last night, over 300 individuals have been charged in connection with the events of January 6, and over 280 have been arrested.

Just this week, I had an opportunity to spend more than an hour with members of the prosecution team. They are committed, they are determined, and they will keep us safe from the threat of violent extremism.

The threat, of course, is bigger than anyone event, no matter how horrific. It can include not just efforts to disrupt our government like those on January 6, but also efforts to intimidate or terrorize our neighbors and members of our community based only on who they are and what they look like. And as I mentioned at the top, all we need to do is look at recent footage from New York and California to see those horrific attacks directed at Asian Americans, to realize how dire the threats are. We must return to an America where no one fears violence because of who they are or what they believe.

To do so, we must make it known that the Department of Justice is prioritizing the detection, the disruption, and deterrence of the threat of domestic terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms. Now, this is something, as with challenges in the past, that we can’t do alone, but we have to do with partners, particularly our partners in state and local law enforcement. Together, we will tirelessly pursue justice for all of victims of violent extremism. Judge Garland made that clear this week during his confirmation hearing, and I want to reiterate [ it today].

While the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing public safety and national security threat, unfortunately, violence motivated by extremism, hate, intolerance, and racism has been a persistent and tragic occurrence throughout American history.

Our Department of Justice was formed to bring justice, and that means battling terrorists, extremists, and hate. That has been true since its beginning, when our first attorney general led efforts to protect our country from the threat of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.

[Today] with the threat persistent and evolving, the Justice Department is keenly focused on how we can meet this moment.

Fortunately, both Judge Garland and Lisa Monaco, the deputy attorney general nominee, have significant experience leading the Department’s efforts on domestic terrorism matters, and the Department’s dedicated career agents and prosecutors will continue to work around the clock to disrupt the threat and keep Americans safe.

Before turning it over to John and Jill, I wanted to talk about three specific commitments we are making in this area: following the data and intelligence, protecting civil liberties and taking an all tools approach.

Following data and intelligence

On the first, we will confront this challenge, as we have for years since September 11, using an intelligence-led, threat-driven approach grounded in data and intelligence assessments of career experts.

The Department’s approach will be informed by the comprehensive threat assessment examining domestic terrorism that President Biden has asked the Director of National Intelligence to undertake, in coordination with the FBI and others in the intelligence community.

The National Security Council is also seeking to determine, how can the government better share information, support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks, and more?

The Department is participating in that process across a broad range of components – including not just our National Security Division, who you will hear from today, and our Criminal Division, but also the Civil Rights Division, the Tax Division, the Office of Justice Programs and the Bureau of Prisons.

As part of our data-driven response to domestic terrorism, we plan to issue updated guidance in the coming days that will help make sure the National Security Division has insight into, and can track, all cases with a nexus to domestic terrorism or domestic violent extremism.

We know that information developed in one investigation may be the key to saving lives because of another district’s investigation thousands of miles away.

Information-sharing allows all of us to anticipate legal and practical questions before they emerge and maximizes our ability to collectively respond to present and emerging domestic threats, no matter where they arise.

By collecting this data, we will be in a stronger position to take an empirical, evidence-based approach to domestic terrorism across our work.

Protecting our civil liberties

Our second commitment is to be steadfast in maintaining our commitment to civil liberties.

The FBI, as you will hear, very deliberately uses the term “domestic violent extremism” in this area to emphasize that FBI investigations must be predicated on criminal violence and other criminal conduct – never on someone’s First Amendment beliefs or associations.

Taking an all-tools approach

Our third commitment is to take an “all-tools” approach to combatting domestic terrorism – just as we have with other significant national security threats.

The term “all-tools approach” was used often during my time at the FBI and the National Security Division as we developed and described a new approach to address international terrorism and national security cyber threats.

This approach recognizes that success is not the prosecution of a violent extremist or terrorist after the fact, when families have lost loved ones or are grieving, but that success is the disruption before violence occurs, and that always has to be the goal of our counterterrorism work

Since starting back at the Department, I have convened the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee, an interagency group started after the Oklahoma City bombing. In fact, it was a group that was scheduled to meet on the morning of September 11. It did not meet that day and our focus turned, for a period of time, to international terrorism. But as we’ve seen the growth of domestic terrorism dating back, really, to 2014, 2015, that the DTEC has been reconstituted as a way to share information across departments and agencies.

I have also convened and met with the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Coordinators – a group of specially trained AUSAs in every office across the country. That group was created after the events of September 11. They are the focal point in the field to work with partners to prevent terrorist acts and to hold accountable those who commit them. Through those efforts, we can best leverage tools from across the government and across the country.

We also partner with state and local law enforcement through structures such as the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, or JTTF, to help us reach cases where federal charges are not available.


In conclusion, I know we will cover a lot [today], and I wish I could spend more time with you, but we look forward to engaging with you on this topic regularly. It is and will remain my top priority at the Department. And, as you heard from Judge Garland, he intends for it to be the first briefing that he receives when confirmed.

I encourage you to share with our public affairs staff what would be most helpful for you as you cover this important topic. What issues do you want briefings on? I’m instructed to say no promises, but what statistics would you like to see that we don’t have access to?



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