October 26, 2021

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White House launches ‘comprehensive threat assessment’ on domestic extremism – POLITICO

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The pro-Trump rioters who breached the Capitol earlier this month included members of the far-right, self-described “Western chauvinist” Proud Boys and far-right militia groups Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. All three groups have increasingly provided security or worked alongside neo-Nazi and white supremacist factions, according to national security experts.

The review, ordered on Biden’s second full day in office, underscores how countering domestic extremism will be a top priority for Biden’s national security team. POLITICO previously reported that the Biden White House planned to elevate the issue on the National Security Council, and that new personnel with expertise in domestic extremism would be brought on to support the counterterrorism directorate and homeland security advisers in the coming days and weeks.

One person being brought on is Josh Geltzer, who was the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 2015 to 2017. Geltzer, Homeland Security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and deputy Homeland Security adviser Russ Travers will oversee the joint threat assessment, which will “draw from analysis across the government and, as appropriate, nongovernmental organizations,” Psaki said.

“The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis on which we can shape policy,” she added. “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.”

A separate policy review effort will be conducted by the National Security Council in parallel to the broader threat assessment, Psaki said, in order to determine how the government can better share information about domestic extremism threats and prevent radicalization. Relevant parts of the federal government will also be asked to coordinate on monitoring and countering evolving threats, radicalization, operational responses, social media activity “and much more,” Psaki said.

The increased emphasis reflects Biden and his team’s alarm at what the Jan. 6 attack on Congress revealed about the country they are now tasked with leading. “Don’t you dare call them protesters. They were a riotous mob. Insurrectionists. Domestic terrorists,” Biden said in remarks the day after the assault.

Current and former officials who spoke to POLITICO this week broadly agreed that there needed to be some kind of National Security Council-driven process to address the rising threat. That process was largely absent during the Trump era and left agencies trying to determine their respective roles, said one former senior counterterrorism official.

“This is a Day One problem, so in responding to this, the new administration will use the tools it inherits on Day One,” a source close to the White House said. “Whether more can be done with more tools like domestic terrorism legislation is an urgent question and that will be considered.”

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