Civil rights leaders are warning that President Biden’s domestic counterterrorism strategy aimed at rooting out White supremacy harms minority communities and those expressing political dissent.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s largest civil rights organization, is calling on the White House to scale back its first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. They say it has resulted in an overly broad definition of “terrorism” and gives federal authorities too much investigative leeway.
“This discretion, and an expansive view of what counts as ‘terrorism,’ has resulted in the targeting of communities of color and political dissent,” the group said in its recent report on confronting white supremacist violence.
Mr. Biden last year announced his sweeping strategy to deal with threats that, according to the administration, emerge from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and networks whose racial, ethnic, or religious hatred leads them towards violence.”
The Department of Homeland Security deemed the threat of “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” a “national threat priority.”
In January, the Department of Justice formed a specialized unit to combat domestic terrorism, saying FBI investigations into violent extremism have more than doubled since March 2020.
But the Leadership Conference said Mr. Biden’s strategy, while aimed at White supremacist groups, “obscures the threat of white supremacist violence, hiding it under categories such as ‘racially motivated violent extremism,’” which they say has been used to target those angered by racial injustice.
The senior director of the Leadership Conference’s Fighting Hate & Bias Initiative, Nadia Aziz, warned that under the strategy, the Biden administration risks reverting to past flawed approaches to combating terrorism.
“One of [the] things we’re trying to highlight, without necessarily saying it, is that we do not need a new war on terror,” Ms. Aziz told The Washington Post. “We should not use the same framework, the same rules, that were used in post-9/11 framework, in which we saw tremendous harm in some communities.”
Mr. Biden’s approach has also raised concerns among Republican lawmakers, who accuse the administration of ignoring left-wing violence and leveraging fears of right-wing terrorism to target political opponents and stifle legitimate debate.
Citing FBI whistleblower complaints, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, says federal agents have been pressured to reclassify cases as “domestic violent extremism” to fulfill the Biden administration’s crusade against homegrown terrorism.
The FBI denies targeting groups or people based on their espoused political views and says the bureau focuses only on those “who commit or intend to commit violence and criminal activity that constitutes a federal crime or poses a threat to national security.”
“The FBI aggressively investigates threats posed by domestic violent extremists,” an FBI spokesperson said. “We do not investigate ideology, and we do not investigate particular cases based on the political views of the individuals involved. The FBI will continue to pursue threats or acts of violence, regardless of the underlying motivation or sociopolitical goal.”
Mr. Jordan said whistleblower allegations that the FBI is “padding” its data on domestic violent extremism investigations add to others “concerning the politicization of the FBI” that his fellow Republicans on the committee are investigating.
“These whistleblower allegations that the FBI is padding its domestic violent extremist data cheapens actual examples of violent extremism,” Mr. Jordan wrote to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in July. “This information also reinforces our concerns — about which we have written to you several times — regarding the FBI’s politicization under your leadership.”
“It appears instead that the FBI is more focused on classifying investigations to meet a woke left-wing agenda,” Mr. Jordan said.