Homeland Security

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Office of Public Affairs

Alejandro Mayorkas: How DHS will combat domestic extremism

Domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal and persistent terrorism-related threat to our country today. The Department of Homeland Security, working with its many partners at the local, state and federal levels, is taking immediate action to address it.

For several years, the United States has been suffering an upsurge in domestic violent extremism. The horror of seeing the U.S. Capitol, one of the pillars of our democracy, attacked on Jan. 6 was a brutal example of our suffering, and it compels us all to action.

On Thursday, DHS issued more than $1 billion in homeland security grants to eligible state, local, territorial and tribal partners, as we do each year. These grants are a critical tool to protect the homeland from the most urgent threats. As a department, we recognize that we must adapt our grant-making to account for the evolving threat environment.

That is why I have designated domestic violent extremism as a National Priority Area for the first time, and will require state and local governments to spend 7.5 percent of their DHS grant awards combating this threat. In practice, this means state and local governments nationwide will spend at least $77 million to prevent, prepare for, protect against and respond to domestic violent extremism. Well-established grant guidance clarifies eligible expenses for building these important capabilities. It also ensures the funds are spent in ways that demonstrably contribute to identifiable security needs while upholding our nation’s values.

This new guidance is just one of the risk-based ways we are refocusing the department to address the evolving threat environment. As the horrific events of Jan. 6 underscored, DHS must have the operational capacity to appropriately respond to domestic violent extremism. After being confirmed as secretary of homeland security, one of my first actions was to increase training opportunities for law enforcement personnel to conduct threat-assessment and threat-management programs related to domestic violent extremism. We are also reviewing suspicious-activity reporting and travel-pattern analyses to more effectively protect all communities from violence.

Americans have witnessed the costs of allowing politics to pervade intelligence. Since Inauguration Day, DHS has increased the development, production, and sharing of intelligence and other information central to countering domestic violent extremism. We have done so in partnership with state, local, tribal and territorial officials; law enforcement; the private sector; and international allies. The operational integration and sharing of timely, objective intelligence can save lives.

The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was one of many events that constitute a multi-year pattern of violence by domestic extremists. These individuals and groups have largely been radicalized by the spread of false narratives, extremist rhetoric and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, which are disseminated on social media and other online platforms by malign actors, both foreign and domestic.

As some private companies have taken steps to curb this online activity, extremists have moved to darker, less public parts of the Web, where there are fewer restrictions. More can be done to stop the spread of extremist material online, and DHS officials are carefully studying how best to address extremists’ abuse of social media to recruit and radicalize people to violence. As part of this effort, DHS is also working to increase public awareness and resilience to disinformation and false narratives that inspire domestic extremist violence.

DHS will continue to lawfully monitor threats posed by foreign terrorist organizations. But we also know that the threat posed by domestic violent extremism will remain persistent. We have witnessed an increase in domestic attacks, particularly by white-supremacist, anti-government and anti-authority extremists. The majority of these attacks have targeted communities of color and other minority groups. The 2019 shooting in El Paso was motivated by anti-immigrant extremism, and the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh less than a year before was motivated by antisemitic extremism. Recently, domestic violent extremists have focused their attention on government facilities and personnel.

Under the First Amendment, every American has the right to free speech. Some domestic extremists, however, use the banner of the First Amendment to disguise their attempts to incite and engage in violence. Inciting others to commit violent acts is a crime. The Department of Homeland Security will use its authorities to counter the threats posed by this violence, consistent with the law.

Under President Biden’s leadership, we are focused on preventing and combating domestic violent extremism. As secretary of homeland security, I will ensure that we bring to bear the full resources of our department to counter this threat and protect the American people.