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Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen confirmed in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department has formed a specialized domestic terrorism unit, explaining, “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.”
He stated, “I’ve decided to establish a Domestic Terror Unit to augment our existing approach. This group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are properly handled and effectively coordinated across DOJ and across the country.”
Olsen added, “While there is no single federal crime that is labeled ‘domestic terrorism,’ the criminal code does define domestic terrorism, and this definition provides us with expanded authority, included advanced sentences for terrorism offenses.”
In March 2021, FBI Director Christopher Wray labeled the January 6 riot as domestic terrorism and said, “Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.”
A few months earlier, he characterized Antifa, which in 2020 violently attacked several government buildings, including the White House and a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, as “more of an ideology than an organized group.” In April 2021, he changed his description, calling Antifa “more of a movement” and telling the Senate Judiciary Committee “There are certainly local and regional nodes, individuals who self-identify with antifa, who commit violent attacks citing that as their motivation, and we have a number of predicated investigations into such individuals. Antifa is a real thing; it’s not a fiction, and it’s a concern.”
In 2020 the Department of Homeland Security called white supremacy the most persistent and lethal threat to the nation.
During the most recent hearing during which Olsen testified, senators on the right and the left sparred over what constituted greater threats to the nation: the Capitol rioters a year ago, the Black Lives Matter and Antifa riots, or terrorists crossing the Southern border?
With no clear definition of domestic terrorism, it is unclear what will be considered domestic terrorism and what will not, as well as who will make that decision. The DOJ drew criticism this past October after it labeled concerned parents domestic terrorists and promised to unleash the FBI and the Patriot Act against them.
Attorney General Merrick Garland’s announcement that he was mobilizing the DOJ against parents was thought to be in response to a letter sent to the White House by the National School Boards Association (NSBA), which cited alleged threats from parents. However, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Parents Defending Education (PDE) has since led to the release of emails that make it clear that the NSBA and the White House had been in communication for weeks before the letter was sent and that Education Secretary Michael Cardona may have actually solicited the letter.
Viola Garcia, the NSBA president whom the Department of Education later named to a federal board, released a memo documenting the timeline. Garcia stated, “In response to the letter sent by NSBA, on October 4, 2021 the Attorney General announced in a memorandum widely shared throughout the U.S. Department of Justice that he was ordering all U.S. Attorney Offices and local FBI offices to reach out to local and state law enforcement officials to coordinate efforts on this problem within 30 days of the memorandum.”
Yet Garland contradicted Garcia’s account, as well as the perception that the letter prompted the DOJ’s response. When Garland testified before Congress on October 27, he was asked if he had second thoughts about his response in light of the NSBA’s apology for sending the letter. He responded, “The letter that was subsequently sent does not change the association’s concern of violence or threats of violence. It alters some of the language in the letter … that we did not rely on and is not contained in my own memorandum.”
An October 5 email from NSBA Secretary-Treasurer Kristi Swett that interim CEO Chip Slaven “told the officers he was writing a letter to provide information to the White House, from a request by Secretary Cardona.”
PDE President Nicole Neily said, “Should this allegation be true, it would reveal that this administration’s pretextual war on parents came from the highest levels.”
She added, “Attorney General Merrick Garland unequivocally stated that he based his memo on the NSBA’s letter — which in turn, mobilized the FBI and U.S. Attorneys. If Secretary Cardona was truly involved in this ugly episode, it is a significant breach of public trust, and he should be held accountable.”
No one wants domestic terrorism, so a unit aimed at preventing it, on its face, seems like a good thing. However, the bigger questions are: Who is deciding what is domestic terrorism, and who are the actual domestic terrorists? If the FBI is really going to focus on stopping violent events then will Antifa violence be considered terrorism? What about riots based on racial issues?
Unfortunately, the DOJ and the FBI increasingly seem to be focused on targeting and harassing only those Americans who share the “wrong” political opinions and who are using protests and other constitutional means to redress their grievances against their government.
The DOJ has lost trust over the last few years as it has been revealed to be overly political, and it appears to only be getting worse. Just two days ago, former FBI director Andrew McCabe called on the FBI to scrutinize “mainstream” conservatives more closely. In speaking of the FBI’s focus on domestic terrorism, he said, “It’s entirely possible … they didn’t assume that that group of people — business owners, white people from the suburbs, educated, employed — presented a threat of violence, and now we know very clearly that they do.”
This type of thinking likely helped lead to the decision to target parents challenging the teaching of radical ideologies in public schools, with the DOJ even going so far as to manufacture a letter from the NSBA as justification for invoking the Patriot Act — proving that it is a very poor judge of what constitutes a “domestic terrorist.”
Unfortunately, the FBI has a history of using its powers against American citizens. In the most famous example, the FBI and its director J. Edgar Hoover in 1955 began wiretapping and bugging Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after he organized the Montgomery bus boycott, alleging that the civil rights leader was a domestic security threat. They continued surveilling King throughout the 1950s and 1960s until the day he was assassinated, insisting that the pastor was “a true, genuine Marxist-Leninist ‘from the top of his head to the tips of his toes’” — even though the FBI never had any evidence that King had ties to or sympathies with the Communist Party.
For a glimpse of the end game when governments justify law enforcement crackdowns on free speech, protests, and political dissent by labeling those who employ these activities as seditious or public safety threats or terrorists, look no further than Hong Kong.
Following the pro-democracy protests that took place in 2019, the Chinese-controlled government implemented a national security law to weed out traitors and subversives and is now using that law to not only arrest political opponents and pro-freedom dissidents but also to kick elected legislators out of office, disbar attorneys, arrest editors and journalists, and shut down non-state-approved newspapers and press outlets.
If a specialized FBI unit can stop an actual white supremacist who seeks to carry out a real act of terror, then that is legitimate, but the same level of effort needs to be put into stopping violent acts by every other racial or ideological group or person, no matter their political views.
However, if the real reason for the creation of this new unit is to target so-called domestic terrorists who disagree with government policy, as in the case of parents getting frustrated at school board meetings, or those who speak out against the ruling party on political and ideological issues, then this move is not only dangerous — it’s anti-American and tyrannical.