Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Monday said authorities have yet to determine whether Saturday’s racially-motivated mass shooting in a Black community in Buffalo, New York, was an act of domestic terrorism.
Mr. Mayorkas said the shooting had not yet met the legal threshold to be deemed an act of terrorism.
“It is being investigated, as the FBI articulated, as a hate crime,” Mr. Mayorkas said at the White House. “The term domestic terrorism is a legal term, and because the investigation is ongoing, I won’t employ that term.”
Authorities said the 18-year-old shooter, Payton Gendron, who is White, was motivated by racial animus when he targeted shoppers at a New York grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
Mr. Gendron is belied to have posted a 180-page “manifesto” online which outlined the self-described white supremacist ideology that he said motivated the attack, including his fears of a “complete racial and cultural replacement of the European people.”
Mr. Mayorkas has led the Biden administration’s efforts to tackle what he says is a concerning rise in the threat of domestic violent extremism, which DHS has identified as “the most significant terrorism-related threats to the security of the homeland.”
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“We in the Department of Homeland Security, in partnership with the FBI have issued an unprecedented number of information bulletins and alerts to state local tribal territorial officials who are on the frontlines to equip them to identify when an individual is descending into violence by reason of an ideology of hate, or false narrative,” he said.
Democrats in Congress have also attempted to tackle the issue through legislation that would bolster federal resources to combat domestic terrorism after a barrage of hearings on the matter.
Republicans raised concerns over President Biden’s focus on domestic terrorism, which they say has become a politically charged effort to target conservatives.
Republican fears were piqued last fall when Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum directing federal law enforcement officials to discuss strategies “for addressing threats against” local school boards and administrators and to “open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response.”
Progressives, too, have raised concerns with moderate Democrats’ approach to domestic terrorism.
House Democrats were forced to sideline a bill that would create domestic terrorism units in the FBI, DHS and Justice Department after members of the far-left “squad” opposed the legislation over concerns that the federal government lacks a clear definition of what constitutes a domestic terrorist.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a statement following the shooting in Buffalo that “the House will continue to consider additional measures to strengthen efforts to combat domestic terrorism.”
“This is a high priority area, and we’re executing on the president’s national strategy to battle domestic violent extremism,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
• This article includes wire service reports.